Earlier this month, ABC managing director David Anderson claimed an $84 million funding freeze – first flagged in Coalition’s 2018 budget – would trigger «inevitable» cuts.
«Having been through a number of budget reductions to this point, I don’t see how we can avoid staff cuts and, I think, disruption to our content,» he told Radio National’s Patricia Karvelas.
Labor had promised an extra $40 million to the national broadcaster, with another $20 million for SBS. But the Coalition’s surprise victory on Saturday – something most opinion polls failed to predict – means ABC’s funding will be frozen at 2018-19 levels from July.
This amounts to a $15 million reduction in 2019-20, $28 million the next year, and more than $41 million by 2021-22. It follows a $254 million cut in 2014 by then-communications minister Malcolm Turnbull.
In April, the government confirmed it will renew ABC’s «enhanced news-gathering» budget, at a cost of $44 million, on top of $3.1 billion in base funding over three years.
Staff now live in fear of putting a foot wrong.
Margaret Reynolds, ABC Friends
«I have said many times over the past seven months that our focus must always be on freeing up as much money as possible for content, adapting what we do to ensure we spend public funds effectively while searching for efficiencies,» Anderson wrote in an email to staff on Sunday.
«With confirmation that the Coalition has been returned to government, we will resume discussions with the Minister about securing longer-term funding arrangements.
«Stable funding is essential to deliver a greater level of financial certainty and enable us to plan for the future … Over the next 12 months the leadership team will continue to explore options with the board on how to meet these challenges and we will, of course, consult with staff along the way.»
One senior staff member said Anderson may lobby the government to reverse the cuts.
«Nobody loves market research more than Scott Morrison,» the staff member said, referring to the prime minister’s previous career as head of Tourism Australia.
«He’d be well aware that most Australians are fond of the ABC and, apart from a vocal minority of reactionaries, most people don’t want to see it diminished.»
In a 2018 survey, 83 per cent of respondents agreed with the claim: «The ABC performs a valuable role in the Australian community.»
Anderson was confirmed as ABC’s managing director in May, after former MD Michelle Guthrie was sacked in September. Controversy surrounding her dismissal resulted in the resignation of chair Justin Milne, with media veteran Ita Buttrose appointed to the role in February.
Margaret Reynolds, president of lobby group ABC Friends, condemned the budget freeze.
«All these cuts over the last six years have really impacted morale,» Reynolds said.
«Staff now live in fear of putting a foot wrong and one of the saddest things is seeing the loss of all those senior staff. The young people they’ve hired are fantastic but they’re missing out on the experience and mentoring those staff would have given them.
«There are a small number of people, mainly in the Murdoch [News Corporation] camp, who think that the sooner we get rid of public broadcasting, the better. But that’s not a widespread view in the community at all.»
Another ABC veteran said Anderson will discuss his next steps with senior management this week.»Of course everyone knew these budget cuts were a possibility,» the staff member said.
«But nobody has started planning how the cuts will be implemented. That level of granular detail is still a while away. It’s not like we’ll come out tomorrow and announce that [specific] jobs or programs will be axed.»
Michael Lallo is a senior entertainment writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald