2GB Sydney Live with Ben Fordham > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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13-October-2017

2GB Sydney Live with Ben Fordham

13 October 2017

4:35pm

Text Box: Subject: ABC, SBS transparency

E & OE

FORDHAM:

The ABC and SBS have been given a deadline to declare the salaries of their highest earners, or face laws forcing them to do so. The Federal Government has asked the ABC and SBS to voluntarily release the names and salaries of all employees earning over $200,000; and they’re to do so by the end of next month. If they don’t, the Government will put legislation in parliament to force the broadcasters to disclose the figures. On the line the Communications Minster, Senator Mitch Fifield. Senator, good afternoon. 

FIFIELD:

G’day, Ben. 

FORDHAM:

Thank you for taking the time to have a chat with us. Look I’ve got mixed feelings on this: I desperately want to know where my taxpayer’s dollars are being spent, but on the other side of things, I can understand why people don’t want their salaries released. 

FIFIELD:

Well Ben this is all about transparency and accountability. The public know what members of parliament, ministers, judges, senior public servants and military officers receive. So there’s absolutely no reason why there shouldn’t be the same level of transparency for senior people at the ABC and SBS.  

FORDHAM:

Why should there be a greater focus on those earning a big quid? 

FIFIELD:

This is something that is in keeping with the temper of the times. The community expect there to be transparency. They want to know where their taxpayer dollars are going and if you hold high positions of public trust, which senior figures of the ABC and SBS hold, then that should be something that’s on the public record. And the public, the community, can make their own judgements as to what’s appropriate and what’s not.  

FORDHAM:

The total wage bill for the ABC is $437 million a year and we’re told that 33 staff members are paid more than a quarter of a million dollars. So I’m guessing you’re not interested in each and every staff member at the ABC revealing what they earn, but it’s those really high income earners that you want revealed.  

FIFIELD:

That’s right. There’s about six or seven per cent of the staff at the ABC who earn more than about $145,000. Our proposition is that anyone whose package in total is $200,000 or above – that should be declared. We should know who they are and what it is they get. That's not unreasonable. I mean we have the sort of unusual situation Ben, where we learn more in the ABC’s Annual Report about how much rainwater is collected at ABC sites than we do about what people are paid. 

FORDHAM:

Do you think that the argument that politicians have their salaries revealed therefore, TV hosts and radio hosts should have theirs revealed? Do you think that’s an argument that’s going to wash with people at the ABC? I’m guessing you’re not too fussed about whether or not they’re going to cop it sweet. They’ve already come out and said: ‘forget about it, we’re not going to be disclosing the salaries of our stars.

FIFIELD:

Well I’ve written to the Chair of the ABC and the Chair of SBS and said that it’s a matter of Government policy that these things be revealed. Now, ABC and SBS have legislated independence so they don’t have to do what is Government policy. But, if they decline to be transparent, to reveal this information, then we will introduce legislation into the parliament so that this will happen. 

FORDHAM:

Minister Mitch Fifield, the Minister for Communications joining us on the line. I’ve got a list here Mitch, of ABC salaries that were leaked back in 2013. We could just go through the list here and work out whether they’re worth it or not?

FIFIELD:

[Laughs] Well it would be interesting to see if we both agree. 

FORDHAM:

Tony Jones, host of Q&A, on $355,000. 

FIFIELD:

Well, Tony is a seasoned and experienced journalist. 

FORDHAM:

Journalist Quentin Dempster: $291,000.

FIFIELD:

I didn’t know Quentin was still on the books at the ABC. Who knows? He may still have a gig there. 

FORDHAM:

My mate and radio rival, Richard Glover, at the ABC: $290,000. Richard, he’s worth that isn’t he? He’s worth more than that isn’t he? 

FIFIELD:

Look, he is a class act. He’s one of the real talents at the ABC.

FORDHAM:

Yeah, he deserves a pay rise. Juanita Phillips: $316,000. Leigh Sales: $280,000. Well, Leigh Sales probably should be getting more shouldn’t she?

FIFIELD:

That was one of the interesting things when the BBC did what we’re hoping to do. It was revealed that in fact, a lot of the female staff and presenters and journalists at the BBC were not paid well, according to their male counterparts. So we shall see.

FORDHAM:

Annabel Crabb, the ABC online chief political writer: $217,000. Well, she drags in a lot of attention at the ABC, with all those podcasts that she does and the TV shows. Look I know it’s a lot of money, but you’re right. This will create a bit of competition internally at the ABC, like it did at the BBC. Because when everyone’s showing each other what they earn, Minister, you know they’re going to be a few people with noses out-of-joint. 

FIFIELD:

We will see if there’s some creative tension. But this ultimately is about recognising that Australian taxpayers give the ABC more than a billion dollars a year. And I think Australian taxpayers are entitled to know what that money is going towards. 

FORDHAM:

What does Michelle Guthrie, the boss, get?

FIFIELD:

Look she’s of the order of about $900,000 a year. Her pay is set independently by the Remuneration Tribunal. Her pay is known. It’s not unreasonable for that of other senior ABC and SBS staff to be known as well. 

FORDHAM:

Okay, now I’m attending the Radio Awards in Melbourne this weekend, known as the ACRAs. I believe you’re going to be there as well. You have been known to get up on stage and sing at previous functions that I have hosted. Are you planning on doing anything like that at the Radio Awards this weekend?

FIFIELD:

We'll see how the spirit moves. I take my responsibility as Minister for the Arts very seriously and happy to give practical demonstrations on occasion.

FORDHAM:

What is that spirit that you drink?

FIFIELD:

[Laughs] The spirit of the room I was talking about, Ben. 

FORDHAM:

Good on you Mitch Fifield thanks for your time. 

FIFIELD:

See you then, cheers. 

FORDHAM:

See you tomorrow night. The Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield.

[ends]