More than 400 ABC staff could lose their jobs as the public broadcaster moves to implement the $254 million the Federal Government will cut over the next five years.
Managing director Mark Scott made the announcement when he addressed staff at the ABC’s Ultimo Centre in Sydney on Monday morning.
Mr Scott said the Corporation was committed to using back-office and overhead savings to fund the $207 million that would be cut from the ABC’s budget from July 2015.
“We anticipate that more than 400 people – close to 10 per cent of our ongoing workforce – face potential redundancy as we adjust our activities over coming months,” Mr Scott said.
“We regard the changes as vital to securing the long-term health of the organisation but I acknowledge that is no comfort to those who will lose their positions.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott defended the cuts in Question Time, saying “the ABC should not be exempted from the kind of measures that are being applied to almost every other part of government”.
In his address, Mr Scott said there would be a review of the ABC’s property holdings, with its site at Gore Hill in Sydney to be sold.
The ABC’s Adelaide television production studio and five regional radio offices will be closed, and remaining non-news TV production in other states will also be wound down.
Mr Scott said there would also be a rationalisation of the ABC’s television outside broadcast vans and a scaling-back of television sporting broadcasts.
The announcement also included details of proposed programming changes for ABC News, Radio and Television.
The state-based 7.30 editions on Friday nights will be scrapped and replaced by a national 7.30 program.
Mr Scott said ABC News would deliver “more state coverage throughout the week across all platforms”.
Lateline will be moved to a new fixed timeslot on ABC News 24.
The ABC’s foreign bureaux will be restructured to create “multiplatform hubs” in Washington, London, Beijing and Jakarta.
The Auckland bureau will be closed down, and a new bureau opened in Beirut.
The number of correspondents will stay the same, including the newly created role of chief foreign correspondent.
There will also be changes to ABC Local, Radio National and ABC Classic FM programming, and an overhaul of ABC TV’s sports coverage.
Mr Scott has also proposed the creation of a new regional division and ABC Digital Network, to begin in mid-2015, and a $20 million digital investment fund.
The ABC Board expressed its support for the changes in a statement released after Mr Scott’s address to staff.
“The initiatives outlined by Mr Scott comprise a carefully considered response to the twin challenges of technological change and reduced funding,” the Board, led by ABC chairman James Spigelman, said.
“They provide funds to invest in essential new online and mobile strategies that better connect the ABC with its audiences. Like the best media companies across the globe, the ABC is using its digital expertise to achieve deeper and broader audience engagement and relevance.”
Mr Scott will visit staff in ABC branches in each state and territory over the next fortnight to fully brief them on the changes.
“The message I will convey, both internally and externally, over the next few weeks is that the ABC cannot stand still and run the risk of becoming less relevant and compelling to this and future generations,” he said.
“What we are doing today is in the best interests of the ABC and its many stakeholders. It is designed to position the organisation for the future.
“Working together, we can be confident in our ability to see through these changes and to build a stronger ABC.”
Kate Torney, ABC director of news, told staff in the broadcaster’s Ultimo offices 100 of the announced job losses would be from the news division.
But she said 70 new positions would be created, with a focus on digital skills, meaning an overall reduction of around 30 jobs.
Ms Torney added that the majority of those positions would be cut from news management and support staff.
“By the end of the day, if you are affected by any of these changes, you will know,” she said.
Ms Torney told journalists and producers that the redundancy process would be structured around the skills the organisation required to meet its future needs.
She said there would be no voluntary redundancies and said staff facing redundancy would be informed on Monday afternoon.
Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull unveiled the full scale of the cuts and details of the Lewis Review into the public broadcasters in a speech in Adelaide on Wednesday.
In it, he said the ABC would have its budget cut by $254 million over the next five years – a cut of 4.6 per cent – and added that ABC management ought to be able to fund the savings without cutting resources to programming.
All up, $20 million will be cut from the ABC’s budget in 2015-16, rising to $61 million in 2016-17, $55 million in 2017-18, and $68 million in 2018-19.
Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) federal secretary Chris Warren said it was a “sad day for the Australian media industry”.
“We’re seeing one of, if not the largest shake-out of jobs here at the ABC, where really it was totally unnecessary,” he told ABC News 24.
“Of course once the money was withdrawn from the ABC, then job losses were inevitable and loss of content and programming was the inevitable result of that.
“I think the ABC or public broadcasting is a really critical and important role that governments play, or that governments fund, particularly in the current environment where commercial media is under such enormous pressure.
“The minuscule savings they’ve got in terms of the scale of the budget they’re dealing with is really not worth the loss to Australian culture, democracy and society that flows from there.”
Mr Warren said it will be a difficult time at the broadcaster.
“[It’s] going to be very hard for those people, it’s very hard in the media generally, obviously there’s not a lot of alternate jobs for people who have those kind of very high-level media skills,” he said.
“It will put the ABC workforce probably at its lowest level ever, while at the same time producing more content than ever, so it’s going to be an immense challenge for the staff who work at the ABC to continue to generate the sort of high-quality material that they’re known for.”
Mr Warren said the cancellation of state-based 7.30 editions is “an error”.
“It’s a critical local voice, particularly in one-newspaper towns,” he said.
“That it will make a material difference to people’s understanding and knowledge about what’s going on in their state, particularly in those towns where there’s already a shortage of media voices.”
Mr Warren said the changes to Lateline would result in less reporting being done specifically for the program and the decision to shift it to ABC News 24 would have some transmission savings.
7.30 New South Wales presenter and former ABC staff-elected director Quentin Dempster said he was concerned about the cuts to state-based current affairs programs.
“What’s really dangerous here is the loss of television current affairs at a local level,” he told ABC News 24.
“We had huge arguments in the ABC about how we cover localism in current affairs.
“Radio does a great job, as you know, to bring a lot of local material there but there’s a qualitative difference in the public in the states being able to see the ABC interrogate the premiers and the ministers.
“We’re still a federation in Australia and, although Mark Scott says there’s going to be other stuff, those of us who know the ABC know very well the qualitative difference that is being sacrificed with this.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Question Time the ABC should not be exempt from savings measures being applied to other Government departments.
“What this Government is doing with the ABC is applying, for the first time in 20 years, an efficiency dividend,” he said.
“The ABC should not be exempted from the kind of measures that are being applied to almost every other part of Government.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor would not make cuts to the ABC as deep as those made by the Coalition.
Mr Shorten was asked on ABC Local Radio in Victoria if Labor would reverse the cuts if it came to power.
“We think that there’s more things that a government can do than cut the ABC,” he said.
“We don’t think the cuts need to be as deep as they are, absolutely.”
Mr Abbott said Mr Shorten’s comments revealed the Opposition Leader was not being upfront about Labor’s policy on the ABC.
“He’s complaining about something which he intends to do himself. He says that the Government is cutting the ABC, well he’s got his own cuts in mind for the ABC,” he said.
Opposition employment spokesman Brendan O’Connor said the Government needs to provide support services to staff being made redundant.
“[The Government needs] to ensure that the … workers and their families that will be hit by this decision before Christmas and those other workers – those other loyal and hard-working, dedicated ABC employees who will lose jobs as a result of this decision after Christmas – are looked after so they can find work as quickly as possible,” he said.