Abbott govt launches ABC / SBS Efficiency Study

The government will review spending and operations of ABC and SBS, as GetUp! launches a 'Save our ABC' campaign.

2014-01-31_0049Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced a review of ABC and SBS spending in a two-month Efficiency Study.

Former Chief Financial Officer of Seven West Media Limited Peter Lewis will head up the review, due to report in April.

Minister Turnbull says the review is not in response to growing criticism within the Government of the broadcaster.

“[It’s] completely coincidental. I foreshadowed some time ago we’d be looking at the efficiencies of the public broadcasters and this study has been some time in the making,” he told the ABC.

“We’ve had a lot of cooperation from the management of ABC and SBS.

“What it is designed to do is to ensure that the ABC is running its business as cost-effectively as possible.

“The study is not looking at the editorial policies of the ABC, nor looking at the programming content.”

The announcement and the recent criticism of the ABC has triggered a “Protect Our ABC” crowd-funded campaign by GetUp!, using Bananas in Pyjamas characters. A petition already has over 220,000 signatures.

“We’re calling on Malcolm to save our ABC,” GetUp! director Sam McLean said on Thursday.

“The Liberal Party have been making moves to cut the ABC ever since they got into power.

“It’s time for Malcolm Turnbull to step up and end this talk of cutting the ABC.”

Opposition communications spokesman Jason Clare said, “This is not about finding efficiencies, it’s about cutting the ABC’s budget.

“The Prime Minister gets some bad news and suddenly he starts blaming the media.”

ABC managing director Mark Scott said in a statement, “The ABC has constantly reviewed its operations to deliver the best and most efficient return to Australian audiences.

“We have been in consultation with the Minister and will work with the department and Mr Lewis on this new study.”

The Study

The national broadcasters, ABC and SBS, receive $1.2 billion in funding a year from the Australian Government. It is a routine responsibility of all Government authorities to use taxpayers’ funds as efficiently as possible and to strive for operational improvements, and the broadcasters are no exception.

Parliament has agreed over time to a broad range of responsibilities for the ABC and SBS which are incorporated into their respective Charters. The delivery against those Charter responsibilities, relative priorities and resource allocation are largely at the discretion of the ABC and SBS Board and management. There is limited transparency to the Australian public, the Government and the Parliament of the breakdown of costs of delivering the ABC and SBS Charter responsibilities and whether these could be more efficiently delivered by the national broadcasters.

This study will seek to clarify these costs, provide options for more efficient delivery of services (based on current practice in Australian broadcasting), identify risks and any impediments to change and assist the national broadcasters to continue to deliver their Charter responsibilities in ways that minimise costs and maximise benefits for the Australian community.

The study will focus on the costs of inputs-that is the ‘back of house’ day-to-day operational and financial operations, structures and processes applied to delivering ABC and SBS programs, products and services. It is not a study of the quality of the national broadcasters’ programs, products and services, or the responsibilities set out in their Charters but of the efficiency of the delivery of those services to the Australian public.


The Department of Communications will conduct the study and will be assisted by Mr Peter Lewis, formerly Chief Financial Officer of Seven West Media Limited. ABC and SBS personnel will also form part of the study’s secretariat. It will focus on all ABC and SBS activities, other than those specifically specified as out of scope below, including:

• Television

• Radio (Analog and Digital)

• International services

• Digital services including online and catch-up TV

• Production-including facilities

• Advertising (SBS only)

• Enterprises/retail services

• Corporate overheads

• Asset management and capital expenses.

The study will not be limited to looking at these activities separately, and could also look at outputs on a cross-platform basis i.e. delivery of news and current affairs across TV, radio and digital, where useful.

Out of Scope

• Transmission costs, which will be the subject of separate advice to Government;

• Changes to the ABC and SBS Charters;

• Editorial policies of the national broadcasters;

• Allowing advertising on the ABC;

• Quality of programs/products delivered by the broadcasters.

Terms of reference

The study will provide an objective assessment of the efficiency of the ABC and SBS in delivering their services. The study will:

• identify the real current and expected future costs of each output of the ABC and the SBS (as set out in Scope above);

• test those costs against better practice broadcasting operational models and practices and quantify differences;

• identify the options available to the broadcasters to improve efficiencies and the benefits and risks of such options;

• identify any impediments to implementation of such options-this analysis may go to operational, governance, structural, financial and cultural issues within each organisation;

• develop an ‘ideal cost-base’ for the national broadcasters and compare this with current cost base.

The study will also identify options to improve:

• transparency of the costs of national broadcasting services to maintain confidence in their expenditure of public funds;

• the processes and systems for decision-making across different genres, platforms and priorities; and

• operational governance and management practices/processes of the national broadcasters including ways of enhancing the efficient and transparent management of the organisations.

Without further limiting its scope, the study should:

• Consider the return on investment of the public funding for the national broadcasters,

including in terms of audience or other usage;

• Analyse costs at the level of services (eg ABC1, ABC2, Radio National etc); platform (television, radio, online); audience brands (eg ABC 4 Kids, or News); program

genre; and in relation to specific Tied Funding such as the National Interest Initiative;

• Provide breakdowns of these costs in States and regions, and by audience or user demographic; and

• Quantify, as far as possible, the costs of operating at locations across Australia.

In undertaking the task, the study will have regard to:

• The ABC and SBS Charters, legislated obligations and editorial and operational independence from government;

• Ratings, audience reach and other relevant audience measures for the ABC and SBS programming;

• Changing audience demand, particularly increasing use of catch-up and online services;

• The role of ABC and SBS in provision of emergency services information;

• The geographic spread of services and infrastructure, their importance to communities compared to the costs of maintenance; and

• The relative importance/performance of the ABC and SBS compared to other broadcasting services in local markets.

The report arising from the study will be provided to the Minister and the Chairs of the ABC

and SBS on completion.


The project will commence in February 2014 and deliver its final report in April 2014.

10 Responses

  1. LOL – wow the level of “faux hysteria” is laughable

    Tell me where the ABC did the right thing exposing the Indonesian phone tap that occurred under K Rudd, why is Abbott made to wear that?? Ridiculous

    Get Up, needs to Get Out and everyone needs to have a chill pill and relax – lets not jump to every silly meme or whatever hysteria is whipped up by the usual suspects.

  2. It’s a fairly standard service provision efficiency review the terms of which were negotiated between the ABC, SBS and Minister some time ago.

    Turnbull wasn’t going to make it public till it reported but Fairfax was going to a report “Government’s secret inquiry to slash ABC funding as retaliation” so he released the terms of reference.

    The result will the the ALP, Greens, ABC staff, public service unions and Get Up! all working themselves up into a tizzy to try and exploit the situation.

    The ABC is a government owned corporation funded by taxpayers but it acts like a private company operating in secret claiming commercial confidence for everything. Of course we may never get to see the report for 30 years as it isn’t a public one.

  3. Scary times ahead for the ABC and SBS.

    Will the LNP want to cope with the inevitable backlash that this will bring?
    Probably not, this is likely to attract even more flak than Pyne’s proposed back-flip over the Gonski reforms.

    Or will their character assassination of the ABC turn viewers against the broadcaster?
    Unlikely I think…

  4. GetUp!s “save our ABC” campaign. Emphasis on the Our…How appropriate. Where will GetUp spruik their views if they don’t have the ABC??

    I’ll be a rose amongst thorns here by sticking up for Abbott, but the diatribe against him has been ridiculous. Does no one remember Stephen Conroy accusing The Daily Telegraph of bringing down the government? Wayne Swan calling them unbalanced? Tony Abbott hasn’t called ABC unbalanced or biased yet, he’s just said he’s disappointed. And fair enough. That story the ABC dregged up about Australia bugging Indonesian telephones five years ago, helped no one and hurt a lot of people.

Leave a Reply