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Tuesday, 18 November 1986
Page: 2434


Senator MICHAEL BAUME(10.01) —I raise a couple of points which would have been of some interest to Senator Walsh had he still been here. I regret that he is not. The Committee will recall that last year Senator Walsh and I had something of a disagreement about the cost of forward cover for the foreign exchange exposure of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which was almost $53m and involved a loss to the ABC of $12.8m as a result of a refusal by the Department of Finance to allow the ABC to take up its desire to forward cover against its foreign exposure. It is interesting that at the time Senator Walsh claimed that it was not necessarily correct to assert, as I did, that forward cover would have saved the ABC the bulk of the $12m loss. He quite wrongly suggested to the Senate that the cost of such forward cover could have equalled the amount of the loss. That is utter bunkum and I established it to be bunkum at the time.

Following the receipt of a letter from the Minister for Communications, Mr Duffy, on 17 September this year-he has at last answered the matters I raised in May, I think it was, of last year-we can now see that the cost of cover would have been only a tiny fraction of the loss incurred. The Minister and his Department were quite wrong and, I believe, foolish in preventing the ABC from covering. We have discovered from the 19 September hearing of Senate Estimates Committee C that the cost of forward cover on selected contracts entered into by the ABC in the 1985-86 financial year, from January 1985 for a very short period of four or five months, was only $79,764. Major savings resulted from that very small expenditure. The suggestion by Senator Walsh that the cost of cover would have been $12m was absolute rubbish. The exposure could have been covered by less than $80,000. The cost of exposure for the 1986-87 financial year, which is not revealed but which I presume is well over $40m or so, is $140,589. It would be nice if we did not have to put up with bunkum, along with personal abuse sometimes, when matters of this nature are raised in the Senate.

I am concerned that in the current environment of changes being made at the top of the ABC there has been a tendency for continual criticism of the ABC on the basis of ratings. It is said that the ABC is obviously failing to perform because of its particularly poor ratings. I am disappointed to hear that the new Chairman of the ABC-who in other matters, for example, his determination to continue playing soccer at his age, cannot be all bad-is making value judgments on some of the ABC programs based on some rather unreasonable criteria. Most media outlets advertise heavily to encourage viewers and listeners to view and listen to their programs. Radio station 2UE in Sydney has just run a monumentally unsuccessful advertising campaign costing multi-millions of dollars to attract people to its programs. I understand that the station is now for sale. By comparison the ABC has spent very little on promoting its programs on the commercial media from whom it has to attract viewers and listeners. In the Senate Estimates Committee hearing it was revealed that the total cost of ABC television advertising on commercial media outlets last year was $1.4m. This covered publicity in all States for the national network and utilised all available media outlets, including the Press and the electronic media. That is a very small proportion of the cost of providing its services and making its programs and is certainly very small by comparison with the other media outlets which are being held up as being successful in comparison with the ABC.

Before there is all this loose talk about the need for radical change in many ABC programs we should consider whether adequate promotion of those programs would provide a better result, if ratings are what it is after. It seems unfair to judge, for example, ABC radio and its listeners on the basis of a promotional cost of advertising on commercial media outlets last year of only $643,000, which was made up of $350,000 on television commercials promoting Radio National, ABC FM and ABC metropolitan stations and $235,000 on newspaper advertising promoting ABC radio coverage of specific events such as the Commonwealth Games, the Boyer Lectures, rugby league and so on. This sort of expenditure is very small for a multi-million dollar organisation which spends enormous amounts of taxpayers' money on providing programs of a very high quality. Some services have diminished slightly in quality for a variety of reasons but it is not reasonable to dismiss the ABC because of falling ratings when a commercial approach is not being applied to a sufficient degree to give many of these programs a fair go.