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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
28/02/2017
Estimates
COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS PORTFOLIO
Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

[17:14]

CHAIR: Welcome back, Ms Guthrie. To you and to your officers, thank you very much for your patience today. It has been another long day here. As you can see, we had some rather contemporaneous issues to be dealt with today. Would you like to make an opening statement?

Ms Guthrie : No need, Chair, thank you.

CHAIR: I am going to go first of all to Senator McKenzie. This committee had invited you twice to appear before a hearing on a bill in Darwin and Melbourne. But you did not or were not able to make yourself available, so Senator McKenzie will ask you questions in relation to that first.

Senator McKENZIE: Firstly, I would like to congratulate the minister on a couple of fabulous board appointments this week, particularly, Georgie Somerset, from rural and regional Australia, and Dr Guthrie. I think that is a nice diverse—

Senator Fifield: There is no relation.

Ms Guthrie : Not that we have yet identified!

Senator McKENZIE: We have not done the DNA testing!

Ms Guthrie : We may be checking family trees!

Senator McKENZIE: I also want to echo my disappointment. The bill relates to rural and regional Australia and the ABC's service provision to that and making some changes around how that might be made better. But we specifically asked you and Mr Spigelman to be available, particularly given the short-wave radio decision, which was a board decision.

You both sent letters and were regrettably unable to attend. I know the committee secretariat contacted you in early December, particularly for the March 6 date, but you chose to make yourself unavailable. Mr Spigelman 's letter to the committee said, 'It's not our practice for the board to attend the Senate when the Senate requests.' I find that quite concerning, particularly when this decision related specifically to decisions taken by the board. Why can't you come?

Ms Guthrie : I very much regret that I cannot come. I have a number of previous appointments already scheduled for next week.

Senator McKENZIE: Were they scheduled in early December?

Ms Guthrie : They were. In response to the request for me to attend, I did make it clear that I was unavailable next week. I know that you looked at alternative arrangements to have me come to Darwin, but I have a travel schedule planned for next week that is very important and had previously been arranged.

Senator McKENZIE: You were contacted by the committee secretariat in early December, not for the Darwin hearing but for Melbourne on March 6.

Ms Guthrie : Yes, and I was not able to confirm that date.

Senator McKENZIE: Was your diary otherwise engaged for March 6, prior to the request from the committee secretariat in December?

Ms Guthrie : Yes it was, and I have made it very clear that the issue is very important to us. Fiona Reynolds, who oversees and manages our regional division will be there to appear at your committee.

Senator McKENZIE: One of the issues we are pursuing is the short-wave decision, which was a decision made by the board, so does Ms Reynolds sit on the board of the ABC?

Ms Guthrie : She does not.

Senator McKENZIE: Is she able to speak to the decision made by the ABC board?

Ms Guthrie : Yes she is, because frankly it was a recommendation from management to the board. It is ultimately a board decision, but it was a recommendation from management.

Senator McKENZIE: So she is able to fully avail the committee of the research taken by management to come to that decision and that recommendation to the board?

Ms Guthrie : Yes.

Senator McKENZIE: What was that research undertaken by management?

Ms Guthrie : Would you like me to get into the substance of the decision?

Senator McKENZIE: I would love you to explain how we are going to solve this technologically.

Ms Guthrie : Extensive research was undertaken by ABC Radio and ABC International before arriving at this decision, because it affects both domestic and international short wave. That included how audiences are listening to ABC radio and changing technological trends, including the short wave. The ABC—

Senator McKENZIE: Who provided that research for you?

Ms Guthrie : It was research conducted by ABC Radio and ABC International, and it was extensive research. The ABC board made the decision late last year to discontinue the short-wave services. It was a very difficult decision and it was done after careful and considered deliberation. We implemented that decision after the board meeting.

Senator McKENZIE: When you say extensive research was undertaken by ABC radio, I would like to understand what research was done internally to assess the utility of short-wave radio. What technological solution was going to replace the withdrawal of that service to those communities in the Northern Territory?

Ms Guthrie : I will highlight to you that since we made the announcement to date, we have been contacted by fewer than around 15 people from the Northern Territory. And six people from the Northern Territory—

Senator McKENZIE: I am happy to go to that, but Mr Spigelman and your board—you have given evidence to this committee—made a decision based on research undertaken by the ABC. You have told me you did a survey, you have told me you looked at what audiences are thinking, but you have not taken me to the research that identifies the technological solution for those communities—for the cattlemen, for the fishers, for the tourists in the Northern Territory—that will solve them being able to access ABC radio.

Ms Guthrie : I need to make clear that there are a number of duplicative services provided into the Northern Territory. One of those was short wave, one of those is VAST and one of those is FM transmitters. VAST covers 100 per cent of the area. We have identified that there are more than 22,000 active VAST decoders in the Northern Territory, which equates to over a quarter of all Northern Territory households. These households are primarily outside AM/FM and terrestrial TV coverage. So we have AM and FM, we have terrestrial TV, we have VAST and we used to have short wave. It is important to also note that other states and territories in Australia have managed without short wave for many years, including those with similar issues of distance and remoteness. The Northern Territory short wave was the only short-wave service provided.

Senator McKENZIE: You went to VAST and you went to FM, 16 per cent of the Territory is not accessible from FM radio. You went to VAST. It does not matter whether I talk to the cattlemen, the Northern Territory government, the fishers or the Roper Gulf Regional Council, they say VAST is not a mobile service at all. It works over the station in a stationary place, which is why you gifted some VAST services to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. What do you say about those fishers—and I will go directly to evidence given to the committee that we will be prosecuting next week—who say that when they are out on their boat they cannot access anything else. They are out in their ute 200 kay from the station checking bores, checking cattle. They cannot access ABC services. This is direct evidence. So whether it is your 13 calls or not, the reality is the technology that you speak of does not solve the problem. I want to know what research you did to ensure the board, and therefore us, that it would actually solve the problem.

Ms Guthrie : I want to reiterate that our priority has to be the efficient management of our total ABC budget. The way in which we analysed the level of duplication that was offered in the Northern Territory made it very clear that the continued provision of the short-wave service for a long contract, or a contract renewal, was not in the best interests of the efficient operation of the ABC budget.

Senator McKENZIE: The decision around the finances, whether you extend a contract or not, was not my question. My question was around the service provision to those rural and regional Northern Territorians.

Ms Guthrie : My answer on that is that they are well served by VAST satellite, in particular, with 22,000—

Senator McKENZIE: I will take you to the direct evidence from the Northern Territory Chief Minister: 'To claim VAST satellite and mobile phone technology will fill the gap created is simply not true. These services are not mobile and, in fact, mobile antennas are only now being trialled.' That is what the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory has told us about the VAST system. The Roper Gulf has similar concerns around VAST and the short-wave radio services. Cutting that has significant impacts for their communities. The Seafood Council, again, goes to cutting this. The VAST technology is simply not going to be good enough for cattlemen. Again, VAST is not going to be good enough. What do you have to say to these stakeholders?

Ms Guthrie : We very much want to make sure that the small number of people who are affected find alternative ways to access Northern Territory ABC local radio. It is not in our interests at all to cut off any person from our services, so we are working very hard on the transition of those services. Frankly, the low number of complaints that we have had from listeners highlights the previous research, which is that short wave is used by very few people as their primary means for listening to radio.

Senator McKENZIE: You have used the money that you have saved on this particular measure to concentrate digital services to urban communities. Is that correct?

Ms Guthrie : In the Northern Territory as well as in the Pacific we are saving in the region of—

Mr Pendleton : It is 1.2.

Ms Guthrie : Yes, $1.2 million for the Northern Territory but, on an overall basis, $2.8 million.

Senator McKENZIE: And where will you be putting that money?

Ms Guthrie : We will be reinvesting that in transmission and content services.

Senator McKENZIE: For digital service provision?

Ms Guthrie : Part of the savings will be to increase our digital radio footprint in Hobart, Darwin and Perth.

Mr Pendleton : Canberra.

Ms Guthrie : Canberra.

Senator McKENZIE: In the cities. Fantastic, so people who have—

Ms Guthrie : And 700,00 people—

Senator McKENZIE: Sorry, Ms Guthrie, I only have a limited amount of time—

CHAIR: This is the last question.

Senator McKENZIE: I have the emergency service issue that I do want to briefly touch on. Ms Guthrie, when you talk about taking services from the public broadcaster, there are claims you are breaching your charter over and over again—in every submission that has come in regarding the bill that we will be looking at next week. When you are taking money and service from rural and regional Australians—who should be your first choice, because they do not have access to the commercial options—and reinvesting that so you can go up against commercial providers, I simply do not see, and neither does anybody who is putting in evidence: are you confident that you have met your charter obligations?

Ms Guthrie : Senator McKenzie—

Senator McKENZIE: Excuse me Chair, am I entitled under the standing orders to continue my line of questioning.

CHAIR: Yes you are, and you agreed to 10 minutes and—

Senator McKENZIE: Ms Guthrie, are you confident that the board has met its charter obligations to rural and regional Northern Territorians by this decision?

Ms Guthrie : I am confident that we have met our charter obligations across all the services that we need to provide. As I said to you earlier, it is incumbent on us, and it is very clear in our charter, that we have to operate efficiently and effectively for all Australians.

Senator McKENZIE: Your provision as an emergency service broadcaster—

CHAIR: Senator McKenzie, I am sorry—

Senator McKENZIE: Can I just ask one more question about emergency services?

CHAIR: No, you have two extra questions, and you will have an opportunity to ask many more questions.

Senator McKENZIE: Excellent.

Senator McCARTHY: Ms Guthrie, you spoke about the board making the decision. Are you able to table to the committee the decision that was made to the board in regard to short wave?

Ms Guthrie : No, I am not able to do that. Our board documents are confidential documents.

Senator McKENZIE: Sorry, on that point, are you claiming public interest immunity?

Ms Guthrie : No I am not.

Senator McKENZIE: You cannot claim—

CHAIR: Senator McKenzie, you are not chairing this committee; I am.

Senator McKENZIE: I am helping Senator McCarthy—

CHAIR: Senator McKenzie, you are not helping anyone. If you have a point of order, please ask it through the chair.

Senator McKENZIE: Point of order, Chair—

Mr Millet : Senator there was a press release issued—

Senator McKENZIE: Point of order, Chair.

CHAIR: I will take the point of order.

Senator McKENZIE: Senator McCarthy rightly asked a very sensible question of Ms Guthrie. Ms Guthrie said she would not be tabling that decision, as it was confidential.

CHAIR: Senator McKenzie, there is no point of order, because Senator McCarthy would certainly have asked that same question, given that it was her question. There is no point of order.

Ms Guthrie : Senator, I want to clarify. I thought you were asking for the board papers that were tabled at the board to be tabled.

Senator McCARTHY: You mentioned in your response that you had evidence presented to the board that led them to make the decision, so I am asking for the evidence that was provided to the board. Could this committee please receive those documents?

Ms Guthrie : I will have to take that on notice.

Senator McCARTHY: How much exactly did the Northern Territory's short-wave service cost the ABC?

Ms Guthrie : It costs $1.2 million a year.

Senator McCARTHY: How much are you saving by getting rid of the short-wave to the Northern Territory and the Pacific?

Ms Guthrie : We are saving $2.8 million.

Mr Pendleton : It is $2.8 million plus $1.2 million. The Northern Territory short-wave service is $1.2 million per annum, and the Radio Australia service is $2.8 million.

Ms Guthrie : That is the international short-wave.

Senator McCARTHY: Has the ABC investigated the provision of digital short-wave services as an alternative to the short-wave in the Northern Territory?

Ms Guthrie : We continue to believe that the operation of VAST, which was the way the services were intended to be delivered to regional listeners, is the most effective way of delivering our service across regional and rural Australia.

Senator McCARTHY: Have you consulted with people in the Northern Territory and regional areas directly?

Ms Guthrie : I am confident that our local team in the Northern Territory, which is led by Simon Scoble, is working with Northern Territory stakeholders and managing the transition on the ground and helping the small number of people who have reached out to us who need assistance in transitioning to VAST.

Senator McCARTHY: We will get to that in a moment. You also mentioned in your earlier response that there is now VAST equipment in 22,000 homes in the Northern Territory?

Ms Guthrie : Yes—active VAST decoders.

Senator McCARTHY: Where would they be?

Ms Guthrie : We would not know the precise location, but the—

Senator McCARTHY: Why not?

Ms Guthrie : Because they are organised by private citizens. We do not know where—

Senator McCARTHY: So you made your decision without knowing where the VAST services are already located?

Ms Guthrie : They are in the Northern Territory and they equate to over a quarter of all Northern Territory households. The natural conclusion is that those households would be primarily outside AM, FM and terrestrial TV coverage, because otherwise they would not need VAST.

Senator McCARTHY: You do not know that, though.

Ms Guthrie : It is a pretty substantial conclusion.

Senator McCARTHY: It is a guess. The reason I ask is that the 22,000 households could be just in Darwin. The concern that has been raised with you directly, and through others, is on behalf of the regions of the Northern Territory, particularly the remote regions of the Northern Territory. It is absolutely critical that the ABC, the national broadcaster, does its homework on every level with every decision. As you well know, there are concerns in the regions. Can you table the evidence of the consultation that you say your local staff have made across the Northern Territory?

Ms Guthrie : I can take that on notice. But I will highlight that if you look at other services provided in the Northern Territory, they very much have networks that are similar to the ABC's. Services such as the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association have a vast range of FM transmitters across the Northern Territory and also broadcast over VAST, have a radio app and livestream from their website. They do not operate short-wave services.

Senator McCARTHY: We are talking about the ABC and the importance of short-wave, as you well know. How many—

Ms Guthrie : Fewer than 15 people located in the Northern Territory have contacted us since we made the announcement, so the number of people affected seems to be very small.

Senator McCARTHY: What you are referring to there is consultation after the fact. In a conversation I had prior to it—

Ms Guthrie : I am talking about impact in the Northern Territory, and the impact we have seen over the last three months is made very clear by the number of people who have contacted us.

Senator McCARTHY: But the concerns that have been raised with the ABC by stakeholders like the Cattlemen's Association, the fisheries, the Northern Territory government, the Chief Minister and the Indigenous organisations in remote and regional areas of the Northern Territory clearly do not stack up. Is that correct?

Ms Guthrie : I will say to you that since the announcement was made at the beginning of December we have been contacted by about 15 people, and most of the concerns—

Senator McKENZIE: Have you been to the Northern Territory, Ms Guthrie?

Ms Guthrie : Yes, I have been to the Northern Territory.

CHAIR: Senator McKenzie, you will have the opportunity to ask further questions.

Ms Guthrie : I will say to you that most of the concerns raised in relation to this decision have come from people outside the actual coverage area of the shortwave services in the Northern Territory.

Senator McCARTHY: I am not sure why you think that is a good reason to remove shortwave, when there have clearly been concerns raised by people within the region. The fact of the matter is people who travel rely on shortwave, and that is a really huge thing for the Northern Territory. We have grey nomads and people who live in other parts of the country and travel. The fact that their home address may be interstate—

Ms Guthrie : They also travel in Western Australia—

Senator McCARTHY: makes no difference.

Ms Guthrie : and South Australia.

CHAIR: We have had this issue this morning where we ended up having two people talking at once. If we could ask the question and then wait for the answer, and vice versa, I think that would be very helpful, most of all for Hansard.

Senator McCARTHY: Ms Guthrie, how many jobs have been lost a result of the cuts to the shortwave service?

Ms Guthrie : I will have to take that on notice. But this was a service provision from a third party, so no jobs were affected—

Senator McCARTHY: In the ABC.

Ms Guthrie : Not in the—

Mr Pendleton : Not in the ABC.

Senator McCARTHY: What about in Broadcast Australia?

Mr Pendleton : I am not aware.

Senator McCARTHY: What is the status of the transmitters used to transmit shortwave?

Mr Pendleton : I would have to check with Broadcast Australia what their intentions are for those transmitters.

Senator McCARTHY: How many transmitters are we talking about?

Mr Pendleton : There are three sites. I am not sure. I think they are single-transmitter sites, but again I am not 100 per cent sure.

Senator McCARTHY: So you have made a decision to remove a service without knowing where those transmitters are?

Mr Pendleton : I know where the transmitters are, but I am not sure how many transmitters sit at each site.

Senator McCARTHY: When did the consultation that you say took place commence? If that decision was made in the first week of December, when did the ABC consult, as it says it did, in the Northern Territory?

Ms Guthrie : Following the decision, we very much reached out to our listeners and they were provided with notice of the change.

Senator McCARTHY: So you consulted after you made the decision.

Ms Guthrie : In addition, we did consult with particular stakeholders before the decision was made, as part of—

Senator McCARTHY: Who were they?

Ms Guthrie : I will have to take that on notice.

Senator McCARTHY: When did that take place?

Ms Guthrie : Again, I did not have these specific decisions. I will have to take that on notice.

Senator McCARTHY: Is there anyone in your team who may have those answers?

Mr Pendleton : I can probably give a little bit of background colour to the shortwave services over a longer period of time. I think it is important to understand they are in very remote locations, so they are not manned. When they go down, when there is a problem with those sites, they can be down for long periods of time. Over the years, they have been really quite problematic in terms of how long they have been out for. We have talked here at estimates before about how those sites have been down for a day or two and nobody has really known, because there has not been a complaint or contact in relation to them.

So it is a difficult technology and it is a difficult environment that those transmitters have to operate in. Therefore, it is not as reliable a technology going forward in relation to the broadcast of the services. We know that there has not been a great reliance on those services for quite some period of time.

Senator McCARTHY: I keep coming back to the evidence. Where is your evidence that shows this? You talk about all of these things. We need to see how it is that you actually came to this decision. From what I am hearing and what the committee is hearing, consultation took place after the event. So the question is: how do you say you have consulted post a decision?

Mr Pendleton : I think the business case in terms of the reliability of the service built up over a number of years. But a number of reviews have been undertaken over the years, most recently the ABC/SBS efficiency review that was undertaken by the department. It recommended the cessation of these services. It was the ABC board's decision, as recommended by management, but for a long time there has been an understanding that these are not efficient nor the most effective way to deliver our services.

Senator McCARTHY: Is the ABC board aware of how difficult you have placed the lives of the people of the Northern Territory in removing the service, without having done the homework, without having talked to the people of the Northern Territory, to leave them with no service, especially at the most volatile time of the year, with the wet season, with massive flooding and with cyclones? Is the ABC board aware that it has made a decision completely without the evidence and completely without consultation with the people of the Northern Territory?

Ms Guthrie : In terms of emergency services, it is very clear that the Bureau of Meteorology continues to operate shortwave services in the Northern Territory. The Northern Territory's government website actually recommends that residents check the Bureau of Meteorology's communications for information. Any information we get comes from the Bureau of Meteorology. Those services are still provided on shortwave, for emergency purposes. We were not providing shortwave services for emergency purposes—

Senator McCarthy interjecting

CHAIR: Senator McCarthy, I have given you some latitude and you will have another opportunity. Given that a number of other senators have questions on the same issue, we will complete questions on this particular issue so that we do not have to revisit it.

Senator MOORE: I have a couple of questions about the impact on the Pacific, which has not been picked up, up to now. I do not know, Managing Director, how many people did write to you about the Pacific, but I did, on 12 December, as soon as it happened, and I have not had a response yet. I am waiting for that response. I have a copy of my letter.

Ms Guthrie : I have not seen that letter—

Senator MOORE: I know that there have been meetings arranged to do briefings around the issues in the Northern Territory, but I have not heard much really about the issues in the Pacific. A number of concerns have been raised with me and also, I believe, with DFAT, about the consultation process and what happened there. Regarding the decision in the Pacific, what was the consultation process about the impact of the decision for that area?

Ms Guthrie : We definitely consulted with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and with—

Senator MOORE: When did you do that?

Ms Guthrie : I will have to take that on notice. We also consulted with the various partners throughout the Pacific. Again I can take on notice the matter of the specific consultations in advance of that.

Senator MOORE: The day before the shortwave service was cut in the Northern Territory there was an offer of transitional measures for that region. Has there been any consideration for any similar process in the Pacific?

Ms Guthrie : Transitional arrangements in the Pacific?

Senator MOORE: Yes.

Ms Guthrie : Not that I am aware of.

Senator MOORE: Have the issues around safety, in terms of natural disasters, been raised with the ABC, and what were the answers to that?

Ms Guthrie : Not that I am aware of.

Senator MOORE: There was considerable media at the time from the Pacific media about the impact of this and the concerns raised. Was that taken up with you or your board?

Ms Guthrie : Not that I am aware of.

Senator MOORE: Did anyone from the ABC actually see the media that was covered throughout the Pacific Network, SBS, and the Papua New Guinean—

Mr Millett : I am aware there have been some issues raised about the international service. As part of the transitional arrangements we have agreed to set up some transmitters around Bougainville and Port Moresby, and I think contracts are about to be let for that at the moment.

Senator MOORE: Can we get details of that, Mr Millett?

Mr Millett : Yes, sure. I will provide details of those.

Senator MOORE: The whole discussion seems to have been around the Northern Territory and remote Australia.

Mr Millett : It has. But I would point out that, while there has been a bit of debate around this, most of the kinds of complaints we are getting are from ham radio operators in Canada. There has not been a lot of direct response to us around the issue of the international service.

Senator MOORE: It is interesting, because everyone here has actually had contact, and I know that the Senate committee has had a number of submissions, on it. There is an issue there if people have responded to a Senate committee process calling for submissions on the issue—and I do not know what the current numbers are; Senator McKenzie; you would know that—and none of that has translated to contact with the ABC. That in itself is a communication issue.

Mr Millett : It may have something to do with the Senate process or committee processes, but certainly we have been in consultation with DFAT around transitional arrangements. DFAT understands the reasons we made the decision. We not only talked to DFAT but also went to the various embassies and consulates in the region. Asia in particular is moving very quickly to mobile, and even the Pacific as well, so they understand the reasons for the decision that we made.

Senator MOORE: They understand the reasons; did they give a response when you actually talked with the various embassies—as I have done, as well—and did they agree with your arguments, or just take the information?

Mr Millett : No, they understood why we made the decision we did, in the context of the fact the ABC has to make decisions based on cost-benefit analysis and its available funding. Basically, the ABC board made a decision on the basis that the money that was invested and would need to be invested, particularly in new international contracts, was not justifiable given the audience returns.

CHAIR: I think there is a difference between 'understood' and 'agreed', and I think Senator Moore's question, which I am also interested in, was: 'Did they agree?'—not 'Did they understand?' Could you clarify that point further?

Senator MOORE: Within the context of the ABC board making a decision on regulatory reasons.

Mr Millett : It is probably a question you will need to put to DFAT as well, but my understanding is that they agreed with the decision.

Senator MOORE: Also, you talked about the fact that it was a budget decision, and that was clear from the very start. Was there any discussion with DFAT around alternate funding?

Mr Millett : It was kind of raised at the margins but it certainly was not raised by us, and I do not think it was directly raised by them, either.

Senator MOORE: Did you actually ask for it?

Mr Millett : For extra funding to maintain the service?

Senator MOORE: Yes.

Mr Millett : I am not aware of that. No, we did not.

Ms Guthrie : We did not. And again, in the context of what other public broadcasters are doing in the region, it is also very clear that short wave is a very limited technology. BBC World Service terminated its short wave services in North America, Australasia and Europe, citing an increase in satellite, online and FM listening and a decrease in short wave listening.

Senator MOORE: I am certainly no technical expert in this space, and I am not arguing that it is the best service. What I am saying is that people have said to me that the alternative services are not fully in place yet.

Ms Guthrie : As Mr Millett highlighted, we are making investments in FM transmitters.

Senator MOORE: So the short wave process across the Pacific has been cut off—

Ms Guthrie : Yes.

Senator MOORE: And you are putting out the contracts for the new towers now. What would be the turnaround time for those new towers to be operational?

Mr Pendleton : We will have to take that on notice, but it will not be too long. They will be with existing providers up there.

Senator MOORE: My understanding is that one of the things that was talked about, at least in the region and at least with me, was a service working in tandem until there was absolute certainty of alternative services for the kinds of things that short wave can do in the region, particularly during natural disasters. This was raised with me a number of times, particularly in New Guinea and Fiji, and I am interested to see whether it was raised with you: that during periods such as floods, cyclones or tsunamis the short wave service was the only way that people could get communication effectively in remote areas.

If I can get information on that I would be very grateful, because in my letter I asked for some information about what alternative services were available. Is there confidence that, with the short wave services cut off, there are appropriate communication methodologies in those regions now?

Mr Millett : I do know—and Mr Pendleton can probably assist here—that we are exploring the possibility of whether or not you can fly in portable transmitters, which is what we did in the bushfire regions of Victoria when there was a bushfire a few years ago and that knocked out the transmitter systems. Are you aware of anything more in regard to that?

Mr Pendleton : No. We would have to take that on notice. I think in terms of our remit for being an emergency broadcaster internationally, I am not necessarily sure that Radio Australia provides that sort of service. I would point out that there was a technology end date in relation to the international short-wave services. Those transmitters are all at end-of-life and our contract could not necessarily be extended for any long period of time. Those transmitters need to be rebuilt, and that was looking for longer than a five-year commitment from our service provider. So it was a decision point anyway that we had to make in relation to the technology.

Senator MOORE: That would have been no surprise though, would it Mr Pendleton? You have been looking at this for a long time.

Mr Pendleton : We have been looking at it for a long time.

Senator MOORE: I do not think it snuck up.

Mr Pendleton : No, it did not. We have been extending the services with the old transmitters.

Senator MOORE: I am interested in getting some more information from you, certainly on notice, as to if you are convinced that for all the services that were available for short wave in the Pacific—and I am sure this is the same question for the other parts of Australia as well—that at this point of turn-off comparable, if not better services, are available while we are waiting for other changes?

Mr Pendleton : I will take that on notice.

Senator GRIFF: I find it hard to see how this actually fits with 1(b) of your charter:

… to transmit to countries outside Australia broadcasting programs of news, current affairs, entertainment and cultural enrichment that will: (i) encourage awareness of Australia and an international understanding of Australian attitudes …

and so forth. Aren't you in breach of that?

Ms Guthrie : We absolutely take that obligation very seriously, but at no point in the charter does it say, 'by short-wave services forever'. We have to make decisions around the right technology mix, and we have to make decisions around the effective and efficient use of our funds to distribute our services as widely as we can.

Senator GRIFF: So much has changed in the last few years. If you look at your departing international chief, Lynley Marshall, who reported just three years ago that older short-wave technology was still relevant in the Pacific in particular, saying:

You'd have to see a significant take-up in other devices to warrant moving away from shortwave.

So you are saying it has dramatically changed in these countries?

Ms Guthrie : Yes, it has.

Senator GRIFF: Based on?

Ms Guthrie : Based on the work we have been doing in those countries. It is very clear to us that for us to sign a potential 10-year short-wave contract for the Pacific made no economic sense for us on the basis of at least $2.8 million a year for the next 10 years. So we absolutely made a decision based on—

Senator GRIFF: But there is the work you have done, the research that you have undertaken yourself, and you have had companies undertake this research. Who has undertaken this research?

Ms Guthrie : We have an international development team who are very connected with the circumstances in each of the countries in which we operate.

Senator GRIFF: Will you be able to table that research?

Ms Guthrie : I will have to take that on notice.

Senator McKENZIE: You said that the decision to turn off short wave was in line with international decisions around technology use. I go to your statement in The Australian on 22 January where, yes, you mention the BBC World Service but you also mention the Vatican. That is a city state. The service provision and the technology options available to the Vatican and available to the BBC World Service in the communities that they present to are hardly similar to what would be available in the Northern Territory.

My question still remains, and it is very similar to Senator Moore's question about the Pacific. Claims are continually made by the ABC that this is old technology, but when I talk to cattlemen who are still using the equivalent of CB radios rather than iPhones out on their stations, it works. It has a utility for a group of people and until something supersedes it, surely we stick with it? That is my question, Ms Guthrie.

Ms Guthrie : I can, again, reiterate that we definitely do not want to restrict our services in any way in the Northern Territory—

Senator McKENZIE: But you have.

Ms Guthrie : Whatever we can do to actually transition those people to VAST services or to other alternative services, please have them contact us. We have been contacted by 15 people—

Senator McKENZIE: I have heard the evidence that you have presented. With respect, the board made this decision. The VAST system does not work for these communities because it is not a mobile service. What technology are you providing to these communities?

Ms Guthrie : Let me give you the example of a Radio National listener who contacted us from regional Western Australia. We actually asked on Radio National how people were receiving our services. The example that was given by this listener was that he was a truck driver across remote and regional Western Australia on a fly-in fly-out basis. He did not have access to mobile technology. But whenever he was in town he downloaded every RN podcast there was and listened to them for hours and hours for his drive. So that is the way that people are accessing technology.

I will say that there are alternatives available. They may not be the exact use that people are used to, but we are very encouraged by the feedback we have had from other communities in regional Australia. And, as I said, we are also very determined to work with our affected listeners and to make sure that they can find alternative ways of accessing our services.

Senator McKENZIE: Look, podcasts are great, I use them all the time. But I am going to the point that has been raised in many submissions: cyclones are not unheard of in the Northern Territory and the ABC is the emergency service broadcaster—

Ms Guthrie : We are not the emergency service broadcaster—

Senator McKENZIE: Well, I would assume, and I know you are right—

Ms Guthrie : We work with the Bureau of Meteorology—

Senator McKENZIE: It's okay—I will go straight to the submissions, Ms Guthrie, seeing you are not coming to the inquiry, and then you can hear directly from the people who are concerned about the capacity of the ABC and the reliance they have on the ABC when it comes to cyclones, floods and fires. They say that the short-wave radio is essential for them to have up-to-date—not a podcast—real-time information on when the fire is coming through and how to protect their families, their farms et cetera.

Ms Guthrie : And that is still provided by the Bureau of Meteorology by short wave for anybody who cannot receive our services by VAST, by FM or in any other way.

Senator McKENZIE: So you have confidence that your withdrawal of short wave will not impact on the emergency service information going to Northern Territorians?

Ms Guthrie : We receive our information for cyclones and floods from the Bureau of Meteorology.

Senator McKENZIE: Okay. Is that a yes, Ms Guthrie? You are confident that Northern Territorians will have the information they need following the withdrawal of your short wave? The fishermen, the cattlemen and the tourists will have the emergency service information they need in a timely fashion?

Ms Guthrie : As I—

Senator McKENZIE: That it will not impact—

Ms Guthrie : As I highlighted to Senator McCarthy, the Northern Territory government's website in fact recommends that residents check the Bureau of Meteorology's communications for information about weather events, not to check the ABC short-wave service.

Senator McKENZIE: When was that put up?

Ms Guthrie : My understanding is that it is on the Northern Territory government's website.

Senator McKENZIE: I am sure it is, but when was it put up? Was it put up post your decision on short-wave radio?

Ms Guthrie : I have no idea.

Senator McKENZIE: Can you take that on notice, please, to find that out?

Ms Guthrie : Sure.

Senator McKENZIE: I just want to go to the cattlemen's concerns. You have made claims about the limited audience, and we have heard that today. Would you be able to provide the numbers of the limited audience that you are speaking of?

Ms Guthrie : The 14 people who have contacted us?

Senator McKENZIE: No, I am assuming there were more than 14 people who would have used the short-wave service.

Ms Guthrie : No, the 14 people who contacted us to say that—

Senator McKENZIE: So you are assuming that the entire coverage of the short-wave radio was 14?

Ms Guthrie : In terms of the people who have contacted us to say that they had relied on short wave and they were looking for alternative services. We are assisting them in that transition. My understanding is that it is 14 or 15 people.

Senator McKENZIE: I understand 14 people have called you. Michael Mason, the director of radio, made some comments on Northern Territory radio and said that there is only a limited audience in the Northern Territory accessing the shortwave radio service.

Ms Guthrie : That is correct.

Senator McKENZIE: 'How many?' is my question.

Ms Guthrie : We will have to take that on notice.

Senator McKENZIE: You will have to take that on notice? I am pretty disappointed, given the extensive research you have done internally into this and presented to the board, that you would not know that this would be an incredibly topical point of conversation today and that you would not know what the limited audience would be. Can you please table the internal research that you presented to the board, which you have stated on evidence?

Ms Guthrie : We will take that on notice.

Senator McKENZIE: And the consultation?

CHAIR: Senator McKenzie, can I just clarify that? Are you taking the question on notice or are you undertaking to table it on notice?

Ms Guthrie : We will take on notice whether we are able, in fact, to table that.

CHAIR: Is that a public interest immunity claim you will take back to the minister?

Senator DASTYARI: They have not claimed immunity yet.

CHAIR: No, so I just want to clarify it. Is the intention to take the question on notice to provide the documents with any other information, or are you going back to consider whether you will or will not table it? They are two different things, so I just want to clarify it.

Senator McKENZIE: That is right.

Ms Guthrie : We will provide the information.

CHAIR: Sorry to be difficult, but it is subject to different interpretations.

Senator McKENZIE: It can get quite technical and you were claiming some confidential matters with Senator McCarthy.

Ms Guthrie : In relation to board papers, yes.

Senator McKENZIE: Board papers? So my question is: are you claiming that they are confidential and therefore the Senate committee does not have an option to access those?

Ms Guthrie : We will provide you the information that you need in terms of the research we did to support the decision around shortwave.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you. And about the board decision Senator McCarthy was wanting, we would like the minutes of the board meeting.

Ms Guthrie : The board decision is as set out in the press release. We can table—

Senator McKENZIE: The notes of the board meeting. That would be fabulous, thank you.

Mr Millett : I just want to clarify: what you are saying is you are asking us to table the board minutes, and if we do not we should claim immunity around the board minutes?

Senator McKENZIE: Yes, you would have to claim immunity, Mr Millett.

Mr Millett : But in the past what we have said is that our board processes are confidential. We will do our best to provide the information to answer the question you are asking.

Senator McKENZIE: The question I am asking is to look at those documents. You can take it on notice, as the Chair made clear, in one of two ways: you can take on notice to consider whether you will or will not provide that information, and then have to make a claim for public interest immunity; or you can agree to do it.

Senator Fifield: I was just going to add that in the ordinary course of events with board papers from government entities there are issues of commercial in confidence. I am saying there can be issues of commercial in confidence in relation to board papers because the ABC operates in an environment where there are other media organisations. I am just saying that sometimes that is the case. I think what the organisation is undertaking to do is to provide the information that is sought. It might not necessarily be in the format of board papers, but the information that the committee is seeking the ABC will endeavour to provide.

Senator McKENZIE: The committee could also make a decision to receive those documents in confidence. That is up to the committee.

Senator Fifield: I think the ABC, to my reading, is not endeavouring to be unhelpful.

Senator McKENZIE: No, I agree.

Senator Fifield: They are looking to seek to provide the information the committee is after.

Senator McKENZIE: It is just around clarity, I guess.

CHAIR: Just so that I am clear as Chair, are you going to take the question on notice to consider your position and then come back and advise whether you are claiming public interest immunity on some or all of it, or not?

Ms Guthrie : Chair, to clarify, we will provide you with the information that has been provided to the board in relation to the decision, and we will confirm the decision that has been made by the board. We may or may not be able to do that by way of actual board papers, but the substance, I think, of what Senator McKenzie is after will be provided.

Senator LUDLAM: I would be interested to know if, in the process of tabling that material, you can provide to the committee your anticipated broadband speeds in rural and remote Australia, because I am presuming that has some bearing.

Ms Guthrie : My understanding is that we were very much reliant for the most part on VAST services that are provided, not on broadband technology, in the short term.

Senator McKENZIE: I am going to keep returning to this VAST question. The cattlemen said, 'VAST is not a comprehensive substitute for short-wave radio because it is immobile and only covers a fraction of where people work and make their living.' Similar claims have been made by the fishers and by the Chief Minister, who is not on my team usually. We go to VAST being the stopgap for these people, and it is simply not true. Your annual report records that regional Australians adore the ABC—a greater proportion of our population watch it than in urban areas—yet I can only come to the conclusion that, in the words of the cattlemen, there is an 'unjust and dishonest policy of exclusion and discrimination against remote and regional Australians.' You have not consulted the fishers, done your research, followed due process or followed your charter. There is a real lack of confidence in the ABC's commitment to rural and regional Australia when you make decisions where you might have talked to the embassies, but you did not talk to the people.

Mr Millett : Can I say something in response?

Senator McKENZIE: Go for it.

Mr Millett : The service was off air for two weeks in August-September last year. There was a negligible response to that. If the service was so important then why didn't people get in contact with us?

Senator McKENZIE: I appreciate that, but you just said you consulted with the embassies; why didn't you consult with the people?

Mr Millett : The evidence—both the small number of responses since the decision was taken and the negligible response when the service was shut down for two weeks for maintenance last year—indicates there is a lack of use of the service.

Senator McKENZIE: I am sure that will all be in your research documents as to why you made the decision.

Mr Millett : It sure will.

Senator McKENZIE: My question goes to talking to the people whom your decision affects, and you did not bother.

Mr Millett : We are doing that.

CHAIR: Do you have more questions on this particular issue, Senator McKenzie?

Senator McKENZIE: Not on short wave, unless something comes up.

Senator MOORE: Minister, we have heard that the ABC discussed the decision about the Pacific with DFAT. Was there any discussion between you and the minister about this, either Minister Bishop or Minister Fierravanti-Wells? Did the topic come up in conversation?

Senator Fifield: No, not with me. Discussions between me and Minister Bishop and Minister Fierravanti-Wells?

Senator MOORE: Yes, on this particular issue.

Senator Fifield: Not to my recollection. The officers at the table may correct me if I am wrong, but I think the first that I became aware was upon the announcement.

Senator McCARTHY: Ms Guthrie, do you know how many members there are in the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association?

Ms Guthrie : No, I do not.

Senator McCARTHY: Are you aware that they represent at least 60 to 70 per cent of the cattle properties across the Northern Territory?

Ms Guthrie : No, I am not.

Senator McCARTHY: Are you aware of a letter from the NTCA president, Tom Stockwell, who warned that 'many remote-living Territorians will suffer the consequences of having their communications lifeline cut'?

Ms Guthrie : I do not think he wrote that letter to me.

Senator McCARTHY: I will read what he has written. I quote NTCA President Tom Stockwell:

This decision is yet another example of vital services being removed from the bush without any consultation and completely ignores the critical communication needs of people living in isolation.

Are you aware of the issues that the cattlemen raised about that sense of isolation and the need to have that communication through shortwave?

Ms Guthrie : I will take that as a comment from the letter, but, as I said, I was not previously aware of that letter because it was not sent to me.

Senator McCARTHY: The reason I raise the NT Cattlemen's Association is that we are talking about a couple of hundred Territorians. So, when you tell the committee that you have only received 14 letters, that tells me that you do not take into account one of the largest stakeholders in the Northern Territory, which has a representation of so many people.

Ms Guthrie : If they are so concerned, I just make the comment that they have not written to me.

Senator McCARTHY: You say they have not written to you?

Ms Guthrie : Not that I am aware. I have not received a letter.

Senator McCARTHY: Yet you received a letter from Warren Snowdon, the member for Lingiari, and me letting you know about the concerns of the Cattlemen's Association?

Ms Guthrie : Yes, you did, but they have not written directly to me, no.

Senator McCARTHY: So you need a direct letter, even though you had two members of the federal parliament explain that to you directly.

Ms Guthrie : As you know, I have previously asked, when constituents have reached out to you, whether you and Mr Snowdon can put those people in contact with us so that we can work with them on transition arrangements.

Senator McCARTHY: What would you do then?

Ms Guthrie : We would reach out from our services in the Northern Territory to determine ways in which we can make sure that they have access to our services, whether it is via VAST or FM or some other way.

Senator McCARTHY: I think you know, and I am sure your team do know, that VAST, as has already been mentioned here, has to be fixed to a facility. Many of the concerns have been raised by people who are truckies or who travel the Territory and the roads and the remote regions. The cattlemen who muster and take their cattle into different parts of the Northern Territory cannot take the homestead with them. The fishermen, when they go out, and the women who go out cannot put VAST on the end of a tinnie.

Ms Guthrie : And those issues apply across Australia, not just in the Northern Territory. We do not provide shortwave services in any other state or territory.

Senator McCARTHY: Sorry, I missed that.

Ms Guthrie : The issues that you raised relate across regional Australia. They are not specific to the Northern Territory. I again reiterate that we do not provide shortwave services in any other state or territory—or we did not until—

Senator McCARTHY: With the greatest of respect, every other aspect and area of Australia has far greater access to communication than the people in the northern part of this country. What you have removed, without ensuring that there is adequate communication, is absolutely disastrous to these people, whose lifeblood, whose very work, sweat and tears, relies on the communication. Your inability, and your team's inability, to even have the compassion, care and concern that these issues that have been raised consistently, based on the human nature of your decision and your inability to even feel or see that is just absolutely—

CHAIR: Senator McCarthy, to be consistent, I have given you some latitude and a long introduction to a question. Is there a question?

Senator McCARTHY: I guess what I am asking you is: Will you reverse your decision?

Ms Guthrie : No.

Senator McCARTHY: Thank you.

CHAIR: I think we will end the issue of short wave there, but Ms Guthrie, I have to say that after listening carefully to the questions and answers here this evening, and the fact that this committee has had 52 submissions—I understand—and on the face of it there is only one submission, as far as I am aware, that is in support of the ABC's position, and that is the ABC's own submission. I would hope that the ABC will take this inquiry into the bill a little more seriously and—

Mr Millett : Can I just let the inquiry into the bill—

CHAIR: Mr Millet! I am just saying, as chair, that I hope the committee will take it seriously and take the feedback that you have had, not only in the 52 submissions that we have had, or 51 minus your own. But I am a little disappointed, I have to say, in the amount of questions you have not been able to answer here today. Ms Guthrie, I am not sure if your staff have well served you in this, because a lot of the correspondence we have had from MPs and others clearly has not been brought to your attention. I very much look forward to the committee's opportunity to pursue this matter further, whether it is with Ms Reynolds, yourself or somebody else. I think I speak behalf on the senators here that this is something that the committee, on behalf of rural and regional Australia and elsewhere, takes very seriously.

Ms Guthrie : I will say that we absolutely take this issue very seriously, and we absolutely take the inquiry seriously. It is unfortunate that I have had inability to actually attend next week's committee meetings, but it is important that we actually participate and it is very important that Fiona Reynolds participates in those hearings. But I will also reiterate that as we look at all of our resources, we have to make some difficult decisions. I agree that it is terrible when 15 people are affected or 52 people are affected, but I will say that we would love to hear from them directly and find ways in which we can work with them to actually transition those services over.

CHAIR: Thank you Ms Guthrie; I will leave the debate there, but if that is what you have taken out of what the senators and the submissions have said to you, that it is your 12 people or the 52 submitters which is the extent of the people affected by that, I think we are going to have some very interesting discussions at the next hearing. We will put that aside from now and now we will move on—one final question.

Senator McKENZIE: The 52 submissions are not from individuals. The 51 submissions that do not agree with your decision actually represent thousands of actual people on the ground in the NT and across the north. It seems to me that you have not read Senator McCarthy's letter—

Ms Guthrie : I have read Senator McCarthy's letter.

Senator McKENZIE: You have? It is yours. You were not aware of the cattlemen's comments. I will provide you with the 51 submissions and I will send them to your office tomorrow so that you can get across them.

Ms Guthrie : Thank you.

Senator McCARTHY: My question then is: what are you going to do about all the people who have raised these concerns, because, clearly, you are not going to reverse your decision, even though 'vast' is not an adequate—

Ms Guthrie : As we said, we are working with them individually. The more contact we have with affected individuals, the more work we have to do with them to make sure that we find alternative services for them.

CHAIR: We will move on from this issue. What I will do is have five minutes for each senator, and we will go round once if not twice.

Senator DASTYARI: I am going to try to be as quick as I can. I do not want to be eating into Comrade Abetz's time. I will start with the minister. I want to talk about the process around the two recent board appointments that were announced on Monday, 27 February. Again, I do not want to pass any kind of issue. Explain to me how the independent process works. Were both of the appointments recommended by the independent panel?

Senator Fifield: The way the independent panel process works is that the panel is legislated. The Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet appoints the members of the panel. When there is a vacancy I initiate the panel process. My department provides secretarial support for the panel process and my department places the advertisements. There is a recruitment firm who are engaged, but they work to the panel. Essentially, my line of sight occurs when the panel conclude their work and when they give me their report which contains recommendations.

Senator DASTYARI: The media commentary—again I want to confirm that this is correct—is that Dr Vanessa Guthrie was not recommended by the nomination panel. Is that correct?

Senator Fifield: That was stated in my press release. She applied through the process but was not on the list of recommendations. Georgie Somerset, who was the other nominee, was one of the minister's recommendations.

Senator DASTYARI: When it comes to Dr Vanessa Guthrie, when the appointment is not being made by the independent panel, is it made directly by you, Minister Fifield, or is it made by cabinet?

Senator Fifield: These appointments, ultimately, are decisions that are taken by cabinet on a recommendation by the minister and then given effect to by the Governor-General in Executive Council.

Senator DASTYARI: Was it your idea to appoint Dr Vanessa Guthrie or was it the Prime Minister's?

Senator Fifield: It was mine. It was my recommendation to the internal processes of government.

Senator DASTYARI: Are you aware of the independent nomination panel process being ignored before?

Senator Fifield: Yes, I am. Sorry, I will not say 'ignored'. The panel process is never ignored. It is a legislative requirement that panel process be gone through. Recommendations are made and then it is up to the government to accept some of those recommendations.

In circumstances where a recommendation is not accepted and the government decides to make an appointment of someone not on the recommendation list, then the minister, being me, has to table within the parliament within a specified time frame a statement of reasons as to why that person was chosen.

Senator DASTYARI: With the independent nomination panel, did you go back to them and ask them why they did not recommend Dr Guthrie? You get a written report, right?

Senator Fifield: Yes, I get a written report.

Senator DASTYARI: Can we have that? Has been tabled in the past?

Senator Fifield: I do not think so, because the nomination panel process operates on the assumption that people want to apply for the board of the ABC in confidence, because if someone is not successful and it is known that they applied then I think that would quickly see the people applying dry up the process.

Senator DASTYARI: If Dr Vanessa Guthrie was not recommended by the panel, did you go back to the panel and ask them why they did not recommend her before you took the step of making the recommendation?

Senator Fifield: I did not consult the panel on this. I had their report. I had their list of recommendations. I was very keen that there be someone from Western Australia, and there were no Western Australian recommendations on the recommendation list.

Senator DASTYARI: I note that you do not want to go into details about who else was on it, and I think that is quite reasonable. So does the report you get—because I have obviously never seen one of these—state both why people are being recommended and why others are not? Was Dr Guthrie in that report, and were the reasons why the panel thought it was not appropriate in that report?

Senator Fifield: No, the report does not say that people are not appropriate. The report says, 'Here are a list of recommendations,' and then there is information about those individuals.

Senator DASTYARI: So the recommendation was not made. Was that part of the report you have had?

Senator Fifield: As I say, the report goes to the people who have been recommended. It does not pass commentary on other people.

Senator DASTYARI: So it just says, 'Here are the three people, and here is why we think these three people'—

Senator Fifield: Or, 'Here are eight people.'

Senator DASTYARI: It does not say, 'Here's why these other people are unsuitable.' So Dr Guthrie would not have been a significant part of that report if she were not a person being recommended.

Senator Fifield: Correct.

Senator WILLIAMS: Ms Guthrie, in The Sydney Morning Herald on 17 February, it was revealed the ABC is cutting $50 million from ABC management to put into programming, a move I wholeheartedly support, with some conditions. How much of that $50 million does the ABC plan to put into your regional division?

Ms Guthrie : Senator, you refer to some speculation in the media that we will soon announce some structural changes at the ABC. Frankly, during the 10 months I have been at the ABC, I have listened carefully to our staff and thought very carefully about how we operate as a public broadcaster now and in the future. I expect we will be in a position to provide more details about our plans in the weeks ahead, and I am happy to come back and discuss those details, but my priority is with the staff, and I cannot really comment until we have had the opportunity of talking directly to them about the proposals we are developing.

Senator WILLIAMS: You are planning to save the $50 million, of course?

Ms Guthrie : I really cannot go into the details of what we are working on over the next week or so.

Senator WILLIAMS: Okay. Let's just move to a couple of other things. Your organisation has well over 4,000 employees in capital cities and around 500 outside the capital cities. Do you think that is an imbalance? Do you think that is fair when it comes to spreading your resources across Australia?

Ms Guthrie : I do not think that those numbers are entirely correct.

Senator WILLIAMS: You might perhaps correct them for me, then.

Ms Guthrie : I can provide you with the information that we have provided on notice previously. Perhaps I can give you the specifics on notice, but we do not have 4,500 staff; we have fewer than that. But roughly 10 to 15 per cent of our staff are based in regional areas.

Senator WILLIAMS: So it is a small number compared to the cities. How many members of the ABC executive live outside the capital cities?

Ms Guthrie : Fiona Reynolds, who is our head of regional, lives in Launceston.

Senator WILLIAMS: Just the one?

Ms Guthrie : That is correct.

Senator WILLIAMS: Is it true the average wage you pay to a country journalist is far less than the average you pay to your city journalists?

Ms Guthrie : I do not think you can really make that straight comparison. The types of services that are provided in different regional locations are very different from those across city locations. But I will say that, after spending quite a bit of time with our regional team and with our regional offices, I do believe that further investment is required in regional areas.

Senator WILLIAMS: So do I.

Ms Guthrie : Primarily, it is a combination of a number of things. One is making sure that they have the tools and technology that enable them to actually get out of the studio and tell the stories—

Senator WILLIAMS: Okay, time is very short. So I cannot ask you the question and you cannot answer the question: are regional journalists paid less than city journalists?

Ms Guthrie : Again, it is not a like-for-like comparison. The kinds of services that are provided and the kinds of staff that we have in regional locations differ enormously across our 48 regional locations, so it is not really an apples-to-apples comparison.

Senator WILLIAMS: Okay. I got very few answers there, but I will be watching very closely what you do in the future to see that regional and rural Australia does not get a raw deal, because I think that is what they have got in the Northern Territory. I have been trying to get a transmitter in Inverell, the town I live near, because the reception is so poor. We have not progressed one bit there. I wish you would look at that again, Ms Guthrie. I live 10 kays out of town. I cannot pick up the ABC—in a town of 12,000 people.

Senator McKENZIE: Maybe you need VAST.

Senator WILLIAMS: You must keep your eye on the enemy, Senator Abetz.

Senator LUDLAM: I just want to pick up where Senator Dastyari left off about the board appointment of Dr Guthrie. How did Dr Guthrie come to your attention.

Senator Fifield: She was an applicant through the process. As I said before, I was very keen to ensure that the ABC board has a broad geographic representation. One of the vacancies was occasioned by a West Australian, so I was particularly looking for a West Australian.

Senator LUDLAM: I am not going to fight you over that, as a Western Australian senator. There are no guidelines or mandatory requirements to have geographic diversity in your board appointments, are there?

Senator Fifield: There are not, but I think, given the nature of the ABC, it is good for the organisation that there be broad geographic representation, and that is something that I have worked hard on.

Senator LUDLAM: We have had plenty of run-ins in here on concentration into Ultimo, so diversity on the board is fine.

Senator Fifield: I am working to do my little bit on that front.

Senator LUDLAM: I cannot work out what qualifications Dr Guthrie has for a board position, apart from running a failed uranium mining company in WA and being a spokesperson for the mining sector. What on earth does she bring to the board of the nation's most important public broadcaster.

Senator McKENZIE: Diversity.

Senator LUDLAM: Lots of people are from WA, Senator McKenzie.

Senator McKENZIE: Not from the uranium industry.

CHAIR: Senator McKenzie and Senator Ludlam, please refer your questions to the witnesses.

Senator LUDLAM: There is clearly a deficiency of uranium industry executives running public broadcasting! But I presume that was not the answer you were going to go for, Senator.

Senator Fifield: She is a significant and accomplished business figure. She is the chair of the Minerals Council of Australia.

Senator LUDLAM: I am aware of that.

Senator Fifield: She is also the deputy chair of the WACA. I think she is a suitable person for appointment to the board of the ABC.

Senator LUDLAM: What are her qualifications in anything at all related to communications or public broadcasting—or any kind or broadcasting?

Senator Fifield: The ABC board has people with a broad range of skill sets across business, across media. You do not look to have all skill sets represented in one individual.

Senator LUDLAM: Anything at all?

Senator Fifield: What you look to do is see that there is a broad range of skill sets in aggregate across the board.

Senator LUDLAM: There is no need to know anything at all about broadcasting to be on the board of our national broadcaster?

Senator Fifield: You do not need to have worked professionally in broadcasting to have views, to have thoughts and to be in a position to make a contribution to the board of the ABC. It would be a fairly monochromatic board if everyone on the ABC board had a broadcasting or media background.

Senator LUDLAM: In a quote from a piece by Amanda Meade in The Guardian on 27 February, Dr Guthrie is quoted as saying:

"[The east coast] is severely under attack from social activism," she said. "It needs all the help it can get. But it means that the rest of the minerals industry gets somewhat tarnished by the coal debate and I think unfairly. I think coal is under attack unfairly …

Has she been put on the board in order to improve the image of the minerals industry on the ABC?

Senator Fifield: No.

Senator LUDLAM: I cannot work out why else she is there. It is no disrespect to her qualifications in running mining companies, but what is she doing on the board of the ABC?

Senator Fifield: I do not have a view that there are particular sectors of the Australian economy where, if someone has worked in that sector, they should be barred from consideration for appointment to the board of the ABC.

Senator LUDLAM: No, certainly not. That is not my point at all. You have implied that you saw the long list of names. Was that at the same time as you were presented with the short list by your selection panel?

Senator Fifield: I think so.

Senator LUDLAM: So that was all part of it.

Senator Fifield: If I did not have the longer list I would have asked for it immediately. They were there in quick succession if not at the same time.

Senator LUDLAM: That is okay; we are not in court. Have you had any contact with her in the past? Have you had any kind of professional engagement or relationship or anything—

Senator Fifield: No. I commenced contact with her when I saw her name and thought that she would be someone worth considering for the board.

Senator LUDLAM: A severe skill shortage of mining industry lobbyists in the ABC made you choose her?

Senator Fifield: As I say, I do not have a disposition against people from the extractive industries.

Senator LUDLAM: How many people with expertise in the renewable energy sector have you got on the board of the ABC?

Senator Fifield: I could not tell you off the top of my head—

Senator LUDLAM: I could—about none!

Senator Fifield: because the people on the board of the ABC have many and varied backgrounds. So I could not tell you if they do or they do not, but who knows—they are a very interesting group of people.

Senator LUDLAM: You could surprise us yet. I will come back with some questions for Ms Guthrie a bit later.

Senator ABETZ: Ms Guthrie, you are the editor-in-chief of the ABC?

Ms Guthrie : That is correct.

Senator ABETZ: Are you able to explain why the horrid comments of Keysar Trad flew under the radar of the ABC without any mention on the bulletin, 7.30, Lateline, The World Today, Radio National—you name it? Why were his horrid comments in relation to domestic violence being okay as a matter of last resort not deemed worthy by any of your outlets?

Ms Guthrie : I am glad that you clearly watched Media Watch last night. I must admit I watched with interest and I was glad that Media Watch had raised it. My colleague Mr Sunderland has more details, because we have done some work in identifying stories—the coverage that actually did occur. Mr Sutherland has those details.

Senator ABETZ: Time is very limited. If you could provide an answer to that on notice, but my concern is that, whilst I assume, Ms Guthrie, you do not micromanage each section of the ABC, what it highlights yet again is what I have referred to many times as the groupthink. The fact that all of the areas deemed it not worthy is indicative of a groupthink and a cultural set to ensure that these things are not covered. I will just make this comment before moving on to another lot of questions—

Ms Guthrie : Senator Abetz—

Senator ABETZ: If it were Cardinal Pell that said that, it would have led every single ABC news bulletin for 72 hours straight. There would have been a discussion on 7.30, The World Today et cetera.

CHAIR: Senator Abetz, it is your five minutes to use, but if you have a question there, that would be helpful.

Mr Sunderland : Senator, it is really important just to state briefly—we will provide a detailed response to you—it was not ignored by the whole ABC; it was covered. It was covered on some of our outlets. Fundamentally, we are in agreement: we did not do a good enough job on it. We did not cover it as accurately and as comprehensively as we should have, and I agree with you.

Senator ABETZ: You did not cover it.

Mr Sunderland : We did cover it, and Media Watch actually did not suggest that we did not cover it at all either. But we will provide a detailed response to you.

Senator ABETZ: Can I move on to another area. Is it correct that the offer of complete programs, completely funded, researched, gathered and edited without input from the ABC, attract significant senior editorial and managerial attention before being transmitted?

Ms Guthrie : I am not clear what the question is. Are you saying—

Senator ABETZ: Is it correct that the offer of complete programs, completely funded, researched, gathered and edited without input from the ABC, attract significant senior editorial and managerial attention within the ABC before they are transmitted?

Ms Guthrie : That is incorrect.

Senator ABETZ: You do not give it?

Ms Guthrie : No, we do not get provided with those types of programs. That is not the way in which we gather news and current affairs.

Senator ABETZ: I am talking about programs, not necessarily news or current affairs.

Ms Guthrie : What kinds of programs are you talking about—television programs?

Senator ABETZ: I am talking about the programming of Mr Denton's five programs that he made. He is an acknowledged advocate for a particular cause and he was given five half-hour programs and then given wall-to-wall coverage—

Ms Guthrie : When was this?

Senator ABETZ: On the ABC. I would suggest it is a contentious issue. It was in relation to—what was the program called?

Mr Millett : It dealt with euthanasia.

Senator ABETZ: Yes: Better Off Dead.

Ms Guthrie : That clearly happened before I arrived at the ABC 10 months ago, so perhaps one of my colleagues might be able to provide further details of that.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, of course.

Mr Sunderland : Certainly, Senator. It is not clear precisely what details you are after, but in answer to your more general question: we will either produce content ourselves, we will coproduce or we will acquire content, and in every case there are editorial processes—different but existing editorial processes—that apply to that.

Senator ABETZ: Alright. Can you tell me what other advocate for a cause has been given such extensive coverage of five half-hour programs and then the wall-to-wall coverage, and I will put a lot of questions on notice in relation to this.

Ms Guthrie : We had a recent three-part program called Ice Wars, which was a terrific program. We have multiple—

Senator ABETZ: No, no—the one advocate doing it all. Mr Denton is clearly an advocate for a cause—he has written a book, et cetera, et cetera—so it is not about an issue. I want to know what other advocate has been given such extensive ABC coverage on what is clearly a very contentious issue.

Mr Sunderland : It will not surprise you, Senator, that I would question a lot of the assumptions in what you have just said, but we will respond.

Senator ABETZ: What—that it is not contentious?

Mr Sunderland : It is contentious.

Senator ABETZ: Thank you. So it is contentious.

CHAIR: Mr Sunderland, in deference to time, I understand Ms Guthrie has taken that on notice, so if you could provide all of that on notice it would be appreciated.

Senator HUME: At the last estimates, Mr Sunderland, you will remember, I questioned you about a Four Corners program and the objectivity and potential for bias in that program. You were fantastic; you followed up with me. I lodged a formal complaint, as you will recall, to the ABC and you followed up with me on that, and I am very grateful to you for that. But I would like to pursue Senator Abetz's earlier line of questioning about the comments of Mr Trad, the President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. I know you have said that you did not feel you did a good enough job. It just astounds me that if I google the ABC's reporting into comments around domestic violence that Eddie McGuire made about Caroline Wilson the first page of Google comes up with at least nine different reports from the ABC on that issue over a three-day period, yet with this there are shrieks of silence. It just seems extraordinary that on this issue no journalism seems to have been considered good journalism.

Mr Sunderland : Certainly. I will not waste a lot of time on this, because fundamentally I agree that the criticisms made by Media Watch, and implicitly here today, are a fair cop. I do not think we did a good enough job. I have right in front of me a story, which was filed the very next morning, where Keysar Trad was described on ABC as dangerous and mad. That ran nationally across the country. There was extensive coverage of it on our radio talkback programs right around the country. It was not good enough. It was not, in my view, extensive enough, and I am very happy to make that clear and I can provide more information on notice. But I just do not want the impression to be left that we made some sort of concerted decision, as an organisation, that it was not worthy of coverage. We decided it was worthy of coverage. We covered it, just not well enough, in my view.

Senator HUME: Right. So Paul Barry was not correct when he said that it did not appear on ABC News, it did not appear on Lateline, it did not appear on 7.30, it did not appear on The Drum and it did not appear on ABC Radio?

Mr Sunderland : On the specific programs that he mentioned, as far as I know, and I have run some checks since the program last night with News management—and when you say 'news', that is the 7 pm news?

Senator HUME: Yes.

Mr Sunderland : Yes, I believe that is accurate. It was run on radio news; it was run across the country. And Media Watch, if you go back, were quite precise on saying that it received no coverage in certain other media publications and very little coverage at the ABC. That is correct.

Senator HUME: Right. So you do agree that it was a subject that is newsworthy; it just was not a subject that the ABC covered?

Mr Sunderland : We did cover it, but I do not think we covered it well enough or extensively enough.

Senator HUME: Okay. I was going to make a formal complaint against the ABC, because you responded so beautifully to the last one, but I will not do that.

Mr Sunderland : You are always welcome, Senator.

Senator HUME: Thank you very much.

CHAIR: Could you just take on notice with that, again, what editorial policies allowed that to occur in terms of the lack of weight across your programs and what lessons you have learnt. You have acknowledged that it was not right, so could you take on notice what lessons you have learnt to try to make sure that you do get more balance and weight across your various outlets.

Mr Sunderland : I will happily do that.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to ask about audio description. I have got a couple of specific questions around how much it will cost for the ABC to implement an audio description service on broadcast TV.

Mr Millett : As you are aware, we have conducted two trials on audio description and delivered a report to government. The next step in that process is to wait for a government response to that.

Senator SIEWERT: Do I take from that answer that the report has an indication of the cost of providing that service?

Mr Millett : It goes to the cost and the other details, such as technical issues and challenges that arise from undertaking the trial.

Senator SIEWERT: I were specifically asking about cost. Does that mean that you cannot release the information, or that you are not prepared to release the information, until the government releases that report?

Mr Millett : I will take that question on notice. I will have to go back and check.

Senator SIEWERT: I will ask the minister: can you tell me how much it is going to cost to put an audio description process in place?

Senator Fifield: I cannot give you that figure. The ABC would be in a better position as to what the cost would be.

Senator SIEWERT: I will rephrase that: could you enable Mr Millett to release that information now? He clearly has it now.

Mr Millett : No, I do not. It relates to what is the nature of how you undertake audio description in the future. We have done two limited trials, one based on broadcasting and one based online. The question that you asked—

Senator SIEWERT: I am asking about broadcasting. I specifically asked about broadcasting.

Mr Millett : Again, how much? The question relates to what is the nature of the service you actually providing, over what period and what programming. I do not know the answer to that question until we know the nature of exactly what is the service that you are going to provide.

Senator SIEWERT: What is the nature of the report that you have given to the minister?

Mr Millett : The report on broadcasting has been released and is available. The first report, which was done into the broadcasting trial, was made public.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, but the second one has not been.

Mr Millett : The second has not. It has been with government and we are waiting for—

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, that is what I am asking about. Is the nature of the material that you are talking about the scenarios contained in that report?

Mr Millett : Yes, I am advised that in relation to both the costs were never released, because they are commercial-in-confidence.

Senator SIEWERT: So you are not prepared to release them?

Mr Millett : They are commercial-in-confidence.

Senator Fifield: It is our intention to release the final report. Where there is information that is commercial-in-confidence, then that will not be there.

Senator SIEWERT: But you cannot pull that one. Really, you are the public broadcaster for a start and you are aware that this is a very sensitive and very important issue, but you are hiding behind commercial in confidence about providing audio description.

Senator Fifield: No, I am saying that we will release the final report—

Senator SIEWERT: But you just said not the cost.

Senator Fifield: But where there is detail which is commercial-in-confidence—

Senator SIEWERT: Sorry, I was cutting straight to the chase. You have already said it is commercial-in-confidence.

Senator Fifield: No, I have not characterise specifically what may not be contained in the report. What I am simply saying is that where something is commercial-in-confidence, then obviously that would not be there.

Senator SIEWERT: Sorry, you have just taken a little bit of my time to say exactly what I said but in more words, which is that you are not going to release the information on costs because it is commercial-in-confidence. How is that fair to the community, to not know what frame of costs we talking about?

Senator Fifield: We can have this discussion once the report is released. If you have got reason to not be happy, then we can discuss it then.

Senator SIEWERT: How soon are you releasing the report?

Senator Fifield: I cannot give you a specific date, because there are some other things that we are looking at. I cannot yet give you a day when that will happen.

Senator SIEWERT: When were you given it?

Senator Fifield: It will not be far off.

Senator SIEWERT: Mr Millett will know.

Ms Guthrie : It was late last year.

Senator Fifield: Oh, sorry, when I was given it. It was late last year.

Senator SIEWERT: When was late last year? December, November?

Mr Millett : I would have to check the precise details, but I think it was roughly around October or November last year.

Senator LUDLAM: It is a national security matter! They cannot tell you.

Senator SIEWERT: I am going to ask my next question.

CHAIR: This will have to be your last question, I suspect.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. I did originally only have two.

CHAIR: Senator Ludlam might have the last word, if he would like to give you another minute or two.

Senator SIEWERT: How much would across the ABC implement a permanent audio description service on its catch-up platform, iview?

Mr Millett : I would have to take that on notice. I do not have the information.

Senator SIEWERT: Is that part of the report? I am serious. I am not trying to be stupid or silly here.

Mr Millett : The report went to a specific trial, over a specific period involving a specific number of hours.

Mr Pendleton : At a fixed cost.

Mr Millett : Your question is a more general one, isn't it?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes. You will take it on notice?

Mr Millett : Yes.

Ms Guthrie : I am not try to be unhelpful, but the number of programs that are on iview over time changes substantially. We could provide essentially some sense of cost per hour, but not based on the number of hours that might be available on iView.

Senator SIEWERT: Cost per hour would be helpful.

Senator CHISHOLM: Ms Guthrie, how do you understand your role in regards to ensuring that there is appropriate funding for the ABC?

Ms Guthrie : On my second day in the job, I was handed down the triannual funding in the May budget and, as far as I am concerned, we operate within that three-year funding envelope.

Senator CHISHOLM: Do you see it as your role to seek more funding if budget cuts risk servicing the charter?

Ms Guthrie : We have had budget cuts that have been going through the organisation over a number of years from 2014. Mr Pendleton has more details around that. My view is that we operate within the funding envelope that we are provided and we will make decisions based on that as an independent public broadcaster.

Senator CHISHOLM: The key part of my question was: if you thought there was a budget decision that was going to impact on your ability to service the charter, what would you do about it?

Ms Guthrie : What you are asking is something that is reasonably hypothetical, because, as I said, on my second day in the job we had been provided three years of funding. We are operating within that funding envelope and we are making decisions obviously based on the charter but also based on audience behaviours, based on technological advances and based on lots of things as we allocate resources within the organisation. But I will say that our priority is really around investing in content and we are trying to make sure that we operate as efficiently as possible in terms of management, support and distribution to make more services available on TV, radio and digital platforms.

Senator CHISHOLM: In terms of the budget cycle, what representations would you be making the government at the moment?

Ms Guthrie : None. We are barely part way through the year in a three-year funding cycle. As I said, we operate within the funding envelope that we have been provided.

Senator CHISHOLM: So you are not seeking any additional funding from the government at the moment in terms of special projects?

Mr Pendleton : The ABC is part of a joint funding bid from the collection agencies in relation to at-risk digital content conversion with the National Archives.

Senator CHISHOLM: Just in terms of the changes to the corporate structure, you have been pretty up-front about the process that you have been going through. I was just wondering why consultants are needed to advise on the restructure?

Ms Guthrie : I think you are referring to Mr Rudder and Ms Frances. They are two people. I am confident that our executive management has the skills and experience to navigate the ABC through the challenges we have a head, but it is also sensible to consult with people outside the organisation who have relevant experience. Mr Rudder and Ms Frances have been working with us for the last couple of months and are providing that expertise.

Senator CHISHOLM: Has a restructure proposal been signed off by the ABC board?

Ms Guthrie : I can confidently say that we have been working with the ABC board—I have been working with the ABC board and the management team has been working with the ABC board—over the last few months. Our priority is to make sure that we communicate with our staffers as soon as practicable, but the board is very supportive of the changes that need to be made as we experience the audience shifts and the digital disruption that we have experienced.

Senator CHISHOLM: Will that restructure result in a reduction in staff at the ABC?

Ms Guthrie : Again, I really cannot get into the details of the specifics, because we clearly have a priority to communicate with staff first, and we have to talk to them directly about the proposals.

CHAIR: Senator McKenzie, you have three minutes, and then I will call Senator Ludlam to round things out.

Senator McKENZIE: Okay. I have some questions about Classic FM. There have been some concerns expressed to me that Classic FM will once again be reduced—that the ABC will be reducing the number of recordings that Classic FM will be undertaking this year. Can you confirm that?

Ms Guthrie : We constantly look at the services that we provide. We are nationally meeting with the symphony orchestras later this week. It is important that we work together with industry and our key music partners to make sure that together we try to expand the reach of Classic FM. One of the things I keep pointing out is that millions of school students study classical instruments, and they are not listening to Classic FM—

Senator McKENZIE: No.

Ms Guthrie : So we have to find a way of working together to make sure that we really expand the audience as much as we can. Obviously, the coverage of performing arts and classic in particular is very important to us, and we need to find a way of—

Senator McKENZIE: So will there be a reduction? Will you be going into that meeting with a plan for reduced recordings of classical—

Ms Guthrie : We are going into that meeting to work with the orchestras to determine a way forward in consultation with the orchestras about how we expand the reach and relevance of Classic FM.

Senator McKENZIE: Will that include going to digital broadcasting?

Ms Guthrie : There are no plans currently to change the method of delivery of Classic FM, but obviously, for Classic FM, digital is a much better way of listening to classical music. We are very conscious that competitors are really providing those digital services and FM does not have the same quality of signal.

Senator McKENZIE: My final line of questioning is on the removal of a journalist from Rockhampton to Maroochydore, on the Sunshine Coast. On 16 December, the ABC announced that it would be removing its TV journalist from Rockhampton and moving him down to the south coast. When the Gladstone bureau was closed—the ABC closed it in November 2014—the local community was assured that the number of staff deployed to Central Queensland would remain unchanged. Why has the ABC breached that commitment?

Ms Guthrie : In moving the reporting position from Rockhampton to Maroochydore, ABC Regional is really ensuring that its resources are distributed appropriately across the state. Prior to the move, the Maroochydore bureau had two reporters while Rockhampton had four reporters as well as a camera operator. The decision was based on a thorough analysis of both regions and a comparison based on geographic spread and population. I will reassure you that a dedicated camera operator remains in Rockhampton shooting television stories for the region in partnership with the reporters in the office.

Senator McKENZIE: Will they also service Gladstone, which is a city of 60,000 nearby?

CHAIR: Senator McKenzie, you have to finish it off here. Answer this question, and then I will go to Senator Ludlam.

Senator McKENZIE: I will seek the call, then, because I do have two more questions that Ms Guthrie is really helping me with.

CHAIR: Senator McKenzie, you have had a very good run this afternoon in this hearing.

Ms Guthrie : Senator, do you want to give us those questions on notice, and we—

Senator McKENZIE: No, I want to ask why you had to shift somebody from Rockhampton to the Sunshine Coast rather than somebody from Sydney to the Sunshine Coast. Was that ever considered?

Ms Guthrie : The staffing for our Maroochydore and Rockhampton offices is the responsibility of the regional division, and they have made the assessment based on their expertise in the area. But, as I said to Senator Williams, I do acknowledge that we need to invest further in our regional bureaus, and that is a key priority of the organisation.

Senator McKENZIE: Perhaps you could take on notice consideration by the regional division not on approaching the other regional staff to transfer to the Sunshine Coast but actually getting to Sydney to go to the Sunshine Coast, or Brisbane to go to the Sunshine Coast, rather than taking it out of Rockhampton.

Senator LUDLAM: I have a quick question on the kicking Catalyst took last year. I will not be able to go into as much detail as I would like, but could you maybe tell us, firstly—as briefly as you possibly can—why the decision was made to let those science journalists go and what format we can expect Catalyst is going to take?

Ms Guthrie : As you will be aware, in 2016, ABC TV undertook an extensive review of Catalyst. Catalyst had been on air since 2001, and audience behaviours have significantly changed since its launch in 2001. We really decided that it was important, obviously, to continue with science programming, but we have made a commitment to 17 hours of one-hour specialist documentaries—

Senator LUDLAM: Yes, I saw that. When do they start up?

Ms Guthrie : And we intend to deliver on that commitment this year. We are in the process of hiring an executive producer for Catalyst, and we are confident that we will have those 17 hours broadcast by the end of the year.

Senator LUDLAM: What is the net loss or gain of scientific expertise within the ABC as a result of these decisions?

Ms Guthrie : Eight ongoing positions were made redundant, and seven temporary positions were also affected. But it is very important to us to make sure that we work with the scientific community to deliver those 17 hours of programming.

Senator LUDLAM: I was not talking about hours; I was talking about expertise. So, between full-time and part-time, it sounds like 15, as a net loss.

Ms Guthrie : There were eight ongoing positions made redundant, yes.

Mr Millett : But it was the digital capabilities hired as a result of that—

Senator LUDLAM: Yes, I am trying to get a—

Mr Millett : We can probably take on notice to come back with a more concise—

Senator LUDLAM: And an estimated staff time—when people can expect to actually see staff—would be helpful too, if you could take that on notice.

Ms Guthrie : Definitely this year.

Senator LUDLAM: Yes, I figured that. If you could give us at least within the nearest month, that would be handy. Finally, regarding Radio National, your own staff passed a motion of no confidence in November as a result of the extraordinary cuts that are taking place inside RN. Can you tell us—on notice, if you like—how frequently that happens, whether that is a common event or whether that is very rare, and whether you have spoken to the staff of RN and what the outcome was.

Ms Guthrie : I would not characterise taking three music programs away from RN as being an extraordinary decision.

Senator LUDLAM: Well, do you consider passing a motion of no confidence extraordinary? Or is that a day-to-day affair?

Ms Guthrie : That is obviously not something we desire, but I also highlight that it does not represent the views of all Radio National staff, either.

Senator LUDLAM: It says:

This meeting of Radio National Staff in ABC Ultimo wish to express our lack of confidence in the senior management of ABC Radio in regards to the continuing erosion of specialist programming in music, features and religion.

Did you at least meet them halfway? What decision was—

Ms Guthrie : We are working with the RN staff as we plan our schedules for the year ahead.

Senator LUDLAM: We are out of time, so I will just ask you to take on notice whether or not you met with staff, or those who passed this motion, and what outcomes, if any, resulted from that meeting.

Ms Guthrie : I will take that on notice.

Senator McCARTHY: Just to clarify: with the request for the evidence from the board, on notice, could that also include your correspondence with Broadcast Australia and any decisions around Broadcast Australia with the ABC for the committee? And secondly, a question on notice: in terms of sports broadcasters across the ABC, how many are Indigenous? And have any lost their jobs?

Ms Guthrie : We will take that on notice.

CHAIR: That concludes the ABC, and hopefully that gives you enough time to get back to the airport this evening. Thank you very much for appearing here today.

Proceedings suspended from 19 : 05 to 20 : 01