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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

CHAIR: Welcome back. We have two hours with the ABC, if we need those two hours. Welcome, Mr Anderson, and representatives of the ABC. If you have an opening statement, we'd be grateful if you could table that, and we can go straight to questions. Thank you very much.

Senator URQUHART: On 7 February 2022 the minister announced triennium funding arrangements for the ABC and SBS, along with a statement of expectations for Australian content reporting. Can you tell me what funding the ABC has received, how much of this funding is a continuation of what the ABC already receives in the current triennium, and how much is new of additional funding?

Mr Anderson : As per the minister's announcement, we see the resumption of indexation on our operational base funding. We also see the extension of enhanced news funding. The operational funding—the indexation that returns—is modelled in those tables. I won't necessarily mathematically talk to you about that, but it's effectively an indexation of $70 million. The enhanced news gathering funding that is there is expiring at the end of this year. It's $14.8 million per annum at the moment. It's extended over the next three years, with indexation applied to it.

Senator URQUHART: Sorry—I didn't quite catch whether any was new or additional funding.

Mr Anderson : It's the extension of existing funding in the enhanced news gathering program, but it was set to expire. It has been there for nine years. This will take it out to having been there for 12 years, with this extension of three years.

Senator URQUHART: Overall does this funding announcement mean pretty much business as usual for the ABC? Or is it game changing, transformative funding? How would you like to characterise it.

Mr Anderson : It allows us to do a number of things that we've already set out in the five-year plan. Also, thanks to being included in the revenue of Google and Facebook with regard to the code that was put forward, we have invested that in regional and rural Australia and we've started putting people in areas where we haven't had people before. That employment has started, and it means we can continue on with that rather than reverse it out. I think that had we not had the extension of the NG funding then we would have had a whole-of-ABC problem of relatively $15 million a year that we would have had to deal with. And I think that commercial revenue that's coming in that we're putting into regional and rural Australia would have been at risk in terms of where we wanted to spend it. It means we can go about the priorities as we'd set them. We've got a number of other priorities in our five-year plan that we think are important.

I will say that I'm very grateful for indexation. We welcome that the decision is returned. We're always looking for efficiency—we're obligated to, under the legislation. We always need to find efficiencies that meet the gap between rising costs and the indexation we receive. So, we'll still need to find efficiencies to maintain what is otherwise sustainable expenditure.

Senator URQUHART: Similar to any business, I guess.

Mr Anderson : Yes. With this funding certainty over the next triennium, that is something we were seeking. It is very difficult if your funding is changing from year to year. To get the certainty now, for the next three years, is important—certainly for the next three years; of course we're asking for a five-year term. We're also asking for the NG funding not to be extended for three years but beyond—to be rolled into the base. But I welcome the decision to at least have it for three years.

Senator URQUHART: You talked about the enhanced news gathering. You talked about keeping people out in the field. Can you tell me what that funding for the enhanced news gathering will support? What will that enable you to do?

Mr Anderson : Enhanced news gathering is something we've answered questions about before at estimates. It supports some 69 roles. It allows tailored news. It allows more local news. It is supporting people both in the regions and in some capital cities. But it is a focus on local news and tailored news that we provide that other news organisations don't necessarily provide. So, it supports those roles. It is particularly important for the roles that are throughout regional Australia. And of course that program can continue. What we look to beyond that is, now that we're putting more people into rural and regional Australia, we can keep the people there who were there before. Our next focus would I think be looking at outer suburban populations, which are growing rapidly and where we think we'd like to get further into suburban Australian.

Senator URQUHART: Does this mean that the ABC is now fully funded to fix the decline in local reporting across Australia? Or would the ACCC's findings still stand—that the ABC and SBS are not adequately funded to address the decline in local reporting?

Mr Anderson : I think we're not there specifically to replace what is market failure with regard to regional and rural Australia. I think it is concerned with an understandable withdrawal of media throughout regional and rural Australia. It's not fiscally viable for them to remain, to keep the presence that they've had. We can't make up for all of that. We can't make up for the presence that's leaving. But we are certainly remaining where we are, continuing to invest the way we do and increase that investment over time now with the revenue that we get from Google and Facebook.

Senator URQUHART: I understand the funding for audio description is $3 million over three years.

Ms Anderson : Yes, that's correct.

Senator URQUHART: Will that enable the ABC to deliver more audio description than is currently the case? How many hours will be delivered?

Ms Anderson : It allows us to continue the service that we've got at the moment. Again, we welcome the decision to extend audio description funding specifically. At the moment we aim to provide a service that is 14 hours a week. At the moment my statistics show us that on average we are overachieving on that by a little bit. It allows us to continue to do that. It is very important for people who are blind or visually impaired to have that service. We're very happy to be able to keep providing it.

Senator URQUHART: Great. What about funding to cover the maintenance of self-help retransmitters? Did the government supply the ABC with funding to cover this cost?

Ms Anderson : Senator, I think you're referring to the RBAH issue. And, no, that's an example of rising costs for the ABC over time. I believe that to be in the order of, and I can confirm it on notice, approximately $600,000 per annum that we needed to find to cover that cost that we weren't previously covering.

Senator URQUHART: So that cost that you didn't previously have has been passed on to you?

Ms Anderson : That is right.

Senator URQUHART: So $600,000 per annum—about $1.8 million over that triennium?

Ms Anderson : Yes.

Senator URQUHART: Now I want to turn to the statement of expectations. In the minister's media release on 7 February he said that he:

…has today written to the ABC and SBS outlining their three-year funding packages, and issued Statements of Expectations regarding the reporting by the two organisations in relation to a number of their key activities—including a new National Broadcasters Reporting Framework for Australian Content, and, in the case of the ABC, its rural and regional activities.

Mr Anderson, has the minister for communications ever issued a statement of expectations to the ABC?

Ms Anderson : I'll have to take that on notice. I do recall former Minister Fifield, I think, sending something similar to the ABC. Of course, I wasn't managing director. I think out of the efficiency review under Malcolm Turnbull one of the recommendations had reference to a statement of expectations. It is something that has, in my recollection, been raised before. Again, I'll confirm that on notice for you. I don't want to say something that I'm not confident in.

Senator URQUHART: So it has been raised but has in fact the ABC been exempt from a statement of expectations until now?

Ms Anderson : I think there was some debate at the time between the then chair, Mr Jim Spigelman, and the minister at the time. My understanding is we don't operate with a statement of expectations. I will add there are some expectations from Minister Fletcher. We have quarterly catch-ups. Minister Fletcher is always interested in various things, particularly audience performance, where we are up to with technology, what our challenges are, and we supply information to the minister at the moment with regard to those things.

Senator URQUHART: Do you know if there's been a policy change in regard to the government's rationale for issuing a statement of expectations?

Ms Anderson : No, I don't know. The board has met to discuss this. I think they will discuss it again at the next board meeting. At the moment there's a raft of reporting requirements. Some of them we already do. Others would be challenging. We are required to work with ACMA. I see some sense in a common set of data that exists across commercial, free-to-air networks. At the moment that's aggregated data though. We will work with ACMA on what we can produce that is useful that aligns to those expectations at the moment. For us, there are good stories to tell there, particularly when it comes to regional and rural Australia, Australian content and how much we produce. I will happily talk about those matters.

Senator URQUHART: The 2014 ABC and SBC Efficiency Study, commissioned under the Abbott government, formed the view that the minister could provide the ABC and SBS with a statement of government expectations, but it noted that to do so would be controversial and give rise to concerns that the government is intervening in the ABC and SBS for political reasons. Can you tell me the legal status of the statement of expectations in relation to the ABC?

Mr Anderson : No, I can't tell you. We'll look at the statement and we'll look at that, but, at the moment, our intention is to work with ACMA on what the reporting requirements are. As I said, some of those things we are asked to report we already report in the annual report. It's a case of how much further we can go.

CHAIR: Mr Anderson, I wanted to ask you a couple of questions about themes we've been talking about over the last little while. The first one goes to the social media code. We provided some questions on notice to you at the last hearings in relation to some retweets, one by Wendy Harmer and one by Alan Kohler. The ABC wrote back and said the Kohler tweet was okay for some reason. That was retweeting Kevin Rudd's crazy conspiracy theories about Murdoch running the world. But the Wendy Harmer one—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Not so crazy.

CHAIR: Excuse me. Order! I know you subscribe to this theory, and I have to say I can't quite follow it. Now, the other one that we provided was Senator Whish-Wilson having been retweeted by Wendy Harmer. ABC came back and said the Harmer one was bad but the Kohler one was okay. They're both retweeting highly political, quite strange ideas. I was just wondering how you make that distinction. We're interested in how you thematically enforce this social media code.

Mr Anderson : You know that, as managing director, there are a number of things I've done to tackle personal use of social media, particularly with the ABC's code of conduct and issuing personal use of social media guidelines. We've updated them a couple of times now to strengthen them. When it comes to personal use of social media, it's an employment matter, so it's different from what we do when we publish an editorial issue on our own platforms. We do look at these on a case-by-case basis when they are referred to us. Some we investigate, others we don't and others are resolved easily.

In the case of Alan Kohler—and I'm speaking from memory here—that tweet was really about criticising News Corp. On examination, did I think that that warranted further investigation? The answer is no. When it comes to the Wendy Harmer tweet, I thought yes, so we followed through with that.

CHAIR: I want to read the tweet so it's on the record. The Kohler tweet is retweeting Mr Rudd. Mr Rudd said:

Murdoch's Liberal protection racket on vivid display today… Tasmania's Liberals go to lockdown over a single case and Murdoch cheers. But in Victoria, Murdoch screeches "Dan's Hermit Kingdom". What liars. Taking us all for fools. #MurdochRoyalCommission

I would have thought it's pretty clear breach of the code. He's talking about a Liberal protection racket.

Mr Ande rson : Again, it is something we do examine on a case-by-case basis. We do look at it against the standard of what we expect from people such as 'Do not damage the ABC's reputation for impartiality and independence.' In this particular instance we didn't think—we will always remind someone about their obligations, particularly when they're affiliated with the ABC or an ABC employee. But not in that instance.

CHAIR: What about the damage? Is there damage to the ABC's reputation because of these tweets?

Mr Anderson : I think there's always potential damage to the ABC's reputation, depending on the person, depending on the context, depending on all sorts of things when it comes to the personal use of social media. And we look at a number of issues. We look at likes versus retweets, what they've tweeted, what the context is and what the subject matter is when we look at it.

CHAIR: What about legal risk?

Mr Anderson : We've dealt with that, and I sense we're going to deal with that a little bit more again today, but, when it comes to legal risk, we've done what we can to make sure that the ABC is not legally liable for this.

CHAIR: Okay. I have asked you before about Julia Zemiro and some of her tweets. I have a bunch of tweets which I think would breach the code and which I'm happy to table for your interests. Just so we understand how the code works: does the code apply to staff and contractors?

Mr Anderson : Yes.

CHAIR: What is the status of Ms Zemiro?

Mr Anderson : Ms Zemiro has a program called Julia Zemiro's Home Delivery, which is produced by CJZ Productions. She is hired by CJZ to make the program for the ABC. What you're describing is what we're having to deal with: dealing with people who aren't in the direct employ of the ABC but otherwise might be affiliated with the ABC. They're things that we will follow up with and things that we don't want to see. In the end, when somebody is removed from you and not in your direct employ, there's obviously less control that you have over their behaviour when it comes to the ABC, because they work for multiple different organisations and multiple different media outlets.

CHAIR : You wouldn't employ a contractor that was causing you massive reputational damage as a rule, would you?

Mr Anderson : I will say that we live in an era where we do take that into consideration, frankly.

CHAIR: Okay. I want to read to you what the policy says. It says it applies to any person who carries out work in any capacity at the ABC. Doesn't that apply?

Mr Anderson : Yes, it applies—and there is enforcement and control. People have free will on personal social media. We covered that. I can't prohibit people from using personal social media. What I can do is make clear what our expectations are of their behaviour when using it and the consequences that will happen, having relayed that expectation. We've done that a number of times.

CHAIR: Okay. I understand it's a difficult task. I'm not pretending it's easy. I appreciate that you've made efforts to try to protect the ABC from reputational damage here. I think it is worthwhile in this particular case to read out one of these tweets, which says:

On this final day of 2021

I pledge to do whatever I can

to vote this NSW state & Federal govt out.

I'm not sure what the alternatives will be

But I WILL NOT reward @ScottMorrisonMP @Dom_Perrottet and their ilk with another 'go' at it.


This is a person who is working in a public role in your organisation as a contractor, which is captured by the social media code, and it doesn't appear so far that you've been able to rein this conduct.

Mr Anderson : Again, Ms Zemiro doesn't work as a contractor to us; she works to another organisation with which otherwise we do engage. I will point out that Ms Zemiro is not a journalist, so she's not reporting on politics at any particular point in time. She has a factual entertainment program and is espousing her own views. It's important that—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What about freedom of speech.

CHAIR: Order!

Mr Anderson : It's important that she, certainly in her Twitter handle, doesn't have ABC there and says her views are her own. But, of course, the further away you get from direct employment with the ABC, the more difficult that is to enforce, but we remind people of their obligations, particularly when they're associated in the period they're associated with the ABC.

CHAIR: Okay. I don't want to labour the point on this, because we have a lot of things to get through, but I think the message you're sending here is that you're not going to enforce the code.

Mr Anderson : We do enforce the code.

CHAIR: This is not being enforced.

Mr Anderson : Even in those issues—

Senator ABETZ: By indemnifying Louise Milligan by way of enforcing.

CHAIR: Order!

Mr Anderson : For those instances that are drawn to our attention, of course we follow up with it. And it is a concern about how you deal with that, how you then deal in the future with people that you believe might cause reputational damage to the ABC.

CHAIR: Okay. I want to ask you about something a bit different here, which is in relation to ABC Friends. Have you authorised ABC Friends to use the ABC logo?

Mr Anderson : No. We were alerted towards the end of last week that there was ABC Friends, a particular community group, that advocate for the ABC. It's a longstanding arrangement, but that's generally what they've done. We do have rules when it comes to use of the ABC logo, particularly around election campaigns, and we do enforce that. For those other groups such as Friends, if they're embarking on a political campaign, they also need to also abide by those rules and not use our ABC logo when doing it.

CHAIR: So they can't use it?

Mr Anderson : They can't use it for a political campaign, no. There is information on our website—

CHAIR: But aren't they campaigning against the coalition now using this logo?

Mr Anderson : We have been in contact with ABC Friends since that was brought to our attention.

CHAIR: Okay.

Senator ABETZ: What have you said to them?

Mr Anderson : We've said to them that they need to abide by the rules that we've got that apply to the political parties, which say that they cannot use the ABC logo in a political campaign.

Senator ABETZ: Have they agreed not to use it?

Mr Anderson : I'm not sure I have seen a response back from them. We've been in touch with them both by letter and verbally.

CHAIR: Could you please provide that information on notice to the committee?

Mr Anderson : Yes.

CHAIR: Before I hand over to Senator Hanson-Young, I note that, if you are going to have a policy in relation to personal use of social media, which I understand is difficult, I think it is important that you send the right messages about enforcement. If people are captured, there needs to be some form of enforcement, because it appears in some of these cases—and I haven't read out all the egregious examples here—any fair-minded person would say that it is causing the organisation reputational damage because of the association and the ongoing link.

Mr Anderson : Senator, by and large, the vast majority of staff do the right thing. There are transgressions. I've seen fewer, frankly, over time, but they will still happen. We have tied this to our code of conduct such that we have a way of reminding people that in the course of their employment for their personal use of social media there are obligations upon them. They need to abide by them, otherwise the consequences are misconduct and could be termination. We've done that a number of times. It's an employment matter, so people have a right to confidentiality if that process does take place.

CHAIR: I just ask in closing that you provide some examples on notice of where enforcement action has been taken. I don't mind if you conceal the particular cases, but we need to see some examples of how the code is being enforced.

Mr Anderson : To set expectations: I will not give you individual names because—

CHAIR: I didn't ask for that.

Mr Anderson : No, but I'm just saying that I can give you the number of investigations that have been undertaken as a result.

CHAIR: Okay.

Senator ABETZ: Can we also have beyond that not just the investigations but the outcomes and enforcement, because that is what seems to be lacking? You always investigate, talk to people and write to ABC Friends, but you never have the undertakings.

CHAIR: Senator Hanson-Young?

Senato r HANSON-YOUNG: It never ceases to amaze me the glass jaws that you guys on that side have when there's a little bit of criticism.

CHAIR: I don't think that's right. I don't think I have a glass jaw at all.

Senator ABETZ: Thanks for that, Sarah.

C HAIR: I think that, if you're in public life, you have to be prepared to take the hits. I don't think that's a problem here. I don't think that you have that problem either.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: People should have a right? What happened to freedom of speech? You guys are the freedom of speech party?

CHAIR: Because they're working in an organisation. Anyway, you're not here to ask me questions, as much as I'm happy to answer them. I invite you to ask questions of the witnesses.

Senator ABETZ: You're answering them very well, Chair.

CHAIR: You're very kind.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I want to ask about the money that has come as a result of the deals with Google and Facebook. You mentioned in your opening statement that this has given you an opportunity to employ more journalists. I'm wondering where that recruitment is up to. Do we have a sense of how many people that is? Are these new journalists, people coming through the mix? I guess I'm thinking about where they're going.

Mr Anderson : We put out the first advertisement towards the end of last year. We had over 500 applications for those positions. We were looking to place 50 people initially. About 40 per cent of those have been appointed. Some of them have started. In Carnarvon, Victor Harbor and Hervey Bay we now have people where we previously didn't have people. Some current bureaus will be bolstered. There are three new locations that will be having people—one of them being Charleville in Queensland. We've also been buying equipment to go with that—certainly LiveU units so people can broadcast from those locations around the country.

Senator HANSON-YO UNG: Are these fully trained journalists or are they recent graduates?

Mr Anderson : It's a mix. There are people who are entering the workforce in this type of role. We have some people who have relocated out, in which case we'll replace them where they were, and there is a mix of other people who are experienced and who have joined us having previously worked for another organisation but now find themselves out of a job. So it's incredibly important. Again, I'm very thankful that the ABC was included in the code to be able to receive that revenue, otherwise it wouldn't be happening.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I'm glad it's been put to some use. That's good. You've put in here some statistics in relation to iview—you put here the trust of the ABC amongst the public and the fact that ABC iview is the most accessed platform. Has anyone within government raised with you the proposal of having iview monetised or ads on iview or a paywall or a subscription fee?

Mr Anderson : No. That's never been raised with me nor would we seek to do it. ABC iview is the leading BVOD service, broadcast video on demand service. It has up to three million users per week. It has over 4½ thousand hours of content and is going strong, but we do need to personalise that service into the future. But no-one has actually come to me about the monetisation of ABC iview.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How is the personalisation program going, when you log on and it asks you to fill out a username?

Mr Anderson : Since we raised that last year, we've been working with OAIC. We've been working with other privacy advocates on their concerns over this and we've tried to meet them. We'll be pushing forward with this. In the coming weeks we will be relaunching that we do intend to make ABC iview mandatory login. We've taken onboard a lot of feedback about what that means and features and privacy with regard to data. I think we will be the best at this with regard to being able to provide options for people.

With 4½ thousand hours, logging in will allow people to pick up where they left off across devices. This is just for ABC iview; this is not for ABC News. They'll be able to create watch lists. They'll be able to see their viewing history. They'll have a different home page, so they won't see Play School when they're looking for Vera. There are a lot of things people expect from that service that we'll be looking to do now that it's grown as big as it has.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Did I miss what you said in terms of how many people have already subscribed?

Mr Anderson : I think we have about 800,000 people that are already logged-in users to ABC iview. We're approaching the million mark of all logged-in users across the ABC in any one week. We did a survey, and 95 per cent of the people we surveyed, which was 27,000 people, said that they want these personalisation features, and five per cent said they don't want these features. We will be looking to promote the virtue of having these features and how this will be a better experience for people and for Australian and international content that otherwise just sits there. It's there for them and it's free. We would resist any attempt by anyone to make it monetised or to have a subscription attached to it.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have you listened to any of those speeches that have been given in the Senate about needing to put in a paywall or flog-off triple j? What do you know about selling triple j?

Mr Anderson : We would resist that as well. Triple j has been culturally important for Australian music in this country. It's part of who we are and what we do as the national broadcaster. Triple j and triple j Unearthed have discovered talent in this country like no-one else would. That is culturally important to all of us. It is a celebration of a younger culture. I think that has been an important part of the ABC for many years. We have many music networks. The other ones will begrudge me for not mentioning classic through to jazz and country and the others. But, yes, triple J is very important.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: It's a bit of a cultural institution in itself, isn't it?

Mr Anderson : It is.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I want to ask about the budget. I've seen your comments since the minister's statement that there'll be no further cuts to the ABC and that the indexation will resume. How far behind is the ABC budget? You're not getting money to catch up on that gap, are you?

Mr Anderson : No. There is a gap. We have worked out the numbers that our budget would be next financial year had we not had the indexation pause.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Yes. I'd be very interested to know that.

Ms Kleyn : The budget would have been $41.6 million higher if not for the indexation pause.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So $41.6 million?

Ms K leyn : That's right, yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Okay. So that's the gap. If the government really wanted to restore funding, that's what they'd have to put in. If anyone wants to restore ABC funding, they'd need an extra almost $42 million.

Mr Anderson : On a per annum basis, yes. That's the gap that's left. We've found efficiencies to deal with that gap, which we've put in place. So at the moment we are sustainable.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: One of the things that obviously happened in the last 12 months was the scrapping of the 7.45 am news bulletin on local ABC. Have you reviewed that decision?

Mr Anderson : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have you considered feedback from that decision?

Mr Anderson : We got lots of feedback at the time. Whether we're finding efficiencies or whether we're looking to the future, in the end, we're going to have to grow our digital audience and, to the best possible extent, protect our broadcast audience. But there are some things that we'll need to go over in time, as people move and their consumption changes to more digital, that will have to change. Part of that move with the 7.45 am bulletin was that we now have a new service of segmented audio on the ABC Listen app. It's our news stream. If you go to the ABC Listen app, there's the black app when it comes to news radio, but there is a new blue one there. What it allows you to do is skip stories. It's segmented audio that is streaming to you, and you can skip through stories that you don't want to listen to.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: All of those interviews with Senator Abetz—fast forward, fast forward.

CHAIR: You might try and fast forward those.

Mr Anderson : Eventually, if there's an interview you want more of, you can say, 'Can I have more please?' and it will give you more.

CHAIR: We'll come back to you Senator Hanson-Young. Senator Urquhart.

Senator URQUHART: I'll continue around the statement of expectations. Does the ABC have to comply with the minister's statement of expectations?

Mr Anderson : At the end of the letter that was to the ABC chair, there was a statement by the minister that said that this was not a direction to the ABC, rather it was a request for us to work with ACMA on the request that was there for data.

Senator URQUHART: What are the consequences if you choose not to comply with the minister's request in relation to a new reporting framework?

Mr Anderson : I don't know that there are any consequences. But, as I mentioned earlier, the board has met, we've discussed it and we're going to work constructively with ACMA on those requirements that sit there.

Senator URQUHART: Mr Anderson, the minister published an opinion piece entitled 'Funding boost will allow the ABC to be its best self', where he states:

At the moment, curiously, while the commercial broadcasters, Seven, Nine and Ten, face a formal regulatory requirement to report on, for example, the number of hours of Australian drama and documentaries they show each year, there is no such requirement on the ABC and SBS.

For the benefit of the committee, can you explain the ABC's understanding of the policy reasons for the difference between the commercial broadcasters and the national broadcasters?

Mr Anderson : Senator, I welcomed by the way in that result that there wasn't a quota put on the ABC with regard to that. We already produce more drama than other networks. I believe the requirement in that statement is to treat some genres, particularly drama, with a scoring mechanism that otherwise at the moment applies to commercial networks. Again, I can see some benefit to be able to aggregate hours across genres. We've been required to list what the spend is and we did so quite willingly, and I think for the standing questions here at Senate estimates we talk about how much we spend on different genres. What we wouldn't do that's in there is go to specific programs because it is commercially sensitive with regard to what we spend on any one program compared to another. There are a lot of other circumstances. So, there are things in there that we can work with and things that we'll just need to work through.

Senator URQUHART: Commercial broadcasters are not subject to a statutory charter, are they?

Mr Anderson : Commercial broadcasters did have a requirement for a certain amount of output for certain genres and certain things. A couple of years back that was relaxed, so at the moment there is a relaxation on that that sits with commercial broadcasters. But, again, it's possibly a question better directed to the department.

Senator URQUHART: To the best of your knowledge, has the ministry explored the option of legislating a new national broadcasters reporting framework for Australian content?

Mr Anderson : Not to the best of my knowledge.

Senator URQUHART: Currently Minister Fletcher has the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment (Rural and Regional Measures) Bill 2019 before the parliament to require additional reporting of ABC staffing and content matters in rural and regional Australia—a legislative change that was sought by the LNP in one way or another since 2015 as well as by One Nation in 2017. Does the ABC support or oppose the reporting requirements that are proposed to be introduced in this legislation?

Mr Anderson : The ABC opposes the bill as it stands. When it comes to the reporting requirements, and specifically the reporting requirements that are in the statement of expectations, we will work with those requirements with regard to output. Some of that is difficult to measure in total, I will add, but we'll look at what those requirements are. For instance, to say how many people we have in regional and rural Australia, we can do. To talk about percentage of stories of a regional nature that is in the 7 pm news bulletin, we can do that on sample. To do it specifically over the entire year, I think, would be too onerous and resource intensive to be able to measure. That's what I mean by a sensible approach to reporting that is along the lines of what's in that reporting requirement.

Senator URQUHART: The ABC provides transparency reporting in a range of ways which is obviously necessary for accountability. But do you have an estimate of how many hours you spend in estimates hearings every year; and can you provide an idea of how many QONs you answer each year for, say, the last three years? It's a lot of transparency though.

Mr Anderson : Someone for fun did count how many hours in estimates last year, and I think it was 13 or 14 hours that I spent giving evidence. And, as for the QONs, there might be 100 QONs of which there are subquestions that sit within it. That is a lot of time taken answering a lot of questions.

Senator URQUHART: If you want to provide a more detailed response, I'm happy to take that.

Mr Anderson : I'll provide it on notice for you.

Senator URQUHART: Reporting and transparency can sometimes be used by detractors of the ABC to undermine the independence. Is that correct?

Mr Anderson : Look, there are some things. I can certainly understand the process by which that information is sought, but there are times when the ABC will resist that particularly if it's harmful to the ABC or if it's revealing issues that are commercially sensitive, or there are privacy issues or legal professional privilege. There are a number of issues that we would take issue with that we have more recently.

Senator URQUHART: So in effect the ABC needs to be careful in what it provides by way of transparency and reporting, and an example is that there may have been some resistance to publishing things like executive salaries at some stage, wasn't there?

Mr Anderson : I think there are privacy issues with that. At the moment, we disclose KMPs and we put people's salaries in bands, but we don't disclose their names. We're not required to do that. There are certain things that we can publish and we do publish, but we do give notice to privacy requirements. In my role, I have a certain duty and obligation to the corporation with regard to releasing documents that otherwise would be harmful to it. That's something I would resist. But there is a process to go through, and we abide by that process and engage as much as possible. I will add that I think we are incredibly transparent on answering as many questions as we can, whether it's here in Senate estimates, whether it's questions on notice, whether it's our reporting obligations. There is a lot of information that we provide to the best of our ability.

Senator URQUHART: In terms of the reporting request itself, from the minister, does the ABC have a view as to the utility of the measures the minister seeks reporting on? Do the staff reporting categories make sense? Would that give an accurate picture of the ABC or could the data points be used to paint the wrong picture? Will the information be traced back to account for the ENG funding, for example? What does the ABC think the minister will do with the information?

Mr Anderson : To be honest, I have no idea what the minister will do with the information, but, as I said, there are things that we would do—for instance, when it came to specific data, we wouldn't necessarily hand that off to another agency; we'd aggregate it ourselves before sending it off. So, as I mentioned before, television program by television program, that's not something that we would do. There are ways that we could look to work with ACMA on some of the reporting requests that have been put to us. When it comes to people in regional and rural Australia, we quite openly state that we've got over 550 people currently employed. That's growing, through the Google and Facebook revenue that we've recently secured. Reporting on that I'm more than happy to do.

Senator URQUHART: I guess an example would be a ratio of journalists to support staff, which I think is an ignorant premise which fails to recognise the wide range of staff that are involved in content making. You could report on a particular thing, but it doesn't actually paint the whole picture.

Mr Anderson : It wouldn't, but it's a pretty good ratio. There are not many admin staff to deal. For some of this information, there is information that could otherwise be picked through by the annual report, for instance.

Senator URQUHART: Will the ABC's decision on whether and how to respond to the minister's request for reporting be decided by the board or the managing director?

Mr Anderson : It's a matter for the board. The minister wrote to the Chair of the ABC with regard to this. We, at the moment, have been tasked by the board to work with ACMA on those reporting requirements, and I will report back to the board.

CHAIR: We will come back to you, Senator Urquhart. Senator Abetz.

Senator ABETZ: Was the Foreign Correspondent dealing with the Falun Gong flagged with the board at all?

Mr Ander son : It wouldn't have been.

Senator ABETZ: Are you aware that a member of parliament wrote to you, Mr Anderson, on 1 September concerning that program?

Mr Anderson : I don't recall that.

Senator ABETZ: That letter was on 14 September 2020, and the same MP then wrote to you again on 5 September 2021 asking for a response: 'I again ask that you investigate this matter to determine whether, in the view of ABC board and management, the Foreign Correspondent-Background Briefing investigation about Falun Gong met the required standards of objective journalism.' Are you aware of that letter?

Mr Anderson : I'm sorry, Senator; I don't recall. I get many, many letters. But Mr McMurtrie might remember.

Senator ABETZ: The MP asked that the response go directly to the constituent. The constituent finally got a response on 17 November 2021: 'I am responding on behalf of the ABC,' signed by Kirstin McLiesh. But the letter said, 'I write in response to your letters to'—and guess who the MP was? The Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, the Hon. Paul Fletcher. So there are two letters to you, personally signed by the minister, asking the board to investigate or comment on something, and the arrogance of the ABC—and yourself, with respect—to dismiss that correspondence from the minister and flick it off—do you have any explanation for the minister, the member for Bradfield, and for the constituents?

Mr Anderson : No, other than to say I get many letters that are passed on by MPs and their constituents.

Senator ABETZ: The minister who is responsible for the ABC might actually excite some interest, do you think—or not?

Mr Anderson : Certainly—

Senator ABETZ: Or just dismissed.

Mr Anderson : No. We treat all those letters that come to us on their merits.

Senator ABETZ: No response in 11 months—is that indicative of the merits of the minister's letter to you? Is that what you're telling this committee?

Mr Anderson : No.

Senator ABETZ: So what was the merit, therefore—following on from your answer—of the minister's letter to you that required 11 months of nonresponse and a further letter from him? Was it such a poorly-worded letter that you just couldn't understand it or you didn't know who it was from? What was the merit?

Mr Anderson : I don't recall the letter, but the way these letters come to me is: the minister passes on a letter from his constituents, and we look at it to see whether it is to be treated as a complaint—in which case, it will go to our complaints area. I correspond—

Senator ABETZ: But, if the minister asks you to refer it to the board, you just dismiss it and send it off, like everybody else, to the complaints area. Wouldn't you at least respond to the minister and say, 'I don't think it's appropriate for the board' or give some answer?

S enator HANSON-YOUNG: Chair, could we have a copy of the letter tabled, so we can see what it looks like?

Senator ABETZ: I have one of the letters here. Can you take all that detail on notice and provide an explanation—and might I be so gratuitous as to suggest an apology.

Moving it: it has been suggested to me that the ABC failed to report on the Bell v Tavistock case, a landmark case in the UK, where the High Court found that under-16 children cannot consent to puberty blockers. Are you aware that the ABC didn't report on that at all? It's a fairly fundamental, important, groundbreaking case.

Mr Anderson : I'm unaware of the case, let alone whether or not we reported on it.

Senator ABETZ: Can you provide some explanation? I would have thought the UK Supreme Court making a determination such as that might be fairly important news in the content of the discussion that's taking place in Australia.

I am told that, between 2018 and 2021, the ABC published 30 articles and interviews about transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard. Only one article gave voice to women's concerns about safety and fairness. Do we think that's balance?

Mr Anderson : I'll take a look at that for you.

Senator ABETZ: The ABC routinely interviews transwomen—that is, males—about whether it is fair and safe for them to play in women's sport. The ABC have never interviewed a female sportswoman on the question; is that also correct?

Mr Anderson : I'll have to take that on notice.

Senator ABETZ: Take it on notice. Just to show how broad ranging the support I have in the community is: this is a document that, Senator Pratt will be very interested to learn, is from a left-leaning feminist women's group, expressing their concern about the ABC.

Senato r HANSON-YOUNG: I'm glad they're glad to have you in their corner!

Senator ABETZ: Unfortunately, blinded left-wingers like yourself won't take up their cause, so they rely on good conservative blokes like me to take up their cause!

Senator HANSON-YOU NG: Keep telling yourself that, mate!

Senator ABETZ: And I am more than happy to take up their cause!

CHAIR: Order! Let's continue with questions and answers.

Senator ABETZ: Can we move on to the Four Corners program entitled 'Inside the Canberra bubble'—

Senator PRATT: Point of order, Chair: I'm worried that Senator Abetz might be misleading the witnesses. The Court of Appeal overturned the judgement that children under 16 were unlikely to be mature enough to give informed consent.

Sen ator ABETZ: No, the High Court found—

CHAIR: I think we've moved on, so let's get to questions.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, we have—to the Four Corners episode 'Inside the Canberra bubble'. I asked some questions on notice. For question No. 4390, an answer was provided: 'Mr Bornstein has dealt for many years with issues of sexual harassment and power imbalances between men and women in the workplace. He was making uncontroversial observations and is a respected and highly-sought-after lawyer. He was there as a general commentator.' The program just happened to overlook the fact that he's a member of the Australian Labor Party, having sought Labor endorsement and, I understand, is again seeking it—but that's irrelevant for the purpose of that particular interview. Any explanation as to why that was left out?

Mr Anderson : No. I didn't know that about him.

Senator ABETZ: Take it on notice and try to cobble together an explanation. Allow me to move on. He's described here as 'respected and highly sought after, dealing with issues of sexual harassment and power imbalances'. How's this for a crack: he refers to a female trade union official as 'a dog who has misplaced her chew toy' and 'a poodle snapping at my heels'. Another quote: 'Personally, I think Penny Wong would make a very fine Morticia.' That shows a wonderful respect for women, doesn't it—a man who has a wonderful record, worthy of the ABC's endorsement, as a person who is respected and who has dealt with issues of sexual harassment and power imbalances. Where does the ABC get off on this sort of stuff? You don't mention he's a Labor lawyer, you don't mention his antecedents and you try to dress him up in an answer to me as though he's cleaner than the driven snow, worthy of questioning on the ABC—a bit of balance! Take it on notice.

Mr Anderson : I'll take it on notice. If someone is in something that is to do with politicians and is being interviewed, and somehow is part of a political party, then, yes, we should acknowledge that.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I think he might have lost preselection because of those comments.

Senator ABETZ: Can I move on in relation to the interview with Mr Bornstein. I was told this took place on 29 September 2020, in Melbourne, as I understand it. If I am correctly informed, that was during the lockdown period in Melbourne. The lockdown directions state, 'During the stay-at-home period, a person who ordinarily resides in the restricted area must not permit another person to enter the premises of which they ordinarily reside.' Can we have some explanation as to how the ABC were able to avoid the ALP lockdown laws in Victoria to do an interview with Mr Bornstein?

Mr Anderson : I will confirm this to you on notice, but through those times we did seek exemptions for journalists to do journalism across those lockdown periods.

Senator ABETZ: So you got one for this one?

Mr Anderson : It was a blanket; it wasn't for—

Senator ABETZ: You got a blanket one in Victoria for the ABC. Thank you.

CHAIR: We will come back to you, Senator Abetz. Before I go to Senator Hanson-Young, I just want to table the ABC Friends material I referred to before, so you can provide the committee with an assurance that the ABC's logo won't be used in any political campaign or material. There are a number of examples here.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I have some questions in relation to the underpayment-of-staff issue we've discussed a number of times. I understand there's been a process to try and work out how much people were underpaid, particularly those casual staff. Can you give us an update on where that is up to and how many staff have taken up those catch-up packages—I'd like to know what you call them.

Mr Anderson : This is our buyout review. That is what you're referring to. We are still consulting with some staff. When it comes to the retrospectivity of this, we have been able to rectify this with 95 per cent of those people affected. There are still people who we have active cases for whom we are still negotiating with. We are still in consultation on the way forward, so on the go forward for this. The consultation for what we do into the future is through to October of this year. In the meantime, we will have a new enterprise agreement that we'll need to discuss that's ahead of that.

We're close to being able to close out the underpayment of people. We are still looking at active cases about what the situation is at the moment with regard to their buyout, and that discussion is ongoing. Anyone new who comes forward, we talk to them about it. We're looking at what the go-forward solution is, really. What we are dealing with are people whose jobs have evolved over time. We have an employment agreement which is rather rigid, that we will look to try to modernise. Fair Work, quite rightly, are enforcing on us that we must abide by that employment agreement. When it comes to the arrangement of buyouts, previously buyouts were in place to buy people out of their overtime penalties—for some, sufficient; in recent times, we found insufficient for some. That's what we're looking at acquitting with regard to that underpayment. What I'm hearing quite loudly from staff and the unions is really about what to do moving forward. That's the most important thing.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is part of this that it's perhaps unlike other jobs? It's not like you come into the office, log onto your computer at 8.30 and then log off at five? The nature of the media is not that.

Mr Anderson : That's true. There are meetings that happen at different times of the day; editorial meetings that people are called in on, even though they're on a shift later. If you're a crime reporter, you'll get a call on the weekend even though you're not on, where the police department want to talk to about something; or an event has happened that you will need to do out of hours. The buyout was there to recompense people for all of that time. Translate that into an employment agreement and that was the very intensive work. We got everyone recording precisely what they were doing and doing calculations against what that would have converted to. My understanding is that over 250,000 shifts needed to be analysed and doing that involved trend analysis and a whole bunch of things.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Did you have to do that work internally?

Mr Anderson : The PwC helped us with this. PwC have helped us previously and they help organisations with exactly this type of work. What it will come down to are arrangements we can put in place prospectively that are more suitable for the situations that I've described.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You're saying that 95 per cent of people—

Mr Anderson : Who had an underpayment owing to them have had that paid. I'll confirm that on notice, but that is what I understand.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Obviously, the percentage is good, but it would be good to know actually how many people we are talking about.

Mr Anderson : We are also still talking to Fair Work about this. We are still technically in consultation with Fair Work about how we move through this. The people whom we have underpaid and we haven't recompensed have been hard to track down to find their personal details about knowing where to pay the money.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: People who have left?

Mr Anderson : Yes, people who have left and gone from the ABC. We still try to do that, but at the moment what our focus is on what to do moving forward.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You are saying there is consultation through to October and then a new plan will be put to the staff? Will that go to the next employment agreement negotiation? How will it go?

Mr Anderson : It will go into the next employment agreement negotiations. Because of the timing of our current employment agreement we'll need to start negotiating on that while consultation is still happening, so one will merge into the other. We'll work on finding something—and this is particularly for our news division, for our news staff. It doesn't mean that it excludes others. There are other people who are affected by this in other parts of the ABC, but it is predominantly people in our news area. Other operational areas, both radio and entertainment specialists, are affected by this as well. But we will look to consult with staff and their representatives.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Last time I spoke to you, Mr Anderson, I was asking about developments at the Collinswood building in Adelaide. How is that progressing, or is it not? Is it on hold? I know there's a state election coming up. Has that slowed things down in terms of negotiating with government at a state level?

Mr Anderson : There are two areas to those talks: one is infrastructure that South Australia has and the other is that we're looking to increase investment from the state government in productions that are held in South Australia to help attract productions to South Australia. Both of those conversations are ongoing at the moment. I'm hopeful that, with regard to the funding of productions in South Australia—to me it has many benefits. More production that is outside of Sydney is good. We do have representation that comes from other parts of the country. That's something we always look at, but there are limited funds available from state and territory governments.

Not only do I know that we leverage another dollar for every dollar we spend, but the work that we commissioned through Deloitte last year shows the effect on the economy. We know through those commissions that, in aggregate terms—I can give you more detail on notice—over a three-year period, over $700 million was put into the economy. Over 8,000 people were employed as a result of that spend across the country. What we've been able to do is look at the economic benefits of spending in what is the independent production sector, not necessarily just for the ABC but where that spend goes. We did look at us, but that translates into just about anyone. If you're investing in a sector and you want to keep it going then it's good news.

In Tasmania, we had luck with the Tasmanian Premier. There is a great new show coming to Tassie. We had Rosehaven down there, and that's finished. They've got another drama that will be shot there. It's got Marta Dusseldorp involved, and Andrew Knight and Greg Sitch. It's a winning concept. It will be the next big thing. It will be a real hit, and it will showcase regional Tasmania. It came from a bit of extra investment from the Tasmanian government and a lot of other investment from other places. It means a $16 million production can happen there. It will have benefits in Tasmania as well as showcasing Tasmania to the rest of the country—and it will probably travel overseas.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I'm sure Minister Duniam is happy about that.

Senator URQUHART: We all are.

Senator Duniam: We all are.

Senator ABETZ: We all are. I'm sure Wide Angle would be as well.

CHAIR: I'm sure you have a similarly good story to tell about the Parramatta move.

Mr Anderson : Sure. Is it—

CHAIR: It's a serious question. I'm sure it's also a similarly good story.

Mr Anderson : Plans for decentralisation continue for us. We're still committed to having 75 per cent of our content makers outside of Ultimo. At the moment we've gone through an RFP, looking for sites in Parramatta. We're close to a preferred site, and then we will take it from there once we've got a heads of agreement.

Senator URQUHART: I just want to follow on from some of the questions that Senator Hanson-Young asked about the underpayments. I don't know whether you can give me this information, but are you able to provide me with the general range of what the underpayments will cost the ABC?

Mr Anderson : I'll provide that to you on notice. We are still in consultation at the moment with regard to that. It's within our provisions at the moment, but I will provide that to you on notice.

Senator URQUHART: That's good. Are you in a position to identify what the quantum of underpayments was in dollar terms?

Mr Anderson : That's what I was intending to provide to you on notice.

Senator URQUHART: Okay. With the dollar terms, I am not sure whether both are a cost to the ABC, but I presume they are?

Mr Anderson : They are absolutely a cost to the ABC.

Senator URQUHART: What is the contingency in the event that the market allowance for staff can't be used to offset the underpayments?

Mr Anderson : As I said, we are still in consultation with regard to Fair Work about that.

Senator URQUHART: What liability could the ABC face in this scenario, if that doesn't cover that?

Mr Anderson : In dollar terms?

Senator URQUHART: Yes.

Mr Anderson : I will confirm with you on estimates, but I think it's circa $2 million.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you. On 20 December 2021, Zoe Samios wrote an article in TheSydney Morning Herald entitled 'ABC plans to boost Pacific presence as China's shadow grows'. The article says:

ABC managing director David Anderson has revealed the national broadcaster is preparing to step up its presence in the Asia-Pacific region significantly next year, more than seven years after its cable channel dedicated to the region was shuttered.

What sort of step-up does the ABC have in mind and how will this be funded?

Mr Anderson : There are one or two things. At the moment, I have a contract before me with DFAT which is renewing the Pacific Australian sports initiative. That means new content across the Pacific, which includes That Pacific Sports Show, which is very good news. In addition to that, after speaking to the minister for the Pacific as well as Minister Fletcher, we made a submission for additional investment for the ABC to have a greater presence across the Pacific. I will confirm this on notice, but that submission was just above $12 million, and it was in discussion with both officers with regards to how we think that we can assist with regard to our presence through the Pacific region—the importance of having presence there, both reporting into and reporting out of—and that association with Australia is important. So that sits there. We will do what we can with what we have got anyway. We think it's an important place to be.

Senator URQUHART: You said you were having some discussions with the communication minister but also with the minister for the Pacific. Does that mean that you're asking the government to provide some funding?

Mr Anderson : Yes, we have.

Senator URQUHART: And that's the $12 million?

Mr Anderson : Yes.

Senator URQUHART: If that doesn't occur, if you don't get that funding, will the ABC have to step up the funding themselves?

Mr Anderson : Any plans that we have come at the expense of something else. We'll deal with those priorities at the moment.

Senator URQUHART: When are you expecting to hear about the funding?

Mr Anderson : It wasn't in the funding outcome that we just received, but that doesn't mean that all hope is lost. It's something we will still make the case for. We'll do what we can ourselves, but it's nothing like what the investment would bring—that investment over time, that we would tie to what we put forward as what we think will be a good idea.

Senator URQUHART: The article quotes you as saying:

… I think there is the intergenerational trust between those nations and Australia. We're always interested in expanding our presence should the government wish to do so. I think it would be an important initiative.

As Australia's international broadcaster, how do you think the ABC is best placed to deliver content and services to the Pacific?

Mr Anderson : Zoe is quoting me there. That's what I do say; I think there is intergenerational trust both with the ABC and the Australian government, whoever the Australian government of the day is. I think that's been built up over many years. I think they see help coming from us and our interest in them. I think the ABC is an important part of that, and to have an expanded presence there is important—particularly with concerns, frankly, over the Chinese government. With the initiatives that we have at the moment, we will partner with DFAT and we will send people into the Pacific region. We will work with those countries and their broadcasters. The single biggest piece of information that comes back from them is concern over the pressure that the Chinese government put on them to carry content to broadcast through the Pacific. That's why I see that as something that is a moment where I think it is important to—it was once called soft diplomacy, but I think having the ABC there would be an important step forward.

Senator URQUHART: Can you tell me what the key difference is between what the ABC used to deliver under the Australian network and what it delivers now?

Mr Anderson : I will confirm with you on notice, but I remember the Australian network funding was about $22 million. I know that we had about eight bulletins a day going in there from early in the morning. In addition to that, we had other correspondents throughout the Pacific that were reporting back. We had specific services going to them, sourcing news from the Pacific and playing that back to them. It was also available in Australia as well. That's what that service was doing, and it was there for a while until the funding stopped. Then we didn't have that anymore.

Senator URQUHART: What's delivered now?

Mr Anderson : We still have an obligation to provide international services. At the moment, we'll spend about $10 million or $11 million—I think it was about $10.5 million—a year on our international services. It's a combination of ABC Australia, which is a television network. We have an international version of ABC iview and we also have, effectively, radio that goes overseas as well. It is a cut down service, but it is something that we still provide.

Senator URQUHART: I think Senator Sheldon asked these questions in the last estimates, in relation to the ABC documentary 'Exposed: The Ghost Train Fire'—a three-part investigation that was aired on the ABC. The program was subject to an independent external review, which is now available on the ABC's website. Did the independent review process include a draft reporting stage to the managing director?

Mr Anderson : I think I may have seen a draft of that. Yes, I can confirm I did receive a draft, but I did not provide any feedback to it.

Senator URQUHART: Was that a due process step?

Mr Anderson : I think so. I think it was a: 'This is about to go to the board.'

Senator URQUHART: Sorry?

Mr Anderson : I think it was in tandem with it heading to the board. So I think it wasn't there for me to comment on or provide feedback to. But, yes, I did see a draft version, for which there was no response from me.

Senator URQUHART: Was a draft report prepared by Tiffin and Masters supplied to the managing director?

Mr Anderson : I can't remember how I got hold of it, but I do remember reading it. I do remember seeing something, but I don't remember what form it came to me in or who it came from. But, yes, I did see a draft.

Senator URQUHART: Was the draft—

Mr Anderson : Sorry, but it was more finalised, and kind of done.

Senator URQUHART: When you saw it?

Mr Anderson : Yes, when I saw it.

Senator URQUHART: Do you know if the draft report was changed after this draft reporting stage?

Mr Anderson : No, I don't think so.

Senator URQUHART: Does the draft reporting stage undermine the independence of the independent review in any way?

Mr Anderson : No. None whatsoever. They took no feedback from me. They didn't ask for feedback from me about what I thought about that.

Senator URQUHART: Thank you.

Senator ABETZ: The exemption document to which you referred, Mr Anderson, about the lockdown, are you able to table that for us?

Mr Anderson : I think there was an exemption for all media. There wasn't anything specific for us. But, certainly, I know that—

Senator ABETZ: How were you notified of it? In writing?

Mr Anderson : Look, I—

Senator ABETZ: Anyway, if you can take it on notice and see what you can provide.

Mr Anderson : I will take it on notice.

Senator ABETZ: In relation to that Four Corners program 'Inside the Canberra Bubble', was a Ms Jo Dyer interviewed. She is now, I note, a candidate running against the coalition. At the time of the interview, was the ABC aware that Ms Dyer was also, at one time, a member of the ALP?

Mr Anderson : Senator—

Senator ABETZ: That's not mentioned, yet again, in the interview.

Mr Anderson : I don't know—

Senator ABETZ: Mr Bornstein not mentioned; Ms Dyer not mentioned—

Mr Anderson : We'll take that on notice for you.

Senator ABETZ: Let's turn to another matter in relation to staff. Some ABC staff are provided with a car.

Mr Anderson : I'll confirm on notice for you, but we stopped having people's employment with us—

Senator ABETZ: Are some staff provided with a car?

Mr Anderson : I think there are still a few left, grandfathered from a long time ago.

Senator ABETZ: Can they use that car privately?

Mr Anderson : My understanding is that if it is part of their employment, they can. There are not many left. We phased this out, and I'll confirm—

Senator ABETZ: What about taking a staff car home, for example? Can you stop off on the way home and buy a bottle of milk?

Mr Anderson : In circumstances when somebody has a car for their work—like they're a camera operator—certainly, if they have a late finish and an early start, they can ask permission to take the car, yes.

Senator ABETZ: I suppose the office space at ABC headquarters is provided for the purposes of work.

Mr Anderson : Yes.

Senator ABETZ: But they might make a private phone call from there as well, mightn't they?

Mr Anderson : Yes, of course.

Senator ABETZ: If you're an ABC employee and in ABC premises, a process server could actually serve you with court documents, couldn't they?

Mr Anderson : If there is something publicly available via an ABC computer, yes.

Senator ABETZ: No, I'm talking about the premises. If an ABC staffer is working in ABC offices, they can be served with private Family Court proceedings, for example.

Mr Anderson : I guess they could be served wherever they are.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, including the ABC. Does the ABC management access ABC employees' emails on their work accounts?

Mr Anderson : There are certain circumstances where we can, yes.

Senator ABETZ: But you don't do it as a matter of practice. I would hope not.

Mr Anderson : We only do it if there's a reason to, where there's suspicion of something quite serious.

Senator ABETZ: To come back to Ms Milligan and this fatuous assertion that the ABC received the notice from Dr Laming, it wasn't received by the ABC at all, was it, at 5.21 pm? It was in fact received by Ms Milligan on 5 May, and ABC management only found out about it because Ms Milligan told them.

Mr Anderson : Yes. That's post investigation and in questions put to me. We've since found out that yes, that email was sent to Ms Milligan at her ABC email address and was then forwarded to ABC Legal.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, but the concerns notice was received by the ABC at 5.21 pm on 5 May. That's not actually correct, is it? That's in answer to committee question No. 37. It was received by Ms Milligan, wasn't it, and she then—

Mr Anderson : The information we've provided is the information I received. I'll follow up for you.

Senator ABETZ: Can I suggest to you it's incorrect and you are using the language that I exposed last time with the assertion that the ABC had received it when clearly the ABC had not? It was only Ms Milligan that had received it. But moving on to question No. 38 and its interesting answer; the second sentence is:

It is not in the public interest for the ABC, or any other agency, organisation, entity or individual, to be compelled to disclose legal advice provided to it.

I assume all ABC journalists are now going to hold very strictly to that when inquiries are made about legal advice provided to government. I just make that as a side comment. I'm sure they won't, and good on them. But if this is really the ABC's view of the world, you might like to ask your journalists to abide by the ABC view of the world.

Coming to the snippets of disingenuous legal advice that were provided to us also in answer to question 38:

Extract 1

ABC's question: In light of the above context, the ABC wishes to understand its liability …

But you don't disclose the above context. o it's a meaningless answer, isn't it? And you, with your intellect, Mr Anderson, know that is the case; don't you? If the above context is not provided to the committee then the answer is for all intents and purposes quite meaningless.

Mr Anderson : If you would like further context to that, we can provide that on notice. What I will say to you is that there were elements of that advice that would otherwise provide a roadmap to those people that would want to provide the ABC harm or sue the ABC. That's why I don't want to release that entire legal advice, because it was given under legal professional privilege. It shows the vulnerabilities that the ABC had at that time, and it would otherwise have provided something to someone that could otherwise harm the ABC.

Senator ABETZ: You know that I'm firmly of the view that the ABC should not have indemnified Ms Milligan. There's no legal basis to it, in my humble Hobart lawyer's opinion—albeit a bit rusty these days. But if you don't provide the context, it doesn't really answer anything.

I notice that in extracts 1, 2 and 3 you don't actually talk about a journalist being on a frolic of their own, out of hours at a certain time of night, engaging in this Twitter activity. You may have asked the question, but it's not in the information you've provided, and that is the glaring hole in the advice that you've given us. Indeed, in extract 2, paragraph 3, three lines down it says:

because there are a number of factors that, when taken together, suggest

but we're not told about this number of factors. We're not even told about one factor. It's all exceptionally meaningless. In paragraph 4 it says, 'Taken together, these factors'—unknown factors.

Mr Anderson : Some context around that is the role of a journalist. People's work requirements at—

Senator ABETZ: Wait a minute—why aren't these factors set out for us?

Mr Anderson : I'm pulling out specific things that I'd like to talk to you—

Senator ABETZ: You can't cherry-pick these things like you've done in the written answer, and then today just give us another little cherry.

Mr Anderson : The rest of it is intertwined with the vulnerabilities we have retrospectively.

Senator ABETZ: The Seyfarth response states:

Yes, in light of the combination of the factors we have identified

What factors? They're all unknown to the committee. Unless we know that the lawyers were advised that this was a frolic of her own, out-of-hours in circumstances that might be best explained by her, one wonders how on earth the ABC could be held vicariously liable. Especially because in the last dot point of extract 3 of the Seyfarth response says:

matters of public interest, concern or debate (because such matters would in our view typically fall within the remit of a journalist's role).

Of course, a journalist's role is not to engage in frolics of their own after hours, making defamatory allegations against a member of parliament. It's hardly the role of a journalist. But if that's what you've told the lawyers—that this is the role of a journalist after hours, privately defaming an MP—then of course there's vicarious liability. Thanks but no thanks for the information you've provided.

CHAIR: I want to ask about the lawyers at the ABC. We've asked about this before. I've asked about this in the past. In June 2021, the ABC said it had 26 in-house lawyers. At the last hearing, in November, you said you had 36. In response to a question on notice on 29 November last year, the ABC said it employed 28 in-house lawyers in the legal team, six lawyers in the people and culture team and 10 in the business affairs team. That would be 44. Can you give me a sense of what the actual number is and whether you've been on a lawyer hiring spree.

Mr Anderson : The specifics of the question are important. When I'm asked how many lawyers are in our ABC legal team the answer is 28. If I'm asked how many lawyers there are altogether—I got asked the number, including business affairs. Business affairs, which sits outside of the legal team, do television contracts, around commissioning and negotiating terms, and are separate to ABC Legal. We also have lawyers in industrial relations. I think we've got about three or four lawyers there.

Senator ABETZ: They're not mentioned here.

CHAIR: What's the total?

Mr Anderson : I'll provide a total on notice for you. The important thing is we've got lawyers—I've got people in this room with me who are lawyers—

CHAIR: I understand that.

Mr Anderson : but they're not doing a job that requires them to be a lawyer.

CHAIR: How many are in legal roles? Maybe you can provide that.

Mr Anderson : I will provide you with an answer on the total amount of legal roles we have at the ABC.

CHAIR: Okay. I also want to ask about the Juanita Nielsen TV series. Has that been taken off iview, or is that coming back? Do you know?

Mr Anderson : Yes, we took that off ABC iview. There were podcasts that we took down as well. Work has been done on that. We do expect that to come back. Mr McMurtrie, can you tell them a bit more detail about that?

Mr McMurtrie : Yes, it will come back. They're working on it right now. There's been an internal review of that program.

CHAIR: I have one last question. I'd like to be efficient with the time. In terms of this point around being vicariously liable, as you relied on in some prior decisions, could you be vicariously liable for some of the social media posts which breached the social media code?

Mr Anderson : Part of the Seyfarth Shaw advice was around vicarious liability, our vulnerability, and what we can do about it. We took on board those recommendations and then we updated our policy, we updated our contracts, and we wrote to everybody and made it absolutely perfectly clear that we will not take legal liability for their actions in their personal use of social media.

CHAIR: So that's now your policy?

Mr Anderson : Yes.

CHAIR: So the ABC will not be vicariously liable in future for personal social media posts?

Mr Anderson : That is correct.

CHAIR: That is the new policy?

Mr Anderson : That is something, yes, that we made perfectly clear. To be honest, I was unaware we had that vulnerability before that happened.

CHAIR: I understand.

Mr Anderson : Then we sought advice, because I wouldn't have thought we were. We got advice that we were, and we've taken action on the other side of that and followed that legal advice on what to do.

CHAIR: And you will enforce that, I'm sure.

Mr A nderson : I do not expect to be in the position that the ABC will take legal responsibility for people's personal use of social media into the future.

CHAIR: We look forward to you holding the line on that because I think it's an important principle about the use of taxpayer funds and that's what we would expect from any taxpayer funded organisation. I don't have any further questions. Senator Hanson-Young?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Anderson, you talked before about being able to invest money, in Tasmania and around the place, in independent production and feeding into the production industry overall. We had the communications department in front of us earlier today and they were saying they're doing an analysis on the value of the creative industries to the economy. It strikes me that a big part of the money that gets spent on creative industries and content creation in this country comes from the ABC.

Mr Anderson : It does.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have you been contacted by the department around that? Have they done any analysis with you on the number of content creators you've got and the type of economic stimulus that that creates? They say they're doing this big analysis piece. I'm just wondering if they've actually spoken to you.

Mr Anderson : I don't know specifically. I can imagine they would have. We have meetings with the department all the time. I don't attend those; some of my staff do. My team has talked quite a bit and handed over information over a long period of time about what we will look at as leverage, including what we spend and where other money comes from to match it. That has a doubling effect that goes to production, which is otherwise the ownership of the producer, not the ownership of the ABC. We license that, and we're an editorial manager of it; we have it for our licence period. The producer owns it, and then there are other contributors in there, like distributors, that otherwise will sell it and look to monetise it. There is a doubling effect here, at least.

What we did with Deloitte Access Economics was look at a three-year period. In that three-year period, they found that we had 433 screen productions, with 2,570 run hours, commissioned by the ABC over that period, which contributed $744 million in total to the Australian economy and supported more than 8,300 FTEs across multiple sectors. That happened across that three-year period. That's information we didn't have before. It is information the BBC has commissioned before, as well. I think looking at the entire sector about what that generates is certainly a worthy endeavour because the more you can see the investment in the independent production sector, the more you can see in content and in our culture, and that is incredibly important. Not only is it culturally important for us to be able to have Australians telling stories about ourselves, to ourselves, from all around the country, there's also an economic benefit that sits with it through investment in that independent sector.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: One of the things that has been used in the past in soft diplomacy in the region was the previously funded Australia Network. Have you had any conversations with anyone in government about the ABC re-engaging with content that's broadcast around the region? It strikes me that there's a real opportunity for investment in soft diplomacy, whether for the economic dividend to Australia or for national interest. We're having a huge public and political discussion at the moment about threats in the region. What are we doing, in terms of our public broadcast, for soft diplomacy?

Mr Anderson : I met with Minister Hawke when he was in his previous role. I've met with Zed Seselja as well. Both are very positive about what is possible. I guess it comes down to budget priorities for the country. All of those conversations, including conversations with DFAT, are very positive. Everyone would like to do it. It just takes that funding to do it. We're not looking to replicate what the Australia Network was. As I said, that was over $20 million worth of expenditure per annum, in a different nature. What we're proposing is a series of initiatives that is different to what they had for Australia Network. I think it will be equally if not more effective in engaging with those other countries through their public broadcasters.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You'd have to think that the ABC and even SBS would have a better soft diplomatic reach than Married At First Sightor some of that rubbish, which is what is currently broadcast out there?

Mr Anderson : Arguably, yes.

CHAIR: I won't make any disclosures on that!

Senator ABETZ: The one time I agree with Senator Hanson-Young! With Ms Milligan's matter, the fringe benefits tax matter was going to be investigated. Do we have an answer on that?

Mr Anderson : We do have an answer, Senator. I might defer to my—

Senator ABETZ: Is there a liability—yes or no? If there is, how much?

Ms Kleyn : No. We don't believe there's a liability.

Senator ABETZ: You don't believe there's a liability. Alright, we shall see. You've got an internal complaint handling inquiry that was to report next month. Is that still on track?

Mr Anderson : Independent reviewers are undertaking that, and yes, they are on track to deliver the report to the board in March, which will be—

Senator ABETZ: Yes, that's fine. I've only got five minutes. That's all I asked: whether it was on track. Could I invite you, especially as editor-in-chief, to read the Ajax submission to that. It's very, very informative. What's the news and current affairs budget for the ABC in dollar terms? Do we a figure on that?

Mr Anderson : I'll confirm on notice for you, but it's about $210 million per annum.

Senator ABETZ: So, $210 million out of a $1.1 billion budget is roughly 20 per cent?

Mr Anderson : Roughly.

Senator ABETZ: I've asked questions in the past in relation to Mr Stephens, the convicted paedophile. The person against whom he offended—has that case been fully settled now with the ABC, or is it ongoing?

Mr Anderson : My understanding, and I haven't revisited that lately—I've been ready for you to ask that question for a while now—is that, yes, that case was settled.

Senator ABETZ: And the total cost to the taxpayer?

Mr Anderson : I'm going to have to confirm on notice. I don't want to get it wrong. It's been a while since I looked it up.

Senator ABETZ: Alright. Are there any other pending cases that the ABC's facing of a similar nature?

Mr Anderson : No, not that I'm aware of.

CHAIR: We thank the ABC for being here.

Proceedings suspended from 20:2 6 to 20:3 9

CHAIR: We are going to resume briefly. Senator Pratt is seeking a clarification.

Senator PRATT: Earlier today, during questioning from Senator Smith to Senator Hume, it was stated that the minister for communications has not yet received a letter from the WA Minister for Police in person and the only way that he had been notified of that correspondence was from the news today. I followed that up to seek some clarification as to whether that was the case, and the office of the Minister for Police in Western Australia have advised me that they did in fact receive a reply from Minister Fletcher as of 10 February. So it can't hold true that the first the minister knew about it was upon reading the news today. I was hoping that you, as the representative at the table on behalf of Senator Hume earlier today—who sought that advice from Minister Fletcher—might be able to ask for the record to be corrected.

Senator Duniam: I'm not familiar with the detail of what transpired earlier on. But, certainly, I will commit to inquiring what happened there, what was provided by way of information, and if any clarification is needed—

Senator PRATT: Or correction.

Senator Duniam: it will be provided.

Senator PRATT: Thank you, Chair.