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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

CHAIR: Senator Fifield, would you like to make an opening statement?

Senator Fifield: No, other than to observe the constant interest in Mr Scott that we see manifest in the photographers with us today.

CHAIR: Welcome to estimates, Mr Scott. Would you like to make an opening statement?

Mr Scott : I would like to thank the committee for their cooperation in allowing the ABC to appear at this special session of estimates. I have not missed an estimates hearing since I started at the ABC nearly 10 years ago and I felt it was important to maintain that discipline and notion of accountability. I appreciate the committee's indulgence in setting this time aside.

I would also like to place on record another part of the ABC's commitment to public service. Last week the ABC aired an extraordinary two-part documentary called Hitting Home. It was extraordinary because of the insights it offered into the complex nature of domestic violence and the devastating impact it has on far too many Australian families. As you would be aware, in Hitting Home our acclaimed journalist Sarah Ferguson spent six months immersed in the front line of this problem. She shared the lives of victims while virtually living in a women's refuge and she accompanied specialised police units on their call-outs. She talked to welfare and hospital workers who live with this issue daily. The ABC were a strong backer of this program since the idea for it was first floated by Sarah. It was confronting and at times deeply uncomfortable viewing. It contained harrowing accounts. But it was all these things that made Hitting Home such an important piece of journalism and a demonstration of the very best that the ABC brings to the national discourse. I must say that I do not recall, during my time at the ABC, a documentary program that generated such a strong, engaged response from the public as this one.

I would argue that no other media outfit would have invested the resources in telling this very jarring story, and no-one but the ABC could have used this series to command public space and the time to trigger a very important national debate on this issue. It was a combination of skills and commitment and public trust that the ABC has used to good effect in showcasing other complex policy issues as well, issues like mental health. In October, our Mental As series was a pioneering and very successful attempt by the ABC to focus public attention on what has been, up until now, a very little understood and neglected health policy issue. As with Hitting Home, the ABC has been able to humanise the problem, and to draw experts and policymakers into coming up with solutions. The policy dynamics surrounding mental health have been forever changed by our Mental As week, and I suspect Hitting Home will have a similar impact. And while the committee will no doubt focus on other aspects of the ABC's work tonight, and I acknowledge that that is what accountability requires, it is important that we not forget the value the ABC brings to the national conversation. That contribution and sense of worth is well understood by the general public, and the latest annual report shows that, as in previous years, an overwhelming majority believe that the ABC performs a valuable role in Australian society. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Scott, and I do commend you on Sarah Ferguson's series. It was a very profound and a very timely series, so thank you.

Senator DASTYARI: I am going to be here all night, so if other senators have to be at other things and anyone—

Senator XENOPHON: Is that a threat or a promise?

CHAIR: I think a little bit of both, Senator Xenophon!

Senator DASTYARI: Mr Scott, I have some specific questions, but perhaps it is best if we start at a more general level. It is obviously known that you have announced your departure from the ABC after 10 years, and you have made it fairly clear that two terms is how long you felt was enough. When does the term finish?

Mr Scott : It finishes in the middle of next year, but we felt, as a board, that it was important to advertise for the position now as we were not quite aware who would fill that position or when he or she would be available to take up the role. My contract runs through to the middle of next year.

Senator DASTYARI: You just touched on a point there, and I will take you up on it: if the board found them and if he or she was prepared to begin before that date, is that something you are in discussions with the board about?

Mr Scott : I would just discuss that with the board, but the board asked some time ago for my commitment to run full term and that is what I said to them that I was willing to do.

Senator DASTYARI: Mr Scott, what you are saying is you are prepared to serve a full term, but that is really a matter for the board—if the board, for facilitation, were to bring someone in early, then that is acceptable as well?

Mr Scott : I am certainly happy to discuss that with the board. I am contracted through to June.

Senator DASTYARI: Have you discussed that with the board?

Mr Scott : No. At the moment, the board is involved in the process of finding the next managing director. Even though I am a director of the board, I elected not to be directly involved in that process—I thought that was good practice—and so the board is doing that work. I suppose when that process is finished, when they have chosen the next managing director, then we will go to questions of their availability and when they want to start.

Senator DASTYARI: This may be a question for the minister then. Minister, how far along that process are we?

Senator Fifield: I do not have a formal role in the appointment of the managing director of the ABC.

Senator DASTYARI: Sure, but I imagine you—

Senator Fifield: I am not a spokesman for the board of the ABC. While I might have a general view as to where I think things are at, it is most appropriate that I do not put myself in the role of a spokesman for the board of the ABC.

Senator DASTYARI: Fair enough.

Mr Scott : As a director, I can simply say that advertisements have run, a headhunting firm has been engaged, a list of names has been created and people have had an opportunity to apply for the role. Those applications have now closed and the usual kinds of recruitment processes are now underway with a broad list of candidates.

Senator DASTYARI: At this point in time, and this is all on the public record, applications have closed?

Mr Scott : Yes.

Senator DASTYARI: And when you say 'the usual process', what is the usual process?

Mr Scott : The usual process is a review of candidates and an interview process, but I cannot give you more detail on precisely—

Senator DASTYARI: Do you know if interviews have begun?

Mr Scott : I am not in a position to provide detail on that. I am not doing those interviews.

Senator DASTYARI: I am not saying you are, but—

Mr Scott : I think it is best to just refer to it broadly. Broadly, the interview process has—there is a broad list of candidates, so people who have applied or have been willing to be considered. A review of those candidates is being undertaken by the search firm and interviews will be ensuing from that.

Senator DASTYARI: Sorry, explain this to me again. I am not familiar with exactly how the process works. The process seems to be anyone can effectively apply. I imagine the recruitment firm—

Senator Xenophon interjecting

Senator DASTYARI: I think it is too late; I missed my chance. Anyone can apply; the recruitment firm will narrow that down into a list of reasonable candidates who meet the criteria that has been set by the board. That list then goes to the board. Does the board do interviews, or does the recruitment firm interview?

Mr Scott : No, the recruitment firm will work in concert with the board around this process. It is very clear in the ABC Act. The decision of recruiting the managing director will lie with the board. What the recruitment firm does is provide advice to the board, but the decision-making process lies with the board.

Senator DASTYARI: It sounds like, from what you are saying, they are not at the point yet where they are doing their interviews?

Mr Scott : I am not in a position to provide detail around that, and I am not precisely across all of it.

Senator DASTYARI: Mr Scott, there are one or two things you are saying there. Either you do not know, or you are choosing not to tell us, which is fine, as long as we know which one.

Mr Scott : It is a confidential process. I am not precisely sure of the timetable for interviews or where they are up to, but I know that the process is underway. It strikes me as being a fairly standard process for this style of recruitment.

Senator DASTYARI: The anticipation is obviously that it is going to be completed in the early part of next year. Is that the timing?

Mr Scott : I would expect so, but it depends a little bit on the candidate.

Senator DASTYARI: Mr Scott, just going through the past couple of years—I am going to get to some more specific things in a moment—I would not mind getting your take, now that we seem to be at the end of it, on this whole controversy regarding the Q&A program, which I am sure you are very, very familiar with. Can you give us a bit of an overview, and I will ask you a few more specific questions about it, of how you see that from an ABC perspective?

Mr Scott : Firstly, I want to pay tribute to the Q&A program and the Q&A team. I think they do a very good job in a very complex program. As I said at the time earlier in the year, one of the things about Q&A is it has a lot of moving parts: it is a live program; it is a topical program; there are selection processes that are involved in the selection of the panel, in getting a live audience in of several hundred people at 9.30 on a Monday night; there are complexities about taking it on the road; and then that whole live dynamic of questions from the floor and what the response from the panel will be, let alone managing social media. There are hundreds and hundreds of decisions that are involved in making Q&A every week, and many of them are done under live pressure. Not all of those decisions, in hindsight, will prove to be right, and sometimes there will be errors of judgment.

What the ABC said on the issue of when Zaky Mallah was in the audience was that, in hindsight, to have him live in the audience was probably not the wisest decision. He had appeared extensively on other media outlets, but not in a live environment. We thought better of that. I did think the criticism was worthy for a debate or two, as I have said elsewhere. I thought the fact that the debate around it seemed to go on for three weeks overemphasised the focus on a narrow matter. The team at Q&A are facilitating a public debate, and their own performance will come under scrutiny and debate from time to time, and that is what happened around that program.

Senator DASTYARI: Was the criticism over the top?

Mr Scott : I said at the time there was criticism around a range of issues, and there was one matter in particular that the ABC felt that—having him in a live studio environment, that was a question, but others will judge whether the criticism was over the top. We were clear how we saw the issue, and we responded accordingly. I do not want to provide further commentary on the issue. Can I say in defence of the Q&A team, after a couple of tough issues midyear, I think they had a very strong finish to the year. Audiences remained very faithful and loyal to that program, and I think they continue to make a very strong contribution to public debate in Australia. We are delighted that Q&A will be back next year, and I expect it will continue to play an important role.

Senator DASTYARI: The decision by the government not to provide members for the show was a decision for government?

Mr Scott : Yes.

Senator DASTYARI: How long did that go for?

Mr Scott : Several weeks, a couple of weeks, three weeks, maybe four weeks. I cannot quite recall.

Senator DASTYARI: It was only three or four weeks?

Mr Scott : I do not have the chronology in front of me. It seems a long time ago now.

Senator DASTYARI: Did you yourself hear directly from anyone in government about that decision? Was that conveyed to you outside of—

Mr Scott : I must say that it emerged when Mr Joyce indicated that he would not be appearing on the program first-up, and then there were statements made by the Prime Minister.

Senator DASTYARI: I thought prior to that a couple of members themselves had decided not to—

Mr Scott : There had been some members—Q&A operates by invitation, as you know. You are invited to attend. There have been many people who have decided not to attend—

Senator DASTYARI: Yes, fair enough.

Mr Scott : and many people desperate for an invitation. That is the way the program works. That some individuals decided they did not want to appear is a matter for their judgement. Then there was a period when I think the former Prime Minister said that nobody from the cabinet or the ministry could appear. That ran for several weeks. Then that was—

Senator DASTYARI: And that started with Mr Joyce?

Mr Scott : I believe—

Senator DASTYARI: Because I think—

Mr Scott : As I recall.

Senator DASTYARI: he was on an ABC program on the Sunday, the Insiders program, where he said he was attending and he did not attend on the Monday.

Mr Scott : Yes, I think he expected to attend, but then the Prime Minister made policy, and I think that was all well canvassed at the time. We try and have a plurality of views on the panel and I must say that, even if government MPs were not appearing, we did have a plurality of views on those panels.

Senator DASTYARI: You did.

Mr Scott : Audiences did not decline markedly at all in the absence. With no disrespect to any of the senators, sometimes our audience enjoys panels that we put together which have no politicians on them at all. The program I think continued on. It is a very resilient franchise, Q&A. There is no reason to suggest, and I have said it publicly—Four Corners has been on air for more than 50 years and Australian Story for 20 years—that Q&A should not run year after year on the ABC and continue to play an important role. Next year, an election year, my expectation is that the Prime Minister will appear on Q&A—and the Leader of the Opposition and many frontbenchers from both side of politics—and it will play an important part in political discourse next year.

Senator DASTYARI: Going back to the question: ignoring the handful of MPs who themselves, off their own bat, with or without advice from others, decided not to attend—that is a matter for them—what was relayed to you was the government decision to not have ministers or frontbenchers attend. How was that conveyed to you during this kind of controversy?

Mr Scott : I am just trying to recall. I think I was aware of it firstly because of public statements that were made by Mr Joyce and then Mr Abbott. I think that is how I was aware of it. The main engagement around Q&A guests happens with the producers of the program talking to MPs. There was then ongoing dialogue with those MPs about whether or not they felt they were able to attend.

Senator DASTYARI: Without pussyfooting around the issue, did you yourself have any correspondence or dialogue directly with the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister's office?

Mr Scott : The chairman and the Prime Minister corresponded around a few matters. That correspondence was released, as I recall.

Senator DASTYARI: Yes, there were letters.

Mr Scott : There were letters.

Senator DASTYARI: Was there telephone communication at all?

Mr Scott : Not that I recall.

Senator DASTYARI: I will be fair. Obviously there was—and it is not your job to speak on their behalf—between the producers and the show and government. That is a matter for them. But you yourself specifically had no conversations with the Prime Minister or the Prime Minister's office?

Mr Scott : No, I did not.

Senator DASTYARI: During this time about the matter?

Mr Scott : No, I did not.

Senator DASTYARI: Did you have any conversations with the minister's office at the time?

Mr Scott : I almost certainly did, Senator, as you would expect. My experience now with numbers of different ministers in my time is that when there is an issue that is generating significant public debate and discussion about the ABC then I will talk with the minister's staff or the minister.

Senator DASTYARI: Which I have to put, for the record, I do not think is either surprising or inappropriate. There was a lot of controversy around this. But you at no point had a conversation with the Prime Minister's office?

Mr Scott : No.

Senator DASTYARI: I am not saying that it did not happen, but you are not aware of the Prime Minister's office or the Prime Minister's chief of staff having a discussion with anyone in the ABC directly about this?

Mr Scott : Not that I am aware of.

Senator DASTYARI: I understand that you are a big organisation—

Mr Scott : I think it was quite clear what the government's policy was. There was no secret about that. It was spoken about at press conferences and there was much commentary on it. In a way there was not much for us to add. This was a decision that had been made and then down the track another decision was made, and we welcomed government MPs back on the program.

Senator DASTYARI: I think it was on 23 June this year when the Prime Minister asked, 'Whose side are you on?' I think he was referring to the ABC's Q&A program, but it was interpreted more broadly than that. Do you think those comments were helpful?

Mr Scott : I did make a speech after that in an attempt to respond to that question. I suppose I was very clear. I wanted to make it clear to the Australian public that I believe that the ABC is on the side of Australia and Australians. But in being on the Australia's side we have a unique role to play, and that role is the role of a public broadcaster. Enshrined in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act is the need for the ABC to be independent. The tradition is that robust standards of journalism apply to the work of the ABC, and that is the role that we play. Partly, that is to hold our institutions and politicians to account. This is the role the ABC has played for more than 80 years. Just like on any team, in team Australia, different people will have different roles to play, and that is the role that we need to play as an independent public broadcaster.

Senator DASTYARI: Do you think those kinds of comments were helpful to the debate at that point?

Mr Scott : I am not going to provide commentary on it.

Senator RONALDSON: Chair, I have a point of order. I know what Senator Dastyari is trying to get to, but we have had 20 minutes of him seeking personal opinions from Mr Scott.

Senator DASTYARI: I want to speak to the point of order.

Senator RONALDSON: It has been 20 minutes and it is getting a bit boring. I wonder whether there might be some legitimate estimates questions that Senator Dastyari might want to ask Mr Scott, rather than a succession of personal opinions.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Senator Ronaldson. That is not quite a point of order; however, I remind Senator Dastyari that he has five minutes, because we have a lot of senators—

Senator DASTYARI: That is completely fine.

CHAIR: We will break there and then come back to you. If you want to finish off this line of questioning then we will move on.

Senator DASTYARI: I only have a bit further to go on this as well. Ten years running the ABC is a long period. Was this the most difficult time you have had between the ABC and the government in that period?

Mr Scott : It was a time of commentary and debate, but what I encourage internal people to do—and as I reflected publicly—is to look at the history of the ABC in the volumes written by Ken Inglis and others. You will see that from time to time as the ABC does its job it will not always please the government of the day. There will be criticism, there will be debate and there will be engagement. That was the case in these circumstances. I think well-meaning and fair minded people will come to different views from time to time. The organisation is resilient. The support of the public is resilient. We just need to do the work that we need to do. Of course they are challenging days when you run a public broadcaster. These were challenging days, but there have been other challenging days.

Senator DASTYARI: I have a whole bunch of other questions. I may pause here and then come back to them.

CHAIR: That will be great, thank you. Senator Xenophon, I will give you 10 minutes now and if we need to, we can come back to you later.

Senator XENOPHON: You are very generous, chair. Thank you. The ABC's latest annual report shows that the percentage of staff employed in NSW has again grown up to 51.6 per cent from 51.3 per cent of the previous year over the same period. The percentage of staff employed in South Australia has fallen to 6.7 per cent from 6.9 per cent. Western Australia, ACT and Victoria have also seen their share of staff falling, although Queensland Tasmania and the Northern Territory have increased their share. But overall more than half of the ABC staff are based in New South Wales. Does ABC management intend to reverse this long-term trend that is seeing more and more staff centralised in the Ultimo headquarters of the ABC?

Mr Scott : We are all aware—I can go through them now—the decisions that have driven that trend that is manifest in the annual report. In a way, we are called on, as a public broadcaster, to be efficient and effective. There is no doubt that if you are being efficient one of the things you do is to have economies of scale. One of the economies of scale that we sometimes see is some level of centralisation. That is partly what you see manifested there.

There are different ways that you can look at it. One of the things that we are keen to do is to increase the level of television production that we do outside Sydney. We have argued here—

Senator XENOPHON: That is difficult in South Australia because you have shut the local production unit of the ABC.

Mr Scott : I am not sure that that is right. There are different forms of production. Of course, we are not doing internal production in South Australia, but there are opportunities to work with the independent production sector. The ABC launched its new television series season last week and there were a number of programs outlined that are to go to air in 2016, which are being filmed well outside Sydney.

We have discussed here, at length, Tasmanian television production. I am pleased that we have announced a new comedy series that is being filmed in Tasmania this year. Another series is being filmed up in Arnhem Land. A children's program is being filmed all around the country. The Code is being made here in the ACT and in outback Australia. There are more ways of reflecting the country than necessarily having internal television production.

We announced an agreement with the South Australian Film Corporation to make some films that will appear on debut on iview. The South Australian Film Corporation is our new partner for this, and we expect that this programming of short films will go to air on iview and on ABC2. As you would expect, with $250 million cut from the ABC's budget over a number of years, we have had to find efficiencies. We made a series of decisions on the back of that, which has led to some level of centralisation. We are very keen to reflect the country to the country and that is what we are trying to do with our television programs.

Senator XENOPHON: I only have a couple more questions. The question was whether the ABC intends to reversing its trend of centralisation to Ultimo in Sydney. Are there any plans to reverse that trend or will it stay as it is?

Mr Scott : I must say that when we are doing new activities we now ask the question where we can best do those activities. That is why I had a meeting recently with the Premier of Victoria about drama production and that is why we have met with the South Australian Film Corporation, ScreenWest and the Tasmanian film authority. We have done that because we are trying to get production around the country.

I have indicated publicly that part of the focus we have in our next funding bid is around increased funding for services in regional and rural Australia. Nearly all of the funding for that bid, if that bid was successful, would place staff outside Sydney and outside the capital cities.

Senator XENOPHON: Can we go to the issue of efficiencies. With Classic FM I understand that current staffing in Perth and Hobart include one engineer each, and that they are doing fewer local presentations, and when they do, the ABC flies in crews from Sydney and Melbourne.

Mr Scott : Yes. We have looked at that. This is often about live concert recordings. We did the economics of this. Rather than having live recording teams based in every capital city around the country it is cheaper to fly people in when we are doing concerns. We are doing fewer recordings this year but we are still doing, I think, 300 a year. It is still a very significant number of concerts, but it is cheaper to do that.

Senator XENOPHON: Even with all the travel costs and—

Mr Scott : Yes. We would not have done it, otherwise.

Senator XENOPHON: How much is the difference?

Mr Scott : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator XENOPHON: Yes, put it on notice. I understand you would not have that figure available now.

Mr Scott : This is not being driven by ideology.

Senator XENOPHON: I did not mention ideology, at all.

Mr Scott : I know. If we did not think it was an economically efficient thing to do, or in the interests of the service broadly, we would not have done it.

Senator XENOPHON: I think the best thing to do is to put some questions on notice about what you say the savings are.

Mr Scott : Yes, I am happy to.

Senator XENOPHON: I am told that as a result of the retirement of Julie Howe, the presenter in Adelaide, the position was transferred to Melbourne, and there was only just one engineer in Adelaide. If that engineer is not available, what happens? Do you fly them in from other states?

Mr Scott : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator XENOPHON: I think that raises an issue that there is no spare capacity.

Mr Scott : Let me take that on notice, and I will explain to you how we do that.

Senator XENOPHON: The annual report reveals that the ABC spent $4.7 million on consultants last year. Can you give us a breakdown on what that was spent on?

Mr Scott : Yes, we can. We can take that on notice. Broadly, we did engage consultants around a number of matters, and partly it was to help us define the $250 million that was identified in cuts. The other area that is a significant consultancy spend for us is that we are in the process now of renegotiating our major television transmission contracts, contracts that are worth billions of dollars over a 20-year-plus period, and we had significant support around that.

Senator XENOPHON: Can I just put this in context? This is an issue that I raised in respect of defence, about the money they spend on consultants. I am not equating the ABC to defence—far be it from me to say that.

Mr Scott : I appreciate that. We will give you a breakdown on notice.

Senator XENOPHON: You have got an experienced board. As managing director, your competence is not in question, from my point of view. You have got very experienced senior executives. Why on earth would you need to spend $4.7 million on consultants when you have got a pretty smart bunch of people running the ABC? I do not understand why. It seems to be an extraordinary amount of money to be spending on consultants.

Mr Scott : The consultants that we are using in the main are bringing a specialised—

Senator XENOPHON: It would have kept Adelaide's in-house production open.

Mr Scott : Yes, but we had to find $250 million worth of savings. We had to negotiate contracts that are worth billions of dollars, and we had to find some of that money very quickly. Yes, we engaged specialist expertise to help us on that, and we do not expect the consultancy bill this year will be at the same level.

Senator XENOPHON: How do you compare it to previous years?

Mr Scott : It was up on previous years, and we expect it will go back again this coming year.

Senator XENOPHON: You can understand my concern. If you have already got a smart bunch of people running the ABC—

Mr Scott : I understand. We have looked at it carefully, but all I am saying is that it was a very atypical year. Without going into the politics of it all, we had to find $250 million in savings. There was a report done by the department, but what that did was identify areas for further investigation and work. We needed a lot of work done very quickly to come up with a credible plan to save $250 million. That is what we did, but we did engage support to do that.

Senator XENOPHON: Just a couple more questions; I know you have been very patient with me, Chair. I might put some questions on notice about Adelaide's final television production of Restoration Australia. Apparently that was quite a ratings success.

Mr Scott : Yes, it did well. We were pleased with it.

Senator XENOPHON: It is selling in ABC shops, or selling online as well?

Mr Scott : Yes, it is.

Senator XENOPHON: I might put some questions on notice about how it is rated, and what money. I am not sure if this timely or not, but there is an episode of a UK-made show called Pointless. Are you familiar with the show Pointless?

Mr Scott : No, I am not, I am afraid.

Senator XENOPHON: I understand that it has had a series of questions on Australian slang, where English contestants mull over answers ranging from 'bonzer' to 'thongs'. How do you feel about Australians having to watch English contestants talking about what 'bonzer' and 'thongs' mean?

Mr Scott : I suspect it is amusing, but not amusing in the way that the makers intended.

Senator XENOPHON: It might just be pointless. You have seen Pointless?

Senator Fifield: No, I have not, but I am just wondering, as I look in your direction, who had the more extensive weekend magazine profiles—you or Mr Scott? I think it is a close-run thing.

Senator ABETZ: I was wondering why I could not buy any copies.

Senator XENOPHON: Fish and chip wrapping, Minister. It is in the recycling bin. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Senator Xenophon. Senator Abetz.

Senator ABETZ: I was wondering, Mr Scott or anybody from the ABC, whether you can confirm the correctness of ABC's Media Watch statement of 17 August 2015:

Amazingly, the ABC has not interviewed Sophie York from the Marriage Alliance even once—despite 16 interviews with Forster and Croome—

both of whom are well-known for advocating a change in the definition of 'marriage'.

Mr Scott : I recall the Media Watch episode, which was critical of the ABC's coverage, but I do not have a subsequent tally from August, I am afraid. I would have to take that on notice.

Senator ABETZ: Having being told by your own Media Watch that there was this imbalance, did you say, 'That's interesting,' and just move on, or did you say, 'This is an imbalance that needs to be addressed. How are we going to address this imbalance?' especially given that there will be a national plebiscite in due course?

Mr Scott : Our editorial policies will apply to that matter as in all others. We did discuss that matter, and that Media Watch coverage at an executive meeting. But I am unaware, Senator. I do not have with me a tally of her specific appearances.

Senator ABETZ: I did not ask for a tally. I was just wondering whether you could confirm the correctness of the statement. I would have thought that, before you discussed it at such a senior level, you might have acquainted yourself with whether it were true?

Mr Scott : I did actually say, in response to you, that I believed that statement was true when Media Watch said it. I have had no evidence brought to my attention that it was in error. That was in August and it is now almost December and I do not have an updated tally with me.

Senator ABETZ: And who asked you for an update?

Mr Scott : I must say, I—

Senator ABETZ: Nobody. Could you please concentrate on the questions being asked.

Mr Scott : I did answer that question, Senator, to the best of my knowledge.

Senator ABETZ: Thank you. What then occurred since that statement from ABC's Media Watch that you did find to be correct? What action was taken by you, as the editor-in-chief, to ensure that this imbalance did not continue?

Mr Scott : We meet as an executive and we meet as a content executive. What we do often is discuss our coverage. To the best of my recollection, this Media Watch report was discussed and identified. We appreciate that on this matter, as in all matters, we need to bring a plurality of views and perspectives. The only thing I would say to you more broadly is that there is a range of views and perspectives. I noted that Media Watch thought it was atypical that she had not been interviewed and, as I have said, I do not have the detail to hand tonight about what has happened subsequently with her, but I can assure you that, on this matter, a plurality of views and perspectives has been aired across a range of ABC programs.

Senator ABETZ: Seeing that you are so sure about the plurality of these views, could you take on notice: from August until the end of November of this year, what were the number of interviews that were broadcast that mentioned or included voice grabs from those who support the definition of marriage and those who seek to change the definition of marriage?

Mr Scott : What I am not able to do is provide you with a breakdown over a period of time, because we do not keep radio logs and the like from that. But what I can attempt to provide for you on notice are examples of where this matter was debated, from the records that we do have, and I can identify who was on those programs and the perspectives that they were bringing to bear.

Senator ABETZ: That does not give us any confidence, Mr Scott, that there has been balance or that there will be balance in the future. That is all that I am seeking to ascertain from the ABC. Sure, a plurality of views can be aired—

Mr Scott : That is what it asks us do. Let me make it very clear, Senator. If you have not read the editorial policies, let me make it clear.

Senator ABETZ: I have.

Mr Scott : There is nothing in the editorial policies that says a stopwatch needs to be out on this matter or climate change or a range of contentious issues in the community and that the ABC's responsibility is to divide up the clock on it. What we have to do is ensure that a range of principles and relevant viewpoints on contentious matters is aired so that our intelligent audience can engage with the matters themselves and make up their own minds. On a program like The Drum, or on a program like Q&A, I think the test is: were there voices of divergent views that allowed a debate to ensue and our public to understand the different perspectives of people in that debate?

Senator ABETZ: Mr Scott, if you are giving one per cent to one side and 99 per cent of the time to the other side, that is the airing of plurality of views according to the ABC—

Mr Scott : No, no—

Senator ABETZ: I do not think the Australian taxpayer would consider that to be a fair cop, and I think the Australian people are entitled to think that their national broadcaster would, on a contentious issue such as the definition of marriage—

Mr Scott : Where did you get 99 per cent and one per cent from?

Senator ABETZ: Can I finish? They would expect that there would be an equality of time provided to the competing views.

Mr Scott : I think that in the reviews that will be done of the program and our editorial policies by our independent review panel or by ACMA, they will look for fairness and a plurality of views. So if you were saying that it was 99 per cent and one per cent, I am not sure that that would pass the common-sense evaluation of ACMA or our independent panel.

Senator ABETZ: That is why I am asking for the raw data, which you are now telling us is not necessarily available for examination, to ascertain whether or not you have been abiding by your charter.

Mr Scott : There is nothing in the charter that talks about percentages of time. I am happy, on notice, to explain again—

Senator ABETZ: I did not ask about the charter having percentages of time. What I was wanting was the raw data of your programs indicating the percentage of time given to each side of the debate. We can then make our own assessment—and the Australian people undoubtedly will as well—of whether the ABC has been giving a fair go to both sides.

Mr Scott : We will do our best to answer the question that you put on notice.

Senator RONALDSON: The point that Senator Abetz is making, surely, is that you are not retaining data. You give a bland statement about plurality but then say that 99 per cent to one per cent would not meet your definition of plurality—but you are not keeping data. It is a very bland statement to say, 'We are doing X' when there is no evidence, which is the case if you are not keeping that data. I think that was the point Senator Abetz was making.

Senator ABETZ: I think we have agreed that the data is available—

Mr Scott : That is not right. We are required to keep data for a certain period of time—

Senator ABETZ: For how long?

Mr Scott : I think it is about 60 days.

Senator ABETZ: In that case, can you provide it for the months of October and November?

Mr Scott : You have put the question on notice and we will do our best to answer it.

Senator ABETZ: I just have.

Mr Scott : On the question that Senator Ronaldson has raised, I am happy to summarise for you the editorial policies that have existed around this kind of area for decades now at the ABC. We simply do not, when we are discussing a contentious issue—uranium mining, nuclear storage, dams policy, climate or gay marriage—approach a review of those programs with a stopwatch on. But I think independent minded people who are listening to the program will understand whether there were opportunities for a range of voices to be heard and a range of perspectives to be heard. That is not just the ABC's internal process; that is also how ACMA views it. It has never been done with a stopwatch and a clipboard.

Senator RONALDSON: But it has to be. By definition it has to be subjective, because if an issue is running over 12 months and you are only keeping data for two months, it is not an objective assessment as to whether there has been a biased or an unbiased view of a particular issue—the data is not there. By definition it has to be a subjective assessment, and I would like to know who is making that subjective assessment.

Mr Scott : There are a few safeguards. The first one is that we have a panel internally who are totally separate from any of the content divisions. Their decisions can be reviewed by the ACMA. Around some of these contentious issues, the ABC board has now, for a number of years, commissioned independent audits of coverage. For example, this is what currently Ray Martin and Shaun Brown are doing around Q&A, where we scoop up for them a sample of our broadcasts, and they take a look at our editorial policies and they make a judgement on our performance—a subjective judgement, but with the guidelines and programs in place they come to a view. Colleen Ryan, a former editor of The Australian Financial Review, did one of those around our budget coverage last year, which was valuable for us.

The board is commissioning about four of those reviews a year, and the board gets quite detailed reports around editorial performance as well. Finally, it is the board's responsibility to sign off that we are meeting and passing these editorial standards. There are a number of different tests and safeguards. There is no precise science around it. I am not sure that a stopwatch and a clipboard would really answer it well, but we do have some robust processes in place and they are spelt out in our editorial policies. I am happy to give you more detail on that.

Senator ABETZ: These robust processes, if you can tell us on notice what they were after the Media Watch segment in August, that would be helpful.

CHAIR: Just before you go on I would like to follow up, Mr Scott, your answers there. You have said that the board does no more reviews, and you have internal processes to review that, but if you do not keep the data and you do not have any formal processes for doing compliance checking of your guidelines, what you are describing to me sounds like a qualitative self-assessment rather than any quantitative compliance checks for assurance.

Mr Scott : It can depend. At any given time in the morning we can have over 60 live microphones broadcasting—tens of thousands of hours of content every year. The best you can ever do is to take a sample and review it. Sometimes that sample will be around, let's take a look at how a program covered an issue over six weeks or eight weeks. Let's take a category of program, like prime-time current affairs, and look at how they covered an issue over six weeks. Or, let's take a program like Q&A and let's look at every episode for six months and look at how they do it. So there are a range of different approaches that can be made. Some is qualitative. We have had a look at doing some quantitative work as well, a range of different review techniques. I can assure you that we have far more detailed and comprehensive review process around editorial quality than any other media organisation in the country.

CHAIR: But isn't editorial quality quite a different thing from political bias? For the quality of your editorial content it seems to me that you are talking apples and oranges. You are talking about measuring editorial standards, but isn't that different from perceptions of political bias?

Mr Scott : I do not think so, because I think good journalism in this context is journalism that is fair, balanced and impartial. We have quite clear guidelines around contentious matters, that a range of perspectives be viewed, if not in that program then over time we can come back and review that. That is good journalism. If, in fact, we are failing tests of political bias—and I must say I have received allegations of political bias at the ABC from the right and from the left from time to time—then they are failures of tests of good journalism.

CHAIR: When I was having a look at this, the figures I got was that in 2012-13 there were 2,139 complaints of political bias. Have you got any later figures on the last financial year?

Mr Scott : I will take that on notice.

CHAIR: If you could take that on notice and also do an analysis for me on whether it is up or down. From what you have just said you can clearly work out whether it is bias—that it is too left or too right.

Mr Scott : I must say I have been amazed. I sometimes tell the story that when I started at the ABC Kerry O'Brien did a robust interview of John Howard. I asked the day after and I was told there were a lot of complaints. I said, 'How many complaints?' There were about 200 complaints. How did the complaints breakdown? Well, about 100 people were asking why Kerry O'Brien was so tough on John Howard, and about 100 people were asking why Kerry O'Brien went easy on John Howard.

CHAIR: Mr Scott, I appreciate that, but that does not quite go to my questions. First of all, you have taken my questions on notice. If you can break them down, because you have indicated before that you get ones that are complaining about different perceived biases, so if you could provide us with—

Mr Scott : I will see what break down we have on the data.

CHAIR: And how it compares with previous years.

Mr Scott : Yes.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator RONALDSON: There must be someone at the table—I mean these are published figures. Is there anyone at the table—

Mr Scott : There is material in the annual report. I do not have any more recent material than that in my—

Senator RONALDSON: Has anyone else at the table got these figures?

Mr Scott : In my appearances here for a long period of time, we have been asked that question precisely, so I do not—

CHAIR: Does someone here have a copy of your annual report—if it is in your annual report?

Mr Millett : I have a copy of the annual report.

CHAIR: Perhaps if you could just check that for us, Mr Millett and then come back and answer the question, because if it is in the annual report I think this committee has an expectation that you would be able to answer the question.

Senator ABETZ: Moving onto the next topic, I understand Ms McNeill was appointed as the ABC's Middle East correspondent in February of this year?

Mr Scott : Yes.

Senator ABETZ: Ms McNeill has said publically that John Pilger's Hidden Agendas was the most significant formative experience in her decision to become a political journalist. Mr Pilger has, amongst other gems, told us that:

In the meantime, the Palestinians must put up with cliches about Islamic terrorism when almost nothing is said about the dehumanising terror of Jewish and Western fundamentalism.

Two years earlier she declared Mr Fisk her hero and someone she admires very much, who also has an unfortunate history of pejorative and anti-Israel writings. I am just wondering what research was done into Ms McNeill's attitudes to matters Middle East before her appointment and whether it is appropriate to allow somebody in that position to allow their emotions to get into their reporting?

Mr Scott : There are some other important facts that you did not accrue there from her history: that she was twice awarded Australian Young TV Journalist of the Year, prior to her appointment, that she won a Walkley Award in 2010 or her reporting from Afghanistan, that she—

Senator ABETZ: Thank you for that, but the question was whether you were aware of the matters that I have just raised. I am sure that there were other things that you were interested in, but I want to know if you were aware of these matters.

Mr Scott : When you ask about me personally, I was not involved in Mr McNeill's appoint directly, but she was subject to a rigorous, competitive selection panel and interviewed by an experienced panel of journalists, two of whom where former correspondents, and they did discuss at length her experience as a reporter in the Middle East—she had lived in Jerusalem and Beirut, filed from Lebanon, Afghanistan, Gaza, Pakistan, and Kurdistan for SBS.

Senator ABETZ: From where people report from does not indicate, as of necessity, what bias they might have within their toolkit.

Mr Scott : We were confident she would be able to do it.

Senator ABETZ: Because on the 7:30 Report on 22 October 2015—

CHAIR: Mr Scott if you could just let the Senator finish his question.

Senator ABETZ: In the opening Leigh Sales told us—and this was before interviewing, and the ABC loves interviewing each other, Sophie McNeill—'Just hours ago, Israeli security forces shot two more Palestinians after they tried to board a school bus south of Jerusalem.' Sounds very innocuous and what on earth would Israeli forces be doing shooting people trying to get onto a school bus? The fact that they were wearing Hamas t-shirts and had just previously tried to stab somebody was, regrettably, just not included in the story. Then, in the story we are told my Sophie McNeill about a young lady who was shot dead because she had tried to stab a security officer. We were told she was a 'friendly, gifted student', but she was an alleged Palestinian attacker. So she was friendly, gifted, affectionate, smart, talented and all those things are just givens, not allegedly, but that she was an attacker was dressed up an as allegation. Are you concerned at all by this style of reporting by a journalist who says she has been motivated by the writings of Mr Pilger on matters to do with Israel?

Mr Scott : There have been a barrage of complaints from some sectors about Ms McNeill, including some that were in advance of her taking up her appointment, that I thought were quite unfair. I think she is a very talented young journalist. She is a journalist who has matured significantly in her career. We thought she was ready for this posting, and I think she deserves to be judged on her work.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, and that is what I am asking you about.

Mr Scott : If you are going to judge her on her work, you need to judge her on all her work. If in fact you had been following her work, you would have seen that she has done previous stories and interviews where she has absolutely reported from Jerusalem on the terror and fear that exists because of the attacks by Palestinians. She has attempted to show the full breadth and range of this story. That children are doing these kinds of attacks, as that story demonstrates, is extraordinary, bewildering and inexplicable. I think that saying that the child who committed a particular attack was popular at school is just explaining how extraordinary this story and these circumstances are. Just as she had previously reported—

Senator ABETZ: Why was she an 'alleged' attacker? Why don't we take that at face value when the Israeli defence forces tell Ms McNeill that that is exactly what she had done?

Mr Scott : As I recall, in that very episode there was a strong defence of the actions undertaken by the Israeli military made by an official spokesman. You can pick a word out of a story if you like, but fundamentally I think Ms McNeill is doing a good job in a difficult story under extraordinary scrutiny. This reporter is, based on my experience at the ABC, under more scrutiny than any other foreign correspondent reporting from any part of the world has ever been. I think she deserves a fair go and I think she deserves to be judged on the quality of her reporting. Some of her reporting on the refugee crisis I think has been absolutely outstanding. She has brought to bear insights into the horror and the complexity of what is happening in parts of the Middle East at the moment. I know that there are some observers who provide daily or weekly commentary, and possibly reports, to you, Senator, on her reporting, but I do believe that she is entitled to a fair go.

CHAIR: Can I just clarify, Mr Scott: through your response there, are you implying that Senator Abetz does not have the right to ask you these questions?

Mr Scott : Not at all. I have never said that Senator Abetz is not entitled to ask these questions. All I am saying is that, before this reporter set foot in the Middle East, there was a campaign against her personally taking up that role. I am saying that she is highly recognised and acclaimed for her reporting, she has significant experience in the Middle East and she deserved that appointment—and she should be judged on her work. Senator Abetz is asking legitimate questions about her work, and I am saying that that program needs to be looked at fairly in its own right and also fairly in the context of the other reporting that she is doing.

Senator ABETZ: Can you tell us by whom this personal campaign is being run against her and why. Take that on notice for us.

Mr Scott : Sure.

Senator ABETZ: That is an extraordinary allegation to make.

CHAIR: Senator Abetz, I think your first lot of time has expired.

Senator ABETZ: In the case I will ask one last question—I will put the others on notice. Can the ABC explain or advise whether or not they reported in any way, shape or form on the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs talking about how the escalation of violence against Israelis is praised, encouraged and even fuelled by Palestinian Authority officials. This was a fairly significant unanimous motion carried by the US House of Representatives foreign affairs committee. I would just be interested in hearing whether or not that has been broadcast anywhere by the ABC. While you are at it, can you advise whether the recent Polish election results have been broadcast at all by the ABC? If so, how often and on what basis?

Mr Scott : I will take those on notice.

CHAIR: Mr Millett, do you have those figures?

Mr Millett : I have figures that give a breakdown of contact received by audience consumer affairs. It breaks down according to requests for information, and then there are complaints about programs; they relate more to scheduling and other matters. There is another category for appreciation of programs; I will put that aside. There is a breakdown for bias, other than party-political, and there is another breakdown for party-political bias.

CHAIR: That is the one I am interested in. The previous year was 2012-13, which was 2,139 for political bias.

Mr Millett : According to the information I have here, which breaks down for the year, it is 1,905, or 2.7 per cent of total contacts received by audience consumer affairs.

CHAIR: Senator Dastyari, you had a follow-up question?

Senator DASTYARI: I want to follow up on the Sophie McNeill matter. I note that Senator Abetz did not ask you about her CV, but I will. Mr Scott, can you quickly run through Ms McNeill's CV. She won young journalist of the year twice?

Mr Scott : Yes, she did, Senator. She won Australian Young TV Journalist of the Year twice and won a Walkley Award in 2010. Between 2006 and 2010, she lived in Jerusalem and Beirut, and filed chiefly from Lebanon, Afghanistan, Gaza, Pakistan and Kurdistan as a video journalist for the SBS Dateline program.

Senator DASTYARI: I am familiar with some of her coverage. At the moment, it seems to be largely around Syria.

Mr Scott : We have looked at her work this year, and there has been a focus around Gaza and Jerusalem reporting, but she is also doing a lot of work on Syria and Syrian refugees.

Senator DASTYARI: Is it fair to say that it is perhaps one of the most dangerous posts—if not the most dangerous post—the ABC has?

Mr Scott : Our Middle East reporters need great courage. It is a very intense posting, but at times they will go to places where there are significant security risks. They need significant courage; we need to prepare well to put them in those places. I think Ms McNeill is doing a strong job.

Senator DASTYARI: You have obviously received correspondence about this matter in the past, but is it fair to say as well that those journalists who are reporting on heated conflicts and those where there are passionate views held on either side tend to be those who fall under the most criticism? Your journalists, your foreign correspondents who are in the hotspots where there are strongly held views tend to be the ones to get the most criticism, as opposed to some regional reporters who—

Mr Scott : I suspect that is right. I suspect the scrutiny given to every word uttered by a Middle East correspondent is very different to the attention that a correspondent in London or Washington may face. I think that is the reality. We have discussed Middle East correspondents here in the past, and one of the things in Ms McNeill's favour in getting this appointment for the ABC was that she was experienced on the ground in the Middle East and had spent several years there. There is no doubt that some reporters who have landed there, never having been there before, have found it quite confronting and quite challenging. That is not to say, as is the case with many of our reporters, that from time to time there will not be a story that you will look at and think was not quite right, or that we would need to review or need to give some feedback and advice on, but all in all I think Ms McNeill is doing a good job in a very demanding environment.

Senator DASTYARI: Is the point you are making that to judge bias in reporting, you have to look at the totality of somebody's work, not individual comments or statements?

Mr Scott : One of the things about this 7:30 story is that it was framed around this girl and her school, and trying to work out why she had acted the way she had acted. But there have been other stories that have been attempted to be framed from another perspective. It is fair to look at the body of work for a correspondent, rather than draw too much from one specific incident.

CHAIR: Mr Scott, on that point, I am quite intrigued by your comments then. I have no problem accepting a couple of propositions from you. One is that the Middle East bureau is a particularly challenging one for any journalist, and that it is important that whomever you post there is qualified and has a body of work and the robustness to be posted there. I absolutely accept that. But I am not as comfortable with your comments that they should be judged on their history. Given the sensitivity of what people are reporting from the Middle East, surely a perceived bias or the perception that they give fair treatment is equally important in such a potentially inflammatory area.

Mr Scott : Yes. I want to make it very clear: of course our reports on the Middle East need to be fair and balanced and impartial. I suppose what I was trying to say is that when you do a story that is framed from a certain perspective—and that 7.30 story, as I recall, was really attempting to say, 'Why had this child gone and done what was viewed as a terrorist event?' It was framed from that perspective. There were comments from the Israeli military in it. That is how that story was set up, but there have been other stories she has done where she has interviewed people on buses in Jerusalem who are very frightened because of the attacks that have been made. Every story cannot do everything. Sometimes a story will provide a spotlight. When I say 'Look at the history', I think if the spotlight is the same spotlight all the time—just telling the same story over and over again and not attempting to explore a range of views and plurality of perspectives and experience—that is when you have more of a problem. You can look at that one program, but if you look at the other stories she is doing, ask whether that is adding up to complete coverage of the issue.

CHAIR: That is an interesting perspective.

Senator LUDLAM: I will probably let that thread go. Can you pass on my thanks to Ms McNeill and all of your foreign correspondents who work in difficult and sometimes dangerous parts of the world. Their work is greatly appreciated. I am going to change tack. Is this the last time you will front an estimates committee?

Mr Scott : It depends. I may actually be here a couple of times next year.

Senator LUDLAM: We will hold off your valedictory in that case. It is good to see you again. Can you run us through a couple of quick details of the current status of the ABC's journalism cadetship program.

Mr Scott : We are currently interviewing at the moment. I think we have eight journalist positions that we are opening up for next year. That interview process is well underway and selections are close, I believe.

Senator LUDLAM: Is that your usual annual intake?

Mr Scott : Yes, around that.

Senator LUDLAM: How long is a cadet trained for before they are qualified for a standalone position?

Mr Scott : About 12 months; it is a 12-month traineeship program.

Senator LUDLAM: I am presuming you do not offer a guaranteed position at the end of the 12 months.

Mr Scott : No, but I think the practice is that most will continue on with us.

Senator LUDLAM: Is that the norm?

Mr Scott : Yes.

Senator LUDLAM: How are the cadetships changing? Your expectations and your demands from your journalists are changing—technology is driving a part of that and audience expectations are driving a part of that—and your platforms are changing. How is the cadetship program changing to reflect those different demands you are placing on your people?

Mr Scott : We do try to give our journalists experience and opportunities to develop their skills across the range of storytelling that is a part of journalism now. So they will get some experience in television and radio, online, filing for mobile, across a range of short breaking news and longer stories as well. We attempt to give people the experience in the plurality that is now part of the journalistic requirement and which all of our new recruits have. It is interesting that in particular those that have come out of journalism school often arrive with a lot of these cross-platform skills. In a way, most of our reporters now are developing the capacity to tell their stories across a range of platforms.

Senator LUDLAM: Let me park that for a second and I will change tack briefly. What was the cost of implementation of your HD iview streaming, in rough numbers?

Mr Scott : I will have to take that on notice. It has not been implemented yet.

Senator LUDLAM: It hasn't?

Mr Scott : No, iview is not in HD yet. We are looking at that right now and we will be able to report on that in the future.

Senator LUDLAM: Are you anticipating increased operating costs relating to the use of bandwidth?

Mr Scott : Yes, absolutely.

Senator LUDLAM: We had a brief run-in a year or two ago—maybe 'run-in' is putting it a bit strongly—about the possibility of the ABC charging for premium or HD content. Is that still on the table?

Mr Scott : Quite frankly, in the marketplace I think it is hard to do, in that the ABC was an early leader in iview—I think we really led the sector in this. If you look at catch-up services, which is what iview largely is, none of Seven, Nine, Ten or SBS are charging for those services. In fact catch-up is largely viewed as, in a sense, a free-to-air window. I think it would be hard for the ABC to charge for iview if none of the other catch-up services were being charged for. I think that, in that respect, iview is different from a Netflix, a Stan or a Presto. They are subscription video-on-demand services, which is different to catch-up.

Senator LUDLAM: I am glad to hear you say that, but then there is a consequential impact on your bottom line.

Mr Scott : We did get some extra money for CDN costs, which is the content distribution—the streaming we do for our websites and services like iview. That was funded in the previous triennial funding. We need to bid for that again as part of our current tri-funding bid, and we will look to do that.

Senator LUDLAM: I will get to that in a bit. Is that a contracted-out service? Who hosts those streaming services, or is that something—

Mr Scott : There are a range of providers we have worked with over the years.

Senator LUDLAM: Who do you use at the moment?

Mr Scott : We have used Akamai, Hostworks and a bit of Amazon. The market has improved a little bit for us. Some years ago there was really only one provider who could deliver, but now there are others who have entered the market and there is more competition in the market.

Senator LUDLAM: Are you intentionally wanting to sound as though you were speaking in the past tense? Is there a particular provider you are using at the moment, or do you still use a range?

Mr Scott : We are still using a range.

Mr Pendleton : Predominantly Akamai.

Mr Scott : But we have been out to tender a few times on it. It is a very important area of our cost base, because demand is increasing so significantly. We are now playing out over 30 million programs a month on iview. A year ago it was 20 million a month. That is a very significant increase. A lot of it has been driven by ABC Kids and the ABC Kids app that we launched earlier this year, but that is indicative of how much the audience is migrating towards watching programming on the device they want at the time they want—particularly younger audiences.

Senator LUDLAM: Are we in a position where you could estimate the break-up, or the proportion of eyeball reach—we will leave radio out for the moment—between your free-to-air and your digital products?

Mr Scott : It is still overwhelmingly free to air, but the trend line increasingly is to catch-up. I think you can particularly see that with younger audiences.

Senator LUDLAM: It is 50 per cent annual growth.

Mr Scott : Yes.

Senator LUDLAM: That is very rapid take-up.

Mr Scott : Yes, it is.

Senator LUDLAM: Is that a consistent trend over the last four or five years?

Mr Scott : No, iview has always had pretty steady growth, but that is a very dramatic increase over the last 12 months—and that is largely on the back of our children programming and, I think, the arrival of Netflix and faster, cheaper broadband with bigger caps. We used to worry about quite low caps. Now the caps are quite big. I think a lot more people are streaming their content, so the market is growing. We are responding to that.

Senator LUDLAM: Who is your vendor for iview? When iview breaks, who fixes it?

Mr Scott : It is done in-house.

Senator LUDLAM: How do you attract technologists and engineers when you are presumably competing with private industry, who can pay quite a bit more for talent or who can just pick people up and move them to Silicon Valley, for example. What is your program for keeping good technology people in-house if you are not outsourcing that service?

Mr Pendleton : In relation to iview?

Senator LUDLAM: Yes.

Mr Pendleton : It is quite an issue because there is significant demand for those resources. That is why we do outsource a number of those activities, because we just cannot retain those skills in-house.

Senator LUDLAM: Mr Scott has just made it sound as though the core team for iview is in-house, not outsourced. Can you provide a break-up across your digital platform?

Mr Pendleton : That part of iview you are talking about—

Mr Scott : The development team is in-house.

Mr Pendleton : But hosting and distribution is out.

Mr Scott : The skills base is an issue. We created ABC Digital Network last year. ABC Digital Network brings together our designer and developer capability. We have found benefits in doing that. But as we have looked to scale up, particularly as we have put all of our content on mobile, we have needed to go into the field to recruit. It is a very tough market to recruit the developers and the designers that we need. I was talking to the Commonwealth Bank the other day. They are in exactly the same circumstance. There is clearly a skills shortage around design and developer UX capability. We certainly do not pay top of the market. We find that people want to work with us because they like the products and they like the idea of working at the ABC, but it is a challenging market for us.

Senator LUDLAM: So that brings us full circle. Are you considering, or would you consider, a cadet-style traineeship program to develop the technical skills and to attract potential recruits? You were talking before about a journalism cadetship. I can throw this to you, Senator Fifield, if you would rather take it. We have two that might drift into government policy.

Mr Scott : We are thinking of all approaches. We have run some technology scholarships, but, yes, we are looking—and we are even looking at and thinking about things like internships and working more closely with some of the universities in this area.

Senator LUDLAM: Senator Fifield, I might throw this one to you. There is a lot of talk from yourself, the Prime Minister, Mr Wyatt and others with relevant portfolios about agility, innovation, digital disruption and other various buzzword bingo games that we could play. Has the ABC been considered as a possible incubator for the sort of technology talent that you are all, presumably, referring to?

Senator Fifield: Are you talking in the context of the innovation statement, or are you talking more broadly?

Senator LUDLAM: Start there if you like—more broadly. There are a number of senior portfolio holders who will be using this language and playing in this space and not having a shot. I think it is actually really welcome. You have the ABC sitting here. It has actually been a leader in recent years. Are you considering the ABC as a possible incubator for precisely the kind of talent that you are trying to keep here?

Senator Fifield: For the type of talent that we are trying to keep here?

Senator LUDLAM: People—human beings—who actually make it work.

Senator Fifield: The ABC's operational decisions, how they seek to engage people and the sorts of people they seek to engage and employ, and the conditions and the things that they do, are—and I am not seeking to avoid the question—legitimately matters for the ABC management. As a government, we do not have the capacity to direct the organisation as to how they might seek to construct themselves internally and about the sorts of people that they might seek to engage. So I guess that is the broad answer to the question. But you do raise a very good point, Senator Ludlam, that the government should be mindful of the sorts of opportunities and the sorts of skill sets that the ABC as an organisation provides.

Senator LUDLAM: I am glad we are bringing some mindfulness to tonight's debate. That is really wonderful. So, Mr Scott, that has just been thrown back into your court then. Is that something that the ABC is considering?

Mr Scott : We will look at it. We are thinking through how we best create an environment where we can attract and hold onto this kind of talent in a highly competitive marketplace. One of the things we realise is that we may not be able to hold onto everyone. I am not going to take it personally.

CHAIR: Most of us do not have leave, so I will suspend the hearing until we return back from the division. If need be, we will go a little bit later to compensate for the time that we are suspended. I now suspend the meeting until after the division.

Proceedings suspended from 20 : 48 to 21 : 08

Senator DASTYARI: Mr Scott, there are a series of questions that I will place on notice to do with children's television, funding cuts and board appointments. Chair, has a date been set for the return of answers to questions on notice?

CHAIR: It is 27 January.

Senator DASTYARI: I know that you people at the ABC are very excited about spending the Christmas and New Year period answering questions on notice. I will be placing these on notice.

CHAIR: On behalf the committee, thank you for your consideration, Senator Dastyari.

Senator BACK: Mr Scott, can I add my congratulations on the Hitting Home program, which Sarah Ferguson put to air. You mentioned an executive committee and content executive. Can you briefly explain what role those committees would play in a production such as Hitting Home?

Mr Scott : The ABC executive is made up of my content and non-content direct reports. There are about a dozen people here. Then we pull together a group that consists of those who are responsible for our content divisions—news, radio, television, digital, international, regional. We discuss programming matters more in that group. We saved some funding and drove some initiatives to free up some money to invest in content that we thought was significant, to make some significant content investments in recent years. One of the projects we elected to fund was that Hitting Home project. We thought it was such an important story that it was best told without the constraints of our other programs. We could have done it as a one-off Four Corners, but we thought that to do two episodes back to back and to show them on consecutive nights would maximise its impact. We found the money and backed Sarah and that production team. They did an outstanding job.

Senator BACK: I want to contrast that with the program that Four Corners put to air on the live export trade to Indonesia. You would be well aware of my anger at that. You are aware of my criticism of the production team and Ms Ferguson. I have always considered that to have been deeply flawed, inaccurate, biased and very damaging. I want to ask you whether an equivalent content executive team, in putting that program to air, would have had a look at the likely impact on our relations with Indonesia? Would a content team have had a look at the likely impact on the cattle industry in the north, both producers and those who are servicing the industry? I was in Indonesia with a delegation some weeks ago and, close as I am to the northern cattle industry, we are still suffering severe effects from that program.

Mr Scott : We have not had a chance to discuss it, so I am glad to address a few points about that program, which was some years ago now. I take your insights seriously about the ongoing impact of that program. That program identified serious policy breaches and breaches of protocols around the slaughter of Australian cattle in a number of facilities in Indonesia. It was accurate.

Senator BACK: Without the alternative side of those meatworks which were internationally acclaimed and were not the subject of those sorts of accusations.

Mr Scott : Yes, but if you look at the program, it talked about the facilities which were breaching the protocols. It did not say it was all facilities at all. In my recollection of that, the real consequence emerged in a public policy setting, with the decision that was made by the former government to suspend all exports to Indonesia, irrespective of which facilities those cattle were going to.

Senator BACK: That is correct.

Mr Scott : That was not a decision of the ABC. To be frank, I suspect it was not anticipated by the ABC. That was a decision made by the government. If you are saying to me that the ABC should not have broadcast that program, I think we would have to respectfully disagree. That was an important story that demonstrated grave failures of policy and process. It did not attempt to suggest that that was happening at every facility in Indonesia. The government's response was to suspend all cattle exports, and that had the consequent impacts. I suspect that a distinction needs to be drawn between the reporter and the program and the policy impact that resulted from the government's decision on the back of that program, which was, as I recall, some two weeks after the program went to air.

Senator BACK: Given the shortness of time—

CHAIR: On that point, senators are trying to be very brief with their questions. If witnesses could also attempt to answer as succinctly as possible, we would be appreciative.

Senator BACK: The point I would make is I have no difficulty with the program going to air. It was the bias of it, Mr Scott, that concerned me greatly. I will very quickly go to a positive note, to the issues associated with the changeover to regional ABC, and record that tonight, I think, Back Roads is going to air. It is part of a 'Back story'. Both of those are names I have used in my own past, in fact. So next time around there is 'backchat' and 'back-burning'. They are also newsletters I have produced.

Senator McKENZIE: Next there will be 'backwards'.

Senator BACK: Thank you very much, Senator McKenzie. I did not know that. But my question is this. I had in my office recently the Director of ABC Regional, Fiona Reynolds, and we were discussing the change that you have effected, and I am in favour of it. But the difficulty is your rural reporters not having any experience in rural or regional Australia, particularly agricultural areas. Years ago I was associated with a rural journalism degree course that ran successfully for some years. You have had cadetships, which you were talking to Senator Ludlam about. I want to know what if anything is being done in this changeover to the regional ABC process to ensure that reporters going into the bush are in some way given skills and training associated with agriculture, please.

Mr Scott : I take on board your comment. I often think that our regional reporters and our rural reporters have high tests and expectations on them because they are meeting up with and dealing with the people that they are reporting on quite regularly as part of their work. I can tell you that we pulled together all our rural reporters for a skills and development workshop over several days in November. We funded that out of savings made by ABC Rural. It was an attempt to give training and development under the very experienced leadership of Leigh Radford, a very experienced rural reporter who runs our rural team of about 70 reporters.

Senator BACK: I know Leigh Radford.

Mr Scott : So I take on board your comment. We do recruit people where we can who have agriculture degrees or have experience in rural areas. Most of the ones that I speak to have grown up in rural areas and are from rural areas and bring that insight and sensibility to bear. But we have identified the need for skills development and training, and that is why we took them all away in November to do that.

Senator BACK: Sure. I corresponded with you the other day, on Thursday of last week, following the 7.30 program which went to air relating to the Senate Economics Committee inquiry into tax avoidance. Without going through the text of it, you know how disappointed I was with what I again perceived to be bias. I thank you for your prompt response to tell me that you have sent that to the ABC's independent Audience and Consumer Affairs unit. I have two questions. Firstly, I did urge you to look at that 7.30 program. Did you?

Mr Scott : I have not had a chance to look at it myself yet.

Senator BACK: Secondly, could you tell me how long it might be before I can expect your correspondence following a review by the Audience and Consumer Affairs unit?

Mr Scott : Under our guidelines we try and have everything done—in fact, 99.5 per cent of responses are done—within 60 days, but I have asked for yours to be expedited. As soon as I hear anything, I will come back to you.

Senator BACK: Thank you.

Senator McKENZIE: Mr Scott, it is good to see you. I want to go to the process of consultation undertaken by the ABC during the changes and subsequent to the changes announced by Fiona Reynolds.

Mr Scott : Fiona Reynolds has undergone a very extensive consultation process with our staff. We announced Fiona's appointment at the beginning of the year. She undertook a detailed review of the regional radio schedule—the first one in several years. That took place between July and October. There was a broader public consultation that took place between February and April, earlier in the year. So there was a public consultation between February and April and then a review of scheduling, including discussions with staff, that took place between July and October.

Senator McKENZIE: When did management initially consider the regional program changes that Ms Reynolds has implemented?

Mr Scott : Finally, her executive team reviewed that and, in October, came forward with those recommendations.

Senator McKENZIE: So October was the first point that senior management considered those types of—

Mr Scott : No. When you say 'senior management', the executive of the ABC Regional division had been thinking and working through different hypotheses and models through the year as part of their consultation process. What really strongly emerged, between February and April, was a sense that more of the resources should be invested when people are listening most, which is in the breakfast program. They also looked at the schedule as it exists across the country, and looked at some anomalies that had existed there. You will be aware that one of these changes is increasing the length of some programs that are running in Victoria—

Senator McKENZIE: Yes, and we will get to that, Mr Scott. I am just conscious of time, and I have lots of questions. Pre-April, senior management was considering these types of programming changes. When were staff first informed?

Mr Scott : No. I think what is fair to say is that—as you will be aware because we have discussed it here, previously—we protected the regional budget from the impact of other funding cuts. What Fiona Reynolds and her executive team were thinking through was how, within the envelope of funding that is accorded at the moment to ABC Regional, should they spend that money? They will be thinking through different alternatives of that.

Senator McKENZIE: When were staff first informed?

Mr Scott : The decision was made by the executive team.

Senator McKENZIE: When were staff first informed?

Mr Scott : I think staff were informed in late October that these are the changes that were going to be made.

Senator McKENZIE: We had been mulling on this for many months prior to that.

Mr Scott : This is what management teams do. It is not a collective, contrary to what some have suggested from time to time.

Senator McKENZIE: Yes, I appreciate how management works. The consultation process that the organisation then conducted with staff following—

Mr Scott : Then I believe there was a consultation process as is required under our industrial agreement. I do not quite have the timetable for that.

Senator McKENZIE: You do not have the timetable. Did you visit stations out in the regions?

Mr Scott : Fiona Reynolds, I think, has visited—

Senator McKENZIE: No, as part of the formal consultation process.

Mr Scott : I will have to check her timetable, but I can take that on notice.

Senator McKENZIE: We did ask for Ms Reynolds to attend. Unfortunately, she has been unable to. But I think, Mr Scott, you could have envisaged that we would be going to the consultation process in this.

Mr Scott : I have a lot of detail. If you want me to talk about the regional changes, I can talk about them at length.

Senator McKENZIE: I have been briefed on the regional changes. That is why I am here asking specific questions about how your staff were consulted, where and when in that process. On notice, then. It is my understanding that when requested by management staff were being asked what resources they needed to gather more stories—because telling stories is now what we are doing. They were asked what they needed. They said they needed more resources. Can you let the committee know what additional resources were allocated to regional stations?

Mr Scott : There are not additional resources to regional stations. What we can say, though, is that the $250 million worth of funding cuts that we have had to apply—

Senator McKENZIE: You prioritised Ultimo. You prioritised ABC 24. You prioritised competing with commercial stations.

Mr Scott : I am happy to address all those issues, if that is the proposition that you are making. We had to find $250 million. Most of that saving will come out of support services. We have cut into other content areas, but we have not cut into Regional. Regional's relative share has increased in what is a smaller budget base after the cuts that have occurred by the government. But it is a very reasonable thing for us to be agile about how we spend that money, for us to work through what is the best impact of the investment that we have, and that is exactly what we have done in these circumstances.

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you. In terms of the impact of the programming changes, the Local Life now from 10 till 11, is it not a reality, given the limitations of time—co-producing the brekky program, getting ready for Local Life—that the Local Life program will be presented by the chiefs of staff, in most cases, particularly stations which have less staff?

Mr Scott : There will be some chiefs of staff who present that. But the focus—

Senator McKENZIE: How many? In how many of our regional stations do you envisage that occurring?

Mr Scott : I will get that detail for you. But I can tell you that the focus is where the audience is greater, and the audience is greater at breakfast. That is why we have extended breakfast for an hour and that is why there are some stations, including some in Victoria—in Horsham and Mildura—where the breakfast programs will be longer. There will be more local broadcasting—

Senator McKENZIE: No, no—I am fully briefed—

Mr Scott : I said when we announced that that we knew you would be happy about it.

Senator McKENZIE: on the changes. I want to work out how they are actually going to be implemented and how the staff are actually going to deal with the additional workload.

So the chief of staff who is heading those smaller regional stations will effectively be doing the local life—

Mr Scott : Yes, it is a one-hour—

Senator McKENZIE: Sorry, Mr Scott, I have not finished—along with coproducing the four-hour brekkie program, producing and presenting their own show, running the station, finding the time to go out to source the local stories and then coming back to edit and package the stories for the next day. And they are still expected to knock off at around 3 pm. Is that the case, Mr Scott?

Mr Scott : Well, what is the case now? The case now is that you have many people who are leading the radio resources in that station who are running the breakfast program themselves. I am not in a position to provide the broader leadership to the station, so for them not to be doing breakfast and to be doing a shorter program—for us to put more resources into breakfast—that seemed like a wise investment of our resource base around the programming when more of the audience is listening. So for us to have some focus on the resource base in the way that we do, it seemed like the wise way to go with these changes.

Senator McKENZIE: Mr Scott, do chiefs of staff in capital city local radio stations present and produce their own shows?

Mr Scott : No, they do not. But the resource levels are different in the capital cities to what they are in the regions.

Senator McKENZIE: Is the pay similar?

Mr Scott : Often they will be paid more as well, but can I say that that is absolutely consistent with what happens in the media around the country.

Senator McKENZIE: But you are a public broadcaster.

Mr Scott : Yes, we are a public broadcaster but we operate in competitive markets. Are you really suggesting to us, if in fact you look at our act and you talk about responsible expenditure of our finances, that we should be paying people at rates markedly higher than the market is offering them? Is that what you are suggesting, Senator?

Senator McKENZIE: I am suggesting that journalists who choose to do their craft in Bendigo should be remunerated, essentially for a public service, the same as if they were in Bundoora. I do not think that is unreasonable for a public broadcaster.

Mr Scott : It is a very interesting discussion, but it is a key principle—

Senator McKENZIE: But I do not have time to discuss it—

Mr Scott : I am very sorry, but I have to talk about this.

Senator McKENZIE: We can catch up after estimates to actually discuss it. I just want to go to the fact that there are news headlines rather than news bulletins. We do have breaking news in the regions—things do happen of significance—

Mr Scott : Yes.

Senator McKENZIE: not only to our community but indeed to our industry.

Mr Scott : Yes.

Senator McKENZIE: So how do we actually ensure that rather than just a repeat of the headlines from the 7.30 bulletin for the whole day that if something does happen in the community throughout the morning that the community will actually be made aware of that?

Mr Scott : Our expectation is that rather than people sitting in the studio to pull together that local bulletin—

Senator McKENZIE: They are out gathering stories.

Mr Scott : that they will be out and about. We expect that what they would do is to phone in to the program and deliver the news into that program.

Senator McKENZIE: Sorry—when I got the briefing I understood that we were going to headlines only.

Mr Scott : I have a brief—let me explain. I have material here:

Local news will still be delivered to audiences via headlines at those times.

This change is proposed to give staff:

… particularly news reporters - the ability to get out of the office more to gather local and distinctive content.

And this content:

… gathered from our staff on the road will be fed into the extended Breakfast program and on digital platforms so it can be shared across regions and nationally.

Senator McKENZIE: Excellent. But after the breakfast program stops and we are in the headlines, something happens—

Mr Scott : Yes.

Senator McKENZIE: Like the bells ringing for the Senate during Senate estimates!

Mr Scott : They come into the program. The idea that news only happens when you have a scheduled bulletin—

Senator McKENZIE: Sorry—with the footprints as big as they are for the ABC local radio now—I might be out gathering a story and the news story actually breaks 400 kay down the road—

Mr Scott : That can still happen—

Senator McKENZIE: So I am not going to phone in about that.

Mr Scott : That can still happen now, Senator, and our programs can open up.

CHAIR: Order! I will suspend this committee hearing and we will come straight back after the division. We will go for another 15 minutes or so because there are still some more questions.

Proceedings suspended from 21 : 29 to 21 : 38

Senator LUDLAM: I have asked our colleagues to respectfully refrain from any other divisions so we will try to get a clear run. I will pick up where I left off, if that is all right. Sorry if this gets a little technical. Mr Scott, can you tell us a bit about the content management system that you use to serve the whole variety of content.

Mr Scott : Mr Pendleton is the expert on the content management system.

Senator LUDLAM: Nice handpass!

Mr Scott : He has spent his life working on it. He is an expert.

Mr Pendleton : I would not say that I am an expert. The content distribution network is a service that we procure from a company by the name of Akamai.

Mr Scott : We are talking about the content management system.

Senator LUDLAM: The CMS, not the streaming.

Mr Pendleton : The content management system is a system that we have just completed installing within the organisation. It is a project that has run for about three years at a cost of roughly $40 million. That includes the core software and the project to implement it. The system will be available for all our web content publishing purposes in the future. That does not actually store the content; it sources the content stored in our radio, audio and video systems, and our content creators then publish through that system. It is a quantum leap in system capability from our existing system, which is referred to as 'Wallace'. It has been around for a long time and its publishing times are really very slow and cumbersome. Our online news services at the moment are published through our CMS, our WCMS, and have been for a number of years. The system is now available for all content publishing.

Senator LUDLAM: So the basic software service is CoreMedia?

Mr Pendleton : Yes.

Senator LUDLAM: Now that is a proprietary system. When you were weighing up the decision to move from your older system to this new one, how did you weigh up the risk of getting trapped in a proprietary format as opposed to adopting an open source platform?

Mr Pendleton : We did a fairly detailed evaluation when we selected the software. We had had a number of attempts at building CMSs ourselves, which had not succeeded. We then sourced the market and looked around at what everybody else was using and evaluated that against the requirements that we had and what products best met the needs of the ABC. When you say 'locked into a proprietary system', it is the tool, basically, that allows our content makers to publish their content.

Senator LUDLAM: And if they go out of business, you are buggered?

Mr Pendleton : We have a contract in place in relation to access to the software. If the company went belly up, then we have contractual remedies in terms of access to the application into the future.

Senator LUDLAM: Yes, but they are going to stop patching it and developing it is my point, whereas an open source platform is less likely to go extinct underneath you—if you choose a good one. I am just wondering how you weigh up—this is something that any company or anybody with a big content farm is going to need to make these decisions about. Did you at any time give any serious consideration to using an open source platform?

Mr Pendleton : I do not think—I would have to check, but I am not sure that we actually looked at open sourced software providers.

Senator LUDLAM: That is interesting. Maybe if we park that for a second—we are running way over time, so I will be fairly quick; I might end up asking you to take these on notice, as long as you promise that nobody works on them over Christmas. I am happy if you want to take a little bit longer to think these through. The DTO—the new Digital Transformation Office—that has been established has written a digital service standard that reads pretty well. It is around:

… the criteria that … digital services must meet to ensure our services are simpler, faster and easier to use.

There is a lot of pretty good stuff in it. How is the ABC incorporating the digital service standard? You are one of the largest Commonwealth entities that publishes on digital platforms.

Mr Pendleton : We would look at that, but we are not necessarily bound by it.

Senator LUDLAM: I think you might find that you are actually.

Mr Pendleton : Sorry?

Senator LUDLAM: Why has it been written if not to bind Commonwealth entities?

Mr Pendleton : It is a policy related matter. The ABC is required to note and to—

Senator LUDLAM: That is interesting.

Mr Pendleton : And our decision around our system was made four or five years ago.

Senator LUDLAM: Sorry, I was not necessarily seeking to link the two; this is certainly broader than a choice of CMS—I jumped sideways a little bit. But coming directly to that question, what has the ABC done, if anything, to look at that digital service standard?

Mr Pendleton : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator LUDLAM: Could you?

Mr Pendleton : Yes.

Senator LUDLAM: I would be surprised to hear that—I do not want to put words in your mouth, but you are making it sound like it is not particularly relevant, and yet your core business is increasingly—

Mr Pendleton : Let me take it on notice.

Senator LUDLAM: Yes. There are 14 individual criteria that government agencies will be expected to—

CHAIR: And you have 10 minutes, Senator Ludlam.

Senator LUDLAM: I recognise your independence, your charter, a whole pile of other stuff that means a minister cannot wave a finger and force you to do stuff, but most of the criteria actually look pretty sensible, and so I am wondering—

Mr Pendleton : In which case we would certainly look at utilising any of that stuff.

Senator LUDLAM: Okay. Without going to too much trouble, I would really appreciate some understanding of how you have addressed the criteria that are set out. I will leave it there.

Senator McKENZIE: Can management guarantee that the Saturday breakfast program will not be axed given that our communities rely on this for the promotion of events, community service announcements et cetera and it is good training for producers and presenters?

Mr Scott : You are talking about changes further to those we have already announced?

Senator McKENZIE: Yes.

Mr Scott : We have announced the schedule for 2016. We understand the importance of weekend sport, weekend programing.

Senator McKENZIE: The Saturday breakfast program?

Mr Scott : There are no changes beyond the changes that we have already announced that we are planning.

Senator McKENZIE: What about the rural report?

Mr Scott : The rural report is very important. It is one of the reasons it is recorded to a standardised time at 6.15—the same time around the country. It is very important. It has been going for 70 years. We are committed to ABC rural programming.

Senator McKENZIE: Excellent. Thank you. In terms of your comments earlier around payment of staff and hours worked, my understanding is that some of the changes implemented mean that people who were previously not starting till six are now having to come in at 5.30. If you are a single parent with young children that is problematic in terms of child care et cetera.

Mr Scott : It goes the other way around too—some people who were starting earlier will now start later.

Senator McKENZIE: Do they get to pick which one is which?

Mr Scott : I think it depends on the station and the role. Some of the concern that emerged around this was staff who found themselves rostered to start later and they appreciated the advantages that came to them from starting earlier.

Senator McKENZIE: I have had feedback with the opposite occurring and the lack of child care. What career advancement is structured into the ABC to those journalists operating within the regions?

Mr Scott : It is the same as exists now. Some of our finest foreign correspondents—Zoe Daniel, Sally Sara and others—came through ABC rural and regional services. They are very close links between ABC regional—our radio division and news division. We still want career paths that work through—

Senator McKENZIE: Are they career paths that can keep them in the regions if that is what choose to do?

Mr Scott : Absolutely. I went to the 70th anniversary of ABC Rural and it struck me that there were two different kinds of staff members there. There were those like Zoe, who had passed through and gone on to have a stellar career with the ABC internationally. But there were a numbers of others who had very happily served 20, 25, 30 or 40 years with the ABC in the regions. You absolutely can still have a promising career in the ABC in the regions.

Senator McKENZIE: And career progression?

Mr Scott : Yes, you can. One of things that we have done—

Senator McKENZIE: Thank you, Mr Scott. I would love to get more detail on notice. On notice also, what proportion of the ABC budget is spent on the provision of local radio to regional Australia? What is the potential impact on emergency broadcasting in the event of bushfires, floods et cetera of the loss of local knowledge and local staff and the changed times to broadcasting?

Mr Scott : What local knowledge and local staff is going missing? I do not understand. We are not cutting staffing positions from the regions.

Senator McKENZIE: I know you are not cutting staffing positions, but have staff been asked to reapply for their jobs?

Mr Scott : Yes, because some of the jobs are different. You will have some new people go in there but a lot of the staff will stay the same. We always have staff turnover. Our commitment to emergency broadcasting remains robust and strong.

Senator McKENZIE: We can have confidence that there will not be any issue around that?

Mr Scott : Yes.

Senator McKENZIE: I have a range of other questions that I will put on notice.

Senator RONALDSON: Mr Scott, you and I have had very vigorous debates over many years in this chamber, and I have always enjoyed your company outside of that—just so there is complete clarity in my commentary and it is not all brick bats. Can I place on the record my thanks as former Minister for Veterans' Affairs for the work ABC television and radio have done over the Centenary of Anzac period. As you know, we had a bit of an issue just prior to that. That was resolved quickly by you and Mr Millett, for which I was very grateful. Otherwise, it has been dignified, it has been respectful, it has been emotional, it has been informative, and I do not think this nation could have asked anything more of its national broadcaster. I want to thank you and your staff for the work that was done over that period, in Albany, in Gallipoli at the dawn service and at Lone Pine. You should be very proud of their endeavours. I hope this is a period in this nation's history that will be long-remembered. The ABC has played a pivotal part in communicating that, and I would like you to pass on my sincere thanks.

Mr Scott : Thank you, Senator. We are very proud of the broadcasts. I will pass on your thanks to the production teams involved.

Senator RONALDSON: Thank you.

CHAIR: As there are no further questions for officials, that concludes the examination of the communications and the arts portfolio. Senators are reminded that written questions on notice should be provided to the secretariat by close of business on Friday, 4 December 2015. I thank the minister, Mr Scott and all the officers for their attendance this evening, and thank you for your patience during the divisions. I also thank Hansard, Broadcasting and secretariat staff for their wonderful assistance. Good night, everybody. Thank you.

Committee adjourned at 21:51