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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

CHAIR: Welcome. Mr Anderson, would you like to make an opening statement today?

Mr Anderson : Yes, thank you. I'd like to thank the committee for the opportunity to provide a few opening remarks. The ABC is never far from the discussions about how Australians engage with each other, both as a nation and within smaller communities. In the digital age, these discussions have included the role of changing technology, facilitating or hindering our ability to engage with each other. Regardless of which decade of the last 90 years you consider, or whichever platform or broadcast medium you're referring to, the core role of the ABC has not changed. We're the most trusted media outlet and source of news, entertainment and information for all Australians. This means we are the natural home and platform for any community engagement or town square conversation. Whether you are talking about issues of national significance or debates of local community interest, the ABC provides the platform. The ABC reaches 80 per cent of all Australians on a monthly basis.

This public service media model that the ABC operates under, where it is independent of both government and commercial interests, contributes to high levels of public interest. We should never lose sight of the value the ABC offers and the significance of the contribution we make to Australian communities everywhere. It is the impact of the work we do and the value we provide to the community that should be the real measures of the ABC's success.

Two of Australia's most important royal commissions have come from public interest broadcasting at the ABC—misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services industry, and aged-care quality and safety. Work done by our journalists in reporting on these issues and bringing them to national attention has ultimately led to government responses and policy reforms which have made a real difference to the lives of many Australians. The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, for example, has resulted in a massive $18 billion boost to the aged-care sector announced in this month's budget. Sweeping changes will improve the quality of care and make a real difference to senior Australians and their families.

You do not need a royal commission to see the impact of other recent ABC investigations. In-depth reporting by the ABC saw Telstra held accountable for unconscionable conduct for misleading more than 100 Indigenous customers into signing up for phone plans they could not afford. Telstra was subsequently issued with one of the largest fines in Australian corporate history.

In fact, all around Australia ABC teams are getting out in the community, reporting local stories important to Australians living beyond the capital cities. We are bolstering our presence in areas like Sydney's Parramatta and Brisbane's Ipswich, where we already have a bureau, and we've spent big blocks of time in areas like Brisbane's Sunnybank, Melbourne's Box Hill and the City of Swan in Perth, and New Norfolk and Sorell outside of Hobart. We're establishing pop-up bureaus in places like Liverpool and generating a huge response, with more planned for Werribee, Campbelltown and the outer suburbs of Adelaide. This is about connecting and listening to communities, covering the issues important to them and making a difference to their lives.

The ABC's commitment to telling Australian stories have never been more impactful than with the highly successful Old People's Home For 4 Year Olds. Loneliness is a huge problem, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and this groundbreaking program strengthens intergenerational relationships between younger and older Australians to create better health outcomes for all. In the second series, the ABC entered a partnership with the Older Persons Advocacy Network to engage older Australians by providing pathways to stay supported and connected to the community as well as ways for members of the public to contribute and volunteer. This initiative is funded by the federal Department of Health. Other programs like Australian Story, Back Roads, Country Hour or the immensely popular children's series Bluey are much-loved parts of the weekly life of millions of Australians.

Impact is measured in the crucial information we provide as well. Our emergency broadcasting teams have served Australians in times of need, provided vital information and saved lives. Impact is also measured in the services we provide as an international broadcaster to our nearest neighbours in Asia and the Pacific. This is particularly true in countries like PNG where COVID-19 has had a devastating effect.

Tonight I'm pleased to announce that the ABC has signed letters of intent with both Google and Facebook. When these commercial deals are concluded, they will enable the ABC to make new and significant investments into regional services. These investments will provide a huge boost to the regions at a time when many areas of regional and rural Australia have experienced a withdrawal of media services. The ABC's commitment to serving regional Australia and connecting all parts of the nation is unmatched by any other media organisation. Impact, trust and value—wherever you live and whatever matters to you the most, the ABC will be there. I'm happy to take questions.

CHAIR: Senator Abetz.

Senator ABETZ: Mr Anderson, are you aware of the ugly, nasty, divisive and patently false assertion made by your ABC presenter this morning when he besmirched thousands of Tasmanians when he said 'I would have thought, if you're a white supremacist, you'd live in Kingston,' which is a suburb south of Hobart?

Mr Anderson : Yes, I've been made of that.

Senator ABETZ: What action has been taken or will be taken?

Mr Anderson : I was only made aware of it late this afternoon. My understanding is that Mr Goddard realised he had made a mistake and apologised immediately. I've actually got your media release in front of me, but I will need to get the facts as they are, and I'll make my own inquiries.

Senator ABETZ: Alright. If you can take that on notice. It is completely and utterly unacceptable against all standards, I would have thought. How on earth does this happen? An apology is one thing, but one would have thought anybody with an ounce of professionalism within themselves would not have made such an outrageous comment and slur on thousands of my fellow Tasmanians.

Mr Anderson : It certainly does seem to be an error, but we will look into it and I will get back to you on notice.

Senator ABETZ: See, an error is a mistake. This was a deliberate statement, which has a more serious connotation to it than just an error by accidentally or mistakenly talking about one suburb or another. This was just a deliberate gratuitous slur on thousands of my fellow Tasmanians.

Mr Anderson : I didn't hear it. I haven't gone back to hear it again yet, but I will, and we will look at it. I haven't done it yet. I haven't had a chance to.

Senator ABETZ: Alright. I trust that very serious action will be taken.

I go to an area that I questioned last time, and that was the quite inappropriate payment of taxpayers' money through the ABC to one Mr John Sullivan for his footage of the US Capitol riot. Are you aware that the US authorities have now seized $90,000 from this man who sold footage of the Capitol riot. Can you give us an assurance that the $90,000 that was seized by US authorities—or part of that—was not, in fact, Australian taxpayer money?

Mr Anderson : I can't give you that assurance, but, as I think I gave evidence last time, we did pay Mr Sullivan for footage that he had obtained during the Capitol riots.

Senator ABETZ: I'm aware of that, but some of this money that he was paid for this outrageous footage which he helped incite with some of his commentary has now been seized by US authorities. I note that last time I had asked a number of questions, which I still don't think I've had answers on notice to—for example, I asked:

Was the ABC aware that Sullivan already faced riot and criminal mischief charges for his participation in a Black Lives Matter protest the June before?

You said:

I'll have to get back to you on notice, Senator, as to whether or not we knew.

Did you know?

Mr Anderson : I didn't personally know, but, yes, we did make inquiries and, yes, the program team did know that at that particular point in time he was charged for his role in the Capitol riot.

Senator ABETZ: He's been charged with more offences since then, and so the ABC thinks that it is quite appropriate to pay money to somebody that's facing serious criminal charges to get some sort of sensational footage of a situation that he himself is inciting?

Mr Anderson : The program itself was about what was behind the Capitol riot. Mr Sullivan was not talent. We did not interview him. The footage that he had was sought after by other news outlets, including CNN, I believe, and the Washington post.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, but that doesn't alleviate you of your responsibilities.

CHAIR: Senator Abetz, please don't talk over the witness.

Mr Anderson : The footage that we used was a small part of the story, and it was the fatal killing of a woman who was there, that was otherwise previously unseen by anyone in Australia. It is customary that we do pay for footage.

Senator ABETZ: I'm aware of that.

Mr Anderson : So that is not unusual. But we didn't interview him, and it was important to the program.

Senator ABETZ: So you don't worry, the source of the information, including this fellow who quite openly said, 'Burn this s-h-i-t down.' He was getting footage and inciting further violence and activity there to make the footage even more sensational. Here we are, using Australian taxpayers' money, to fund somebody likes that so outrageous that US authorities have now seized that funding. Are we going to review the way we do business in the future?

Mr Anderson : In the context of the program it was important that we obtained that footage. It wasn't a large amount of money that was paid to this man. We thought it enhanced the program and was there for the program to inform our audiences around what was behind the Capitol riot.

Senator ABETZ: So you're willing to pay a criminal, and somebody who is deliberately inciting the crowd, just for sensationalism, for ABC ratings.

Mr Anderson : Senator, I don't know—

Senator ABETZ: Isn't there a moral compass that you need to apply to this, even if you do want the footage, to say that we will not fund somebody with those antecedents?

Mr Anderson : What I have asked and what I have obtained is we knew he was charged for that. His background, with regard to the fact that he was indicted for this, is, I think, another matter. At the time, we knew he was charged and we made the decision to obtain the footage.

Senator ABETZ: Does this exercise mean that you'll do anything different in the future?

Mr Anderson : I think we examine these things on a case-by-case basis, depending on the story, depending on the individuals involved, who holds the footage—

Senator ABETZ: So you would do the same again?

Mr Anderson : If the circumstances were repeated or similar, I think you would look at what sits behind the stories, and the stories that are being told, to give context to the Australian public about how something happened.

Senator ABETZ: Would you do the same again?

Mr Anderson : I think—

Senator ABETZ: We now know the facts.

Mr Anderson : For the facts—

Senator ABETZ: He went in there inciting people, caught it on his own footage, as somebody who's had his money seized by US authorities, and there are no lessons to be learnt from here, according to the ABC.

Mr Anderson : Hindsight's a wonderful thing. We assess these things on their merits every single time that we have a program.

Senator ABETZ: And hindsight allows us to say, surely, given the circumstances again, 'We would not do it again.' That's what I'm wanting to hear from the ABC. But what I'm hearing is, 'No, we're just after a sensational story and if we have to pay criminals who are inciting the crowd we don't care, because we're only after the ratings.' That's not the standard I would expect of our national broadcaster.

Mr Anderson : We do have guidelines on these things that we do follow. We assess those matters very carefully, at the time, as to what the importance is to the story that we have. It's impossible for me to say we'd never do anything like that again, but I think that we would certainly think carefully about who we paid for what into the future. My understanding is that decision was not taken lightly at the time. Decisions were made with regard to that particular story with what was known at that particular moment in time, which was 14 January.

Senator ABETZ: I trust the person who made this decision to air this outrageous footage, from this very dubious character, was not the beneficiary of the $55,000 bonus that the ABC paid to one of its staff. Can you confirm that for us?

Mr Anderson : Sorry?

Senator ABETZ: Can you confirm that for us, that the person who allowed this to go to air was not the beneficiary of the bonus?

Mr Anderson : I can confirm that for you.

Senator ABETZ: Good. Can you then tell us not who the beneficiary of the bonus was but for what that bonus was paid?

Mr Anderson : Senator, the—

Senator ABETZ: It's about 11, 12 or 13 Cartier watches that, I'm sure, your ABC reporters will be translating and telling the Australian people about.

Mr Anderson : I can go to bonuses. We do pay bonuses like other agencies of the APS. Certainly year-on-year, the amount of bonuses that were awarded were lower, captured with—

Senator ABETZ: What was this one?

CHAIR: Order!

Senator ABETZ: Sorry, this was a specific question, Chair. What was the bonus paid for? I don't need a history of bonuses and other departments doing the same thing and whatever else. I just want to know what this one $55,000 bonus was paid for.

CHAIR: You just need to raise a point of order, and I'll ask the witness to answer more directly.

Mr Anderson : We do have arrangements with some staff when it comes to performance, and this was to recognise outstanding performance that was certainly well above and beyond, and I'm satisfied that the bonus payment that was made was justified.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, but in what area was this outstanding performance?

Mr Anderson : If I go to the area, then I'll reveal the context, and it will narrow it down as to who might have received that bonus, which I'm not prepared to do.

Senator ABETZ: The ABC is in the right-to-know coalition. That is great to see, isn't it!

CHAIR: Senator Sheldon.

Senator SHELDON: First of all, thank you, Mr Anderson, for joining us. I, like many Australians, am very pleased that the ABC is out there doing its job. I've got to say I wish it wouldn't do its job so successfully sometimes, because I think some of my colleagues and I, even on one or two occasions in my previous life, have been on the receiving end of it! But that's what bipartisan news services do: deliver that sort of coverage.

I want to go to an important question about the ABC documentary EXPOSED: The Ghost Train Fire, a three-part investigation that aired about two months ago on the ABC. It was reported that a number of high profile Australians have criticised the program for its reflections on Neville Wran. For example:

David Hill, the former managing director of the ABC, told Inquirer the claims about Wran were "preposterous", without "any evidence whatsoever" and the character assassination of the former premier was disgraceful.

…   …   …

Bob Carr, a minister in the Wran government and later NSW premier, said the allegations about Wran were baseless.

In the same article, Malcolm Turnbull is quoted as saying:

"When Nick Greiner came into government in 1988, they set up ICAC with a very express purpose of uncovering the corruption …

"As you know, ICAC never even framed a coherent (or indeed incoherent) allegation against Wran. The only premiers to be brought down by ICAC were, ironically, both Liberals."

Has the ABC received any formal complaints about the program?

Mr Anderson : Yes, we have. We've received three.

Senator SHELDON: What is the process of handling those complaints?

Mr Anderson : Complaints go through an independent department, which is Audience and Consumer Affairs. We still have one of those complaints on foot, and the other two were not upheld. They were based on accuracy, and the other one was with regard to, I think, the re-enactment itself.

Senator SHELDON: So I'm clear, I'm going to the question of the allegations against now deceased Premier Wran. Is there a complaint specifically about some of the accuracy about those allegations?

Mr Anderson : We still have an investigation on foot. I'm not going to comment on the investigation. The reason it is independent is I don't want to predetermine what I believe the outcome should be of any of those. I will say this: this documentary was not about Premier Wran. This documentary was about the Lunar Park fire and about the ABC and these families wanting justice for what had happened to their loved ones. That was the focus of the documentary. This program in no way suggested that Neville Wran had any involvement in or knowledge of the fire at Lunar Park. It did not say that Wran was involved or implicated in a cover-up of the cause of the fire. It did not say that Wran was receiving police bribes from illegal casinos and perverting the course of justice. But the program did investigate the allegation that Neville Wran may have influenced the decision to grant a Lunar Park licence to entities associated with Abe Saffron well after the fire. They were presented as allegations, not proven facts. The ABC believes that there was sufficient evidence supporting the allegations to justify publishing them and to raise questions around whether further inquiry into the fire and the granting of the lease should be undertaken. We continue to work with authorities on this. The coroner has given us an order to present documents. We're working cooperatively with the coroner. One tranche has already gone, and another tranche is due to go by 21 June.

Senator SHELDON: I appreciate the work that was done with EXPOSED. I'm taking you to this specific item in that particular show regarding Neville Wran. You say it's under investigation. I'm very keen to follow that up once that investigation comes to some conclusion and make further comment.

Mr Anderson : Okay.

Senator GREEN: I wanted to ask about iview. I understand that iview is going to be implementing a personalisation sign in. When is that happening?

Mr Anderson : In July, ABC iview will move to join every other on demand service available to have mandatory login. We have a campaign informing people at the moment about that and about the benefits and features that would be associated with that. At the moment, on any given week, there are over 3,000 hours of content on ABC iview. By logging in and the personalisation associated with that, we can help people find content. They can resume watching across different devices, whether it be their phone or their television at home. They will be able to save programs on a watch list. We can give recommendations to people based on what they've consumed as well. I think that it has been a long time coming. They are enhancements that are there to help people find the value that already exists from the content that has already been produced or acquired by the ABC.

Senator GREEN: That's obviously a choice that the ABC has had to make. I know SBS has had that for a while, and I know Netflix and those types of online streaming services have a login. What's the benefit of moving to that system?

Mr Anderson : It has got to do with the fact that we have been actively pursuing digital rights to make sure that we have a larger inventory on ABC iview. This is about value to the Australian people. To move to personalisation means you're able to search, locate and have recommendations, as I said, across 3,000 hours of content on any given week. So this is about enhancing the service we provide to make it easy for people to use ABC iview and find content.

I might add, surface content from other places: so after this step, we'll be able to join up the content you'd otherwise have when you sign in to triple j, when you sign in to ABC listen. So, if you like something to do with science, in the future we want to be able to surface science programs that are podcasts that would otherwise be on ABC listen. That's the goal we're aiming for. The first bit is sign on to ABC iview.

Senator GREEN: What are some of the downsides to doing that? There would be some people who might not be willing to use a username or to sign in?

Mr Anderson : We're asking for people to provide an email, a postcode, their year of birth, their gender. That certainly helps us. People don't have to use their real name; they can use a pseudonym for this. If they've come in through Google or Facebook, they can opt out of having those details shared with Google or Facebook. If they don't come in through Google and Facebook and they come direct to the ABC, there's no need to opt out. Yes, it will be an immediate inconvenience, but the benefits that sit on the other side of this are at least meant to match or be better than the benefits you get with all other streaming services. There is a sea of content out there. People are quite accustomed to logging into somewhere, having an account with it, knowing that they will get a benefit back on the other side. In fact, we did a survey in 2020 of people about personalisation, and 90 per cent of the respondents said they wanted personalisation in some form associated with ABC iview.

Senator GREEN: In terms of the way you log in at the moment, it's just optional and you can choose to do that or not to get personalisation or not—is that right?

Mr Anderson : At the moment it is optional. It's been optional for some time. We've had people who have previously logged in, but we haven't been able to provide all of the features that I'm describing at moment. In the background we have been doing work to make sure that our digital products are improved, certainly up to spec on what people want. When ABC iview first launched in July 2008, we were at the forefront of this. We were ahead of the curve. And we were No. 1 as other services came on the market. Literally the day that Netflix launched, they became No. 1 and we became No. 2. Of course, they were doing one thing; we're trying to do many things, certainly in our digital strategy across the ABC. So a lot of work has to happen in the background when you're at the forefront of this. There's a lot of technology you need to undo and to re-do in order to catch up, if you like. As it turns out, we were the first to launch, but we're possibly one of the last to actually introduce personalisation in the way we're introducing it at the moment.

CHAIR: Last question in this bracket, thanks, Senator Green.

Senator GREEN: Have you received any complaints about the system so far, and how is it going to work with kids using the app? Will an adult need a log-in or will ABC Kids be accessible?

Mr Anderson : Again, we have an incredibly safe environment when it comes to ABC Kids. Yes, an adult will need to log in, but certainly for the school age, we will ensure that content isn't discoverable that is not for the right age. We will be introducing profiling, so, instead of having separate products, you can have one product on ABC iview for who's watching, and the profile for who's watching will ensure that only the right content is servicing for those people. That's how that's intended to work.

CHAIR: Thanks, Mr Anderson. Senator Antic.

Senator ANTIC: Thank you, Mr Anderson, for coming today. I want to ask a couple of questions about the recent trouble and conflict in Israel and, in particular, the ABC's coverage of same. Perhaps, in order to frame my question, I want to point out an article that was published on the website on 13 May entitled 'An attempt to explain why explosions are again filling the skies over Israel and Gaza'. It's an article which I've had annotated in red for factual errors, and, as you can see, this document is a sea of red. There's not enough time today to pick through all of the factual errors, so I am going to highlight a couple.

CHAIR: Senator Antic, are you going to table that if you're going to refer to it?

Senator ANTIC: No, I'm not, Chair. But I can perhaps table it later.

CHAIR: Okay.

Senator ANTIC: I am just going to refer to it in this case. This article is available on the website. It says, 'Like many places on Earth, the history of the region is complex and bloodied. It has been ruled by many different powers over the centuries, but Arab people have lived there throughout.' That's not actually correct, is it? In fact, what we know is that the history of the region shows—and this perhaps brushes away the ancient and unbroken historical connection to the land, to Israel, by the Jewish people. That's one example. As you flip through, I see another statement here: 'Most recently—and we're talking the past hundred years—the area now known as Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories was ruled by the Ottoman Empire.' We're not actually talking about the last hundred years. The Ottomans conquered the Holy Land in 1517. These are just examples, but they go on and on. My question to you is: why is it that the ABC is institutionally anti-Semitic and why is it that the ABC has continually misled its viewers in relation to the Jewish people's ancient connections to the land of Israel?

Mr Anderson : I don't agree with the characterisation of the ABC being anti-Semitic. I will say that, when there are conflicts such as this, on very complicated matters, there are certainly things that we've looked into that have already been published to ensure that they're accurate. Some corrections have been made. If you provide me with that, I will certainly take that on notice and respond to you. Just by way of complaints on the run that we have at the moment, as of 23 May, there have been 57 editorial complaints: 29 per cent of complaints allege that our particular coverage was pro Palestinian and/or anti Israel; 42 per cent alleged that we are pro Israel and/or anti Palestinian. And the remainder of the matters are referring to accuracy issues. It's certainly something that we're looking at very closely. Guidance notes are issued to our journalists. If you were to provide that to me, I would take that on notice and give you a response.

Senator ANTIC: The errors, though, unequivocally do swing to the favour of terrorist organisations like Hamas. My question is, I guess: do you have any managerial control over the editorial bias of your staff, or is this a staff-led collective? These articles are consistently anti Israel. I don't know where these complaints in relation to it being pro Israel are coming from, but I suspect there's not much basis to that—certainly from my reviewing of the recent coverage. There is another angle to this, and I want to touch on the subject of the coverage, specifically, of Hamas. There are two examples I want to draw your attention to. An article from three days ago on the ABC website was entitled 'Hamas militants parade in Gaza, humanitarian aid convoy heads to the enclave as ceasefire talks persist'. Throughout this particular document, Hamas is referred to as 'fighters' and 'militant organisation'. It doesn't refer to it as a terrorist organisation. Does the ABC accept that Hamas is a terrorist organisation? The Australian and United States governments do.

Mr McMurtrie : We accept that the Australian government regards Hamas as a terrorist organisation, yes.

Senator ANTIC: Is that the ABC's position?

Mr McMurtrie : The ABC doesn't take an editorial position on these sorts of things. But, as a fact, yes, it's been proscribed as a terrorist organisation, yes.

Senator ANTIC: So the ABC doesn't support radical Islamic terrorism then?

Mr McMurtrie : Absolutely not.

Senator ANTIC: Because you would get that impression from some of this material.

Mr McMurtrie : It won't surprise you that I don't agree. But, if you want to provide us with the specific stories that you want us to look into, we'll look into those stories.

Senator ANTIC: Okay, happy to do that. My second line of questioning relates to a particular news story—this one is on the ABC news website on 13 May. It's an article entitled 'Meet Queensland's youngest drag queen—Candy Featherbottom—challenging perceptions at the local bowls club'. The article describes a 13-year-old boy who regularly performs as a drag queen at a Queensland bowls club which the article describes as a 'family-friendly drag club', which is extraordinary to me. Does the ABC consider drag shows for children to be family friendly? Is that a new editorial position of the ABC?

Mr Anderson : We don't have an editorial position on that, but I'm not—

Senator GREEN: Drag queens are not allowed—

CHAIR: Order!

Senator ANTIC: Sorry, I haven't spoken through your contribution, but I look forward to it.

Mr Anderson : Senator, again, I will provide you an answer on notice, but we certainly haven't issued any editorial directions with regard to that.

Senator ANTIC: The ABC has a fairly strong diversity agenda. Does it extend to the promotion of sexualisation of minors, at the encouragement of adults, because that's what this article tends to suggest?

Mr Anderson : Again, we can respond to the article itself—

Senator ANTIC: I thought that would have been a 'yes' or 'no'.

Mr Anderson : We have diversity commissioning guidelines as well as a diversity inclusion plan for our staff. Those guidelines are effectively suggesting that we want to represent the diversity that we have in the community in the country. That's broadly how to capture what those guidelines are suggesting. It is also suggesting that, for the diversity that we represent, we also have people who are putting the content together who also are also diverse, particularly representing the community that they're serving. So, when it comes to minors, Senator, certainly across our children's content, we have diversity in our presenters, but, to that end, no. So I would need to have a look at that article—

Senator ANTIC: You're not familiar with this article about a 13-year-old drag queen?

Mr Anderson : I'm not familiar, no.

Senator ANTIC: Extraordinary.

Member of the committee interjecting—

Senator ANTIC: I'm sure you found it very interesting, Senator. The final question relates to this: you talked a little bit about some complaints, and I think some very interesting complaints and a diverse range of complaints. Of course, you have a complaints procedure internally. But we know that many public bodies, like in the telecommunications industry, have an ombudsman in order to oversee complaints and ensure that there is an accountable, fair account of the various complaints. Would the ABC support the introduction of a public broadcasting ombudsman to cover the likes of the ABC and the SBS, and, if not, why not?

Mr Anderson : I would suggest that one is not necessary. We have a regulator in ACMA. When it comes to complaints handling, we've had our own review, an external review. Our complaints processes have also been independently reviewed by the Australian National Audit Office—the performance of complaints management, which was done in 2018—and it concluded that Audience and Consumer Affairs within the ABC is effectively managing its complaints. I'm quite happy to have another review by the ANAO come in, if that's required. But I don't think you need to set up another ombudsman when you're already got a regulator in ACMA that people can freely go to if they're dissatisfied with what the ABC has—

Senator ANTIC: It's good enough for the telecommunications industry. You get $1.1 billion of taxpayers' money. Why does the ABC think it's above the oversight of an ombudsman?

Mr Anderson : I don't think we're above many things, actually. But I do think that it's not necessary. We have a process that is reviewed externally and internally. We set benchmarks against what other organisations are doing, both domestically and internationally. We welcome another review by somebody, to have a look at that, as well as what ACMA is reviewing.

Senator ANTIC: And you think that the content that's coming out is fair and balanced? You're comfortable with that?

Mr Anderson : From the ABC?

Senator ANTIC: From the ABC, yes.

Mr Anderson : Yes. I could give you stats with regard to what have been the complaints and what has been found.

Senator ANTIC: Really? Internal figures? Internal stats? Are they surveys that are done by—

Mr Anderson : They are stats that come out of the Audience and Consumer Affairs unit —

Senator ANTIC: Which is run by your staff.

Mr Anderson : It is independent of the content directors.

Senator ANTIC: But it's run by ABC staff.

Mr Anderson : Well, it otherwise reports into Mr McMurtrie here. But it really has a direct report into me. So, they all report to me directly on these matters. They will come to me at the end of their matter. I will not involve myself in the investigation itself. And we have a number of complaints that are upheld when it comes to impartiality or to accuracy, and I'm pretty sure Senator Bragg's going to point a couple of them out. I think that goes to the trust the Australian public puts in the ABC. When we do make a mistake, we do put our hand up and say, 'That was wrong; that was incorrect.' We publish the corrections. We examine ourselves—

Senator ANTIC: Yes, but they always lean one way, the errors, don't they?

Mr Anderson : We examine ourselves, and if—

CHAIR: Senator Antic, your time has expired.

Senator ANTIC: I think it's a shame, what's become of the ABC—a once-proud institution.

CHAIR: Senator Antic, your time has expired.

Senator GREEN: Chair, a point of order: you've asked the whole way through these estimates—

Senator ANTIC: You'll get your opportunity, Senator. You go for it.

CHAIR: Senator Antic, that is not helpful. You raised a point of order, Senator Green. Please continue.

Senator GREEN: I'm asking if you could call the senator to order, to not speak over the witnesses—or me, for that matter, given that I've got the call.

CHAIR: I have done that two or three times throughout his evidence. Senator Hanson-Young, you have the call.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thanks for being here, Mr Anderson. I asked the minister and the department's secretary earlier today about the next tranche of triennial funding for the ABC. I understand that negotiations haven't started yet. Is that correct?

Mr Anderson : No, negotiations haven't started. There has been a conversation with the minister's office that was initially about starting to engage with triennial funding negotiations and the process and how that might work.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Are you disappointed that the budget handed down two weeks ago did not extend the enhanced news gathering fund?

Mr Anderson : Probably since I stepped into the role, anyone who would take a meeting with me—pointing out that we do have enhanced news gathering funding, which expires at the end of next financial year and that I have concerns that if it was to cease after nine years it would be a detriment to the Australian people in terms of the funding and the services it provides. I will say, though, that it expires at the end of next financial year, so certainly for the remainder of this year and into what is the beginning of next financial year I will make sure that a strong case is put forward for the extension of that funding, and rolled into the base for that matter.

So, to be honest, because it's not expiring at the end of this financial year, I was not surprised—a double negative here—that it wasn't in the budget. But we will be putting our best foot forward, as I have done previously, as to having that extended after next financial year.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That fund has been in existence for eight years now?

Mr Anderson : Eight years to date, yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So it will be up to nine by the end of the next financial year?

Mr Anderson : That's right.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What would be the result if we don't get that funding?

Mr Anderson : The funding for the enhanced news gathering fund is $14.8 million next financial year. Frankly, having been there after nine years, we would have to look at the operational base of the ABC, across the breadth of the ABC. It would be quite detrimental, but I am encouraged by numerous public statements from the minister that, at the moment, there is no intention to reduce the ABC's funding. Anyway, we've got a case to make and we'll make it.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Just to be clear, when the minister has made those comments, you've interpreted that as continuing support for the news gathering fund as well as the base funding?

Mr Anderson : I am under no illusion that it is expiring funding; hence, I've continually made the case. I have no undertaking, nor do I have any complacency about that funding just continuing on, without making the case for it. Hence I've been making the case on a regular basis.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: If it doesn't get extended, you have to make changes across the board. Does that mean job cuts?

Mr Anderson : I think, if $14.8 million dropped out of the ABC, then, with what is now its core operational services that we provide, yes, there would be.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How many jobs is $14 million worth to the ABC?

Mr Anderson : It's a great deal of assessment. I don't want to throw a number out there because I don't want to unduly worry either staff at the ABC or the Australian public. Ultimately, yes, it would mean that people would need to go.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How many people are currently employed under that program?

Mr Anderson : Specifically, when that program was originally set up—and, therefore, I'm going to go with that number—it funded around 70 people. I think 69 is the number, without digging for it in here. I think it's 69.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Can I ask about other funding—money from Facebook and Google? Did you cover this in your opening statement?

Mr Anderson : In my opening statement, I announced that I have a letter of intent signed with—well, I've signed it—both Google and Facebook.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: With both of them?

Mr Anderson : With both. I'm unable to talk about the quantum yet; this is only short form. We now enter into long-form contract negotiation. Also, I think it would be damaging competitively and commercially, both for those entities as well as perhaps other operators. Deals are still being done across the country.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Other publishers, you mean?

Mr Anderson : Other publishers—those deals still need to happen. I think there is scope for me, perhaps next time I'm at estimates, to reveal what that number would be, but I can't at the moment. The intention here is that, whatever services arise from Google and Facebook, they sit separate to what is the core funding for the ABC. I've always been quite clear. I've been clear with the minister—from the moment that we were able to participate in the code, noting that no platform has been designated by the code as yet, to get revenue with regard to this—that any service that we have is in addition to the services that we have currently that are otherwise funded by public funds. What we don't want to do—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: It's not an offset.

Mr Anderson : We don't want to switch out public funding for commercial funding. We've said additional services in regional and rural Australia—that's the undertaking I've provided, and I see those things as being quite separate.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The minister has said that the ABC funding won't be reduced at the amount of any deal that is struck?

Mr Anderson : I don't want to unduly verbal the minister, but, publicly, I believe his statements have been that it is not his intention to reduce the ABC's funding.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Minister, is that still the case? Could we get that clarified?

Senator Hume: That's my understanding.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How long were the negotiations? How long has it taken to get a deal together?

Mr Anderson : It's taken quite some time. They are commercial organisations that were doing commercial deals first, so we're down the cab rank when it comes to priority, so I can understand why that is the case. There are commercial benefits with other commercial networks, so there are things that we cannot do and that we cannot offer that other networks could. I don't know the make-up of their deal, but I can imagine that there are agreements around advertising or rev share or compensating for loss of subscription. There would be a number of things that they could negotiate that the ABC cannot; hence, I suspect that any number we have would be lower than others. That said, we've negotiated in good faith. It has been quite long, but we're happy with the deal as it stands and the partnership. We're going to go through a contract at the moment which will take anywhere between 30 and 60 days from this point on.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: There is still an indexation freeze on ABC funding, isn't there?

Mr Anderson : In the forward estimates, indexation does return, so I was pleased to see that.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What does that mean in reality?

Ms Kleyn : Indexation returns in FY 2023, FY 2024 and FY 2025. The indexation that is applied is what we would expect to be applied through the government parameters.

Mr Anderson : It's still in effect at the moment, if that's your question, Senator.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How can we bank on that when we haven't got a commitment to what the next funding is going to be?

Mr Anderson : In my experience, it's an announcement to the contrary; otherwise you can expect it to be there. We didn't have an announcement in the budget that just happened, so my expectation is—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So 'no news is good news' is what you're saying.

Mr Anderson : I think so. To see it in the forwards was welcome.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Hanson-Young. Senator Green.

Senator GREEN: Senator Sheldon is going to take the lead.

Senator SHELDON: I want to come back to the ghost train in the documentary Exposed. There was one assertion that was made in the program that Wran had a social relationship with Abe Saffron. The basis of that assertion was one witness, Rosemary, who said she witnessed Wran having drinks with Saffron. Mr Anderson, why was only one source used? Maybe Mr McMurtrie might be able to assist.

Mr McMurtrie : Firstly, to get you a detailed answer on that, we would need go and talk to the program team. Because there was one witness used in the program, it doesn't necessarily follow that that was all the credible information that they had.

Senator SHELDON: In your investigation, there may be ABC editorial guidelines—expect multiple sources. Is that correct?

Mr McMurtrie : I'm sorry?

Senator SHELDON: Do you require multiple sources when you do the investigation?

Mr McMurtrie : We would not put anything in the program that we didn't regard as a credible allegation or a credible observation.

Senator SHELDON: There is an investigation taking place. I'm not quite sure whether or not it's credible yet, because we actually need to have the investigation carried through first, and that will draw conclusions about whether or not these allegations are credible.

Mr McMurtrie : Yes. I'm not saying that the allegations are right or wrong; I'm just saying that they were of sufficient weight for the program to report. The team, led by Caro Meldrum-Hanna, did exhaustive work. The material is massive that they have gone through.

Senator SHELDON: I refer to my comments earlier from Malcolm Turnbull about Nick Greiner setting up ICAC to look at issues of corruption. There was no suggestion of Neville Wran being corrupt or any inference through the ICAC inquiries that that was the case. So this new evidence, with one source contrary to what has been said there, is of some concern, isn't it?

Mr McMurtrie : The program relied on the Stewart commission, the parliamentary commission of inquiry. They spoke to one of the police investigators, who asserted what he had heard and his belief in regard to Premier Wran. The program, in the end, had a very senior team on it. They have to make an assessment of the material and decide whether or not the allegations are credible enough to be reported—not asserted as fact but reported. Given the brief of the program, which was to do this investigation on behalf of the families that had been pursuing an outcome on the Luna Park fire for decades, they felt, in this situation—and it wasn't the main thrust of the documentary series—that there was enough there and it would be remiss of them if they did not refer to it.

Senator SHELDON: The rest of the program has raised some issues that obviously are going off to another stage, and there is potential for what happens with how those issues may be dealt with in a judicial way. But there is clearly a situation here where nobody was given the chance to actually respond. We didn't get Wran's widow, we didn't get Malcolm Turnbull and we didn't get staff or former ministers to actually make comment about it.

Mr McMurtrie : The matter concerning Mr Wran was not a focus of the documentary series. Normally, in these sorts of situations where they were going to explore a particular allegation or line of inquiry, that would certainly require them to speak to other sources. The other thing that needs to be noted is that since the documentary series went to air there has been considerable public debate on ABC platforms and off ABC platforms on this particular point, with some very senior people who you've named coming forward publicly to put their point of view, and that has also been reported.

Senator SHELDON: Does making those allegations in the first place, where there was not somebody there able to refute them, demonstrate balance?

Mr McMurtrie : In a documentary series of this sort, the question is whether there is undue attention to one perspective or one viewpoint. It was an investigation. The point of the program was communicated really clearly to the audience. The audience is very familiar with this true crime genre—the cold case genre, I suppose—so the audience expectations would have been pretty clear. Again, I keep coming back to this: we would need to take a deeper dive into what the program knew or didn't know about this particular allegation, but it certainly is not the case that Exposed was making the allegation. In effect, what the documentary series and the program makers were doing was bringing to the audience matters that had previously been before the parliamentary commission of inquiry, the Stewart commission. They had gone to extraordinary lengths to find first-person witnesses who were still available to present what they knew, and that has now led, as you know, to the police matters and to the coroner taking a look at it, and all this material will be examined.

Senator SHELDON: I just draw you to 5.3 in Fair and honest dealing of the ABC editorial policies, which you're aware of, which says:

Where allegations are made about a person or organisation, make reasonable efforts in the circumstances to provide a fair opportunity to respond.

These are quite serious allegations that are being made. In actual fact, they probably can't get more serious.

Mr McMurtrie : For me to answer that question in a detailed way, I'd need to take that on notice to find out more about the due diligence the program team applied and come back to you, because the thing I can't emphasise enough is that the Wran allegation, while serious, was reporting matters that had previously been canvassed in other credible bodies by credible authorities, and it wasn't the central thrust of the documentary series. But I'm happy to get more information for you on that and come back to you.

Senator SHELDON: I'm not raising questions about the other parts of the documentary series. I'm specifically looking at this side. You raised the fact that, beyond one alleged witness, Rosemary, there was another assertion that Wran orchestrated that lease going to the Saffron company, and the basis of this assertion was a former police officer, Paul Egge, who was a witness. He alleges he was aware of one tape, from the Age tapes, where Wran was discussed. Now, these tapes have been widely discredited, haven't they, as illegal police recordings and because no tape or transcript has been adduced? Is that correct?

Mr McMurtrie : The program went through all of that—the fact that the tapes, the material, were destroyed.

Senator SHELDON: Isn't it just a situation where, when you make an allegation, the mud sticks? This is an allegation made, and the mud sticks without an appropriate answer to what was actually being said or done by the show and making it clear that the weighing-up of counterviews—and, certainly, just then you rightly drew my attention to counterviews from a broad spectrum of people. There were political opponents of Neville Wran, people who had run-ins with Neville Wran, people who had—personal grudges is the wrong way to say it but, certainly, differences of opinion on numerous occasions, and publicly, and quite ferocious differences of opinion. But they have not suggested that he was corrupt. This program has alleged that he was corrupt.

It does seem deeply concerning to me that those allegations were aired, in light of the fact that there is such a plethora of opinions from a wide cross-section of the community, on all political sides and on business sides, that had a very different experience and a very different knowledge, and are able to support the credibility of Neville Wran as a credible premier who handled his matters diligently. So why did this allegation go to air?

CHAIR: This will be your last question, Senator Sheldon.

Senator SHELDON: What time and resources went into the production of the program, and was there sufficient time and resources to get it right? Did we do proper checks? How many resources did go into the program and looking at this particular item?

Mr McMurtrie : I would need to come back to you with detail on that.

Senator BRAGG: Good afternoon, Mr Anderson. I wanted to pick up on somewhere we've been before, which is in relation to impartiality and governance. Thank you for your extensive answers on the Notice Paper; they're very useful. I might start with social media. When ABC journalists are tweeting about their work at the ABC on their personal Twitter accounts, what is the legal line between what the ABC will stand behind and what it won't?

Mr Anderson : There's a really clear definition that we have, and that is that published material, whether it be television, whether that be radio, whether that be online—and, by that, I mean our official ABC platforms online; so we can have an official platform that is an ABC platform on social—has been through a process. So it's been looked at, whether it's by an editorial manager, upwardly referred if need be, legal advice is sought, ed pols et cetera. When it's someone's personal social media account—that process is not applied to everyone's personal social media account.

Senator BRAGG: It doesn't apply, but the code of conduct applies, doesn't it?

Mr Anderson : That's it. So we are editorially responsible for what we do on our own official platforms. We are not editorially responsible for what our staff do on their personal social media, hence we introduced the code of conduct to capture personal social media late last year and reminded the organisation about this—made it quite clear—on 12 February this year.

Senator BRAGG: So the code of conduct applies for ABC journalists who are tweeting about their work at the ABC?

Mr Anderson : Yes.

Senator BRAGG: On their personal accounts?

Mr Anderson : On their personal social media accounts.

Senator BRAGG: Does that apply to on-air and off-air staff?

Mr Anderson : Yes. Effectively, people should not damage the ABC's reputation for impartiality and independence:

Do not mix the professional and the personal in ways likely to bring the ABC into disrepute.

Do not undermine your effectiveness at work.

and there are a few more.

Senator BRAGG: What is the legal status of the code of conduct? Is it something you're going to consider bringing into the enterprise agreement?

Mr Anderson : We don't have to build the code of conduct into the enterprise agreement. The enterprise agreement deals with a section of the organisation but not all of the organisation. The code of conduct does apply to the whole of the organisation, because, within that, there are standards of behaviour that we expect. It goes beyond—if you read down our code of conduct, I have a copy here for you, it goes into the way we expect people to behave.

Senator BRAGG: And that could result in termination?

Mr Anderson : One of the outcomes is that. But, whatever it is, we do have a process, which is outlined in the employment agreement, that we would need to go through when it came to disciplining someone who breached the code of conduct, or what we would expect as standards.

Senator BRAGG: I assume one of those remedies could be pulling somebody off Twitter?

Mr Anderson : No.

Senator BRAGG: You wouldn't be able to do that?

Mr Anderson : No, we can't supersede people's civil liberties. People don't park all of their civil liberties at the door on the way through, as they come into the ABC. But what we do have is a code of conduct that expects certain behaviour from these people on what is their social media.

Senator BRAGG: I understand that, but the point I'm making is: if I'm an ABC journalist, and I self-identify as an ABC journalist on my public Twitter profile, and I'm covered by the code of conduct, then surely one of the remedies you may have to consider, as you roll out this code, is to take people off Twitter if they are engaging in conduct which is against the code of conduct.

Mr Anderson : On a case-by-case basis, we would deal with any breach we thought might be a breach of the code of conduct. We would investigate that. There isn't an outcome here that is pulling someone off Twitter. That is their own personal choice, which I cannot enforce. We do put guidelines out.

Senator BRAGG: That would be ridiculous—

CHAIR: Order! Senator Bragg, please don't talk over the witness.

Mr Anderson : What we do have is guidelines when it comes to the use of personal social media for work purposes. I can supply those guidelines to you on notice. It might help answer some of your questions with regard to when people are using their personal social media account and whether they should or should not be identifying themselves as working for the ABC.

Senator BRAGG: Let's go to this case you've got at the moment with the legal staff of Mr Maury. Last time you were here we discussed his tweets about the Prime Minister being fascist and whatnot. What is the update on that case?

Mr Anderson : We did an investigation on Mr Maury's tweet. We followed the process. We got to the end of that process and Mr Maury resigned. He no longer works for the ABC.

Senator BRAGG: He resigned. This is, effectively, the first case under the code of conduct, isn't it?

Mr Anderson : I'm not actually sure if it was the first, but there have been occasions now—certainly since the time of sending out the code of conduct from 12 February—where we have performed investigations on people's behaviour and their personal use of social media. As I said, we followed a process. We got to the end of that process and Mr Maury resigned. I will add that Mr Maury was certainly remorseful about that activity on social media. He had an otherwise clean and unblemished record with the ABC. He took the decision to resign at the end of that process.

Senator BRAGG: I think that's important. I want to move on now to the legal review that we discussed last time as well. You provided detailed answers on notice in relation to legal clearance around Four Corners, which is question No. 99. Obviously, I don't expect you to cover any material here which is subject to the court case, but I figured that you provided these answers. Do you have this information?

Mr Anderson : I am quickly looking for it.

Senator BRAGG: Okay. We don't want to bamboozle you or anything. The first question I asked was: did you obtain external legal advice for the November 2020 program? Your answer was that you did. Then I asked about whether or not you had obtained external legal advice in February when you aired the stories. The answer that you've provided the Senate is that you did get external legal advice in November, but not in February. Why was that?

Mr Anderson : I've just found my answer to you. I said:

The 26 February 2021 article was also the subject of legal advice by ABC Legal and considered by the editorial team in the usual manner. That advice is protected by legal professional privilege. ABC Legal did not seek external advice from a barrister in relation to that story.

Senator BRAGG: Why?

Mr Anderson : That was the determination at the time.

Senator BRAGG: Doesn't it seem strange to you that you got internal legal advice on a program, and clearly that gave you some answer, and then you came back with the same material four months later and you didn't get external legal advice and you made a different decision. Is that because you didn't like the external legal advice?

Mr Anderson : When it comes to the matters pertaining to that particular online article and the way in which the production was put together in November last year, I've answered what I can at the moment. But we do have legal proceedings on foot in the Federal Court at the moment where there is a suppression order on the defence that we filed. I cannot, and it would be inappropriate for me to, respond any further to that, given that legal proceedings are on foot at the moment. You're asking me to go to the determinations that were made in the lead-up to that article and beyond what I've already given you, as well as comparison to what the program was in November. It is also mentioned in the statement of claim that we've legal proceedings brought by the former Attorney-General, Christian Porter, that is being heard in the Federal Court at the moment.

Senator BRAGG: You've provided answers on notice.

Mr Anderson : I got advice before I gave you those answers, but that's as much as I can talk about.

Senator BRAGG: So you can't expand on what you provided on notice.

Mr Anderson : No, I cannot.

Senator BRAGG: Is that what your position is?

Mr Anderson : That's what I'm suggesting to you, yes.

CHAIR: You've got 11 seconds, so that's a good spot to finish, Senator Bragg.

Senator SHELDON: There are some very important questions here that I want to ask regarding the matter on the ghost train. One assertion made in the program is that Wran had a social relationship with Abe Saffron. Do you agree with this assertion?

Mr McMurtrie : I don't agree or disagree with the assertion. Like you in that respect, I was a viewer of the program.

Senator SHELDON: What source was relied upon for this assertion? Quite clearly we've got that assertion being made, contrary to all the evidence that we've seen regarding Neville Wran and Abe Saffron. In actual fact, in the book Gentle Satan, which was written by Abe Saffron's son, who was aware of the inner workings of Abe Saffron, he did not make those allegations regarding the ghost train. Doesn't it seem that, again, there's a disconnect? We've political entities, people I would disagree with, but who are respected across the community. I don't agree with their politics, but I agree that they're respected. Then there are people across the business community, many of them respected within the community. We've got the son of someone who might be considered one of the most notorious criminal figures in the history of this country, certainly in the state of New South Wales, who says that Bob Askin was a friend. He also says that a police commissioner was among those who received thousands of dollars a week from Saffron. But there's no suggestion that Neville Wran was involved in this situation with the ghost train.

Mr McMurtrie : I would need to take the question on notice and find out, specifically to your question, about on what basis was that assertion made. I would need to take that on notice.

Senator SHELDON: You've taken on notice what time and resources went into production of the program—

Mr McMurtrie : Yes.

Senator SHELDON: and whether there was sufficient time and resources to get it right and do proper checks. So you'll take it on notice as well.

Mr McMurtrie : Sure, though I'm bound to say that the team that worked on that program has impeccable journalistic credentials. I'm saying that to give you the sort of detailed responses that you clearly want, I'll need to go away and put that material together.

Senator SHELDON: I have no further questions on this matter. Senator Green does.

Senator GREEN: I want to ask some questions about cybersecurity arrangements at ABC. As you would be aware, the Nine Network was hit with a ransomware attack in March, and it reportedly impacted production, live broadcasting arrangements and even newsroom operations. Has the ABC initiated a cybersecurity review following the Nine Network incident?

Mr Anderson : Senator, we already had one underway. We've got quite a big, extensive cyber program that we had already been investing in at the ABC. Certainly, it's something the board is interested in. We've increased our investments. When it comes to the Nine incident itself, yes, we've been in touch with Channel Nine to find out precisely what it was. We've taken action off the back of that, which generally means we've increased our spend. I'm going to bore you. There is something called Splunk—yes, it's real—which we have across our biggest, highest traffic audience products, and we've extended that to the entire system, which is another $500,000. I can tell you that we are working hard to make sure that we've got the highest level of security possible, particularly with our data, which is the trust the Australian people put in us. We're at maturity 4, when it comes to the ASD's maturity level, out of a possible five. We've only just achieved that. To continue at that maturity level, our costs of cybersecurity are going up operationally from $1.7 million in this financial year to $3.9 million next financial year.

Senator GREEN: What were those costs again? I've got some questions them.

Mr Anderson : It is $1.7 million this financial year to $3.9 million next financial year. Frankly, for any media organisation you have to invest into standstill, because the sophistication of the attacks that you see—or I certainly see—on our organisation increases. There is money that you must spend on constantly making sure that you're ahead of that curve. That excludes capital costs as well, I might add, so there's other capital expenditure that goes with it. Certainly, we've been doing a lot of work over the last 18 months, and since the Nine incident we've shared information with each other about how we can fortify ourselves against it.

Senator GREEN: Has the ABC actually experienced a cybersecurity incident in the last two years that's required you to seek assistance from the Australian Cyber Security Centre or notify them of an incident?

Mr Anderson : I'll have to get back to you on notice. Going back two years, I don't think so; nothing notable. We've had our own, when things go wrong, but I don't think we've had—I have to get back to you on notice.

Senator GREEN: Okay. I'm sure it is the case, but I'm wondering whether the Essential Eight strategy set out by ASD is part of the ABC's cybersecurity strategy.

Mr Anderson : Yes. The ASD, with the National Institute of Standards and Technology on, is certainly something. We have been dealing with them in order to achieve that maturity rating that I've just told you about to ensure that we are in fact there. Of course, we are going to have to continue to liaise with them to ensure we stay there. I'm sure the requirements to stay where we are are going to keep increasing.

Senator GREEN: That brings me to the question of funding. The amount of funding that you have is finite, it's stretched a long way, yet the cost of developing these cybersecurity strategies and making sure that you're protected is going up. How are you managing those costs? Have you asked government for more funding for this specific issue?

Mr Anderson : No, Senator. We are doing our best to manage it within our funding envelope. Under legislation, we're required to always be efficient and to look for efficiencies. It's another example of finding an efficiency in one area of the ABC while investing in others that need that investment as a higher priority. We're managing that in the background. Look, it's a big jump from one year to the next. At the moment, we don't see as big a jump from next year to the year after, but it is something that we plan for. We do look to future budgets. We have a 5-year plan. We've costed our 5-year plan over that 5-year period, and things move around.

Senator GREEN: Does that include that amount staying at a similar level over the next five years?

Mr Anderson : I don't see that coming down from where it is at the moment. The best-case scenario would be that it stays where it is.

Senator GREEN: The worst-case scenario is it gets more expensive as you're required to deal with ongoing issues.

Mr Anderson : It comes with being a billion-dollar media organisation that's looking to be in as many places as we are, serving 80 per cent of the country every month. It is just something in the digital age—where you seek to provide as much value as you can to the Australian public—that you need to invest in.

Senator GREEN: Yes. I understand that. It's about pointing out that the costs the ABC are having to outlay are going up, but your funding isn't.

Mr Anderson : No.

Senator GREEN: I've got some questions for you in relation to a recent National Press Club address from the ABC Chair. The ABC Chair remarked that there was a risk to quorum as a result of board vacancies at the ABC. Did the ABC board have to delay or defer any decisions on account of problems with quorum while the board had vacancies?

Mr Anderson : No.

Senator GREEN: Since the minister's recent announcement of three new board members, is the ABC board at its full complement, or are there still vacancies remaining?

Mr Anderson : It's my understanding that we don't have any vacancies remaining now, with the appointment of three new board directors. So we have a full complement.

Senator GREEN: Mr Anderson, in the context of three new board members, could you outline for the committee what the ABC does to ensure that the duties and obligations under the ABC Act are met by those ABC board members? In particular, is there an induction process that they go through so that they know what their obligations are and what the ABC's obligations are? You have a lot of them. Is there a training course that's run by certain people in the organisation just to get everyone on the board up to speed with what's expected of the ABC board?

Mr Anderson : We do. We provide new board members with a fact pack with regard to the ABC with relevant information about our structure, our cost, where all the expenditure is, the audiences we serve, audience information—the key points. It's quite a detailed pack. We also provide things like our corporate governance statement and the board charter. There is a PGPA briefing, which is a legal briefing with regard to obligations of the board under that act, as well as the ABC Act. So, yes, we do provide an induction, if you like, for new board members. Anything further on that would be up to the chair to answer. But we certainly make sure that new board members understand their obligations.

Senator GREEN: Does that includes independence—

CHAIR: Sorry, Senator Green. That's the end of your block.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Mr Anderson, there's been some commentary in relation to a petition that Australian journalists, media workers and writers have signed in relation to fair reporting on Palestine and Israel. Are you aware of that open letter?

Mr Anderson : Yes, I am.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: It's been asserted by some people who have signed this letter and organised this that reporters at the ABC were encouraged to not sign it. Are you aware of that?

Mr Anderson : I think that, on inquiry—this is my understanding—some reporters that sought advice were reminded, along the lines of our use of personal social media, that they should not do anything that otherwise compromises their ability to be seen to be impartial when reporting any matter. As to whether our people were actively getting in touch with reporters, I don't know of that.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So you're saying some ABC staff—journalists or other roles—sought advice as to whether they were able to put their name on a letter. Is that what you're saying to me?

Mr Anderson : That was my understanding. I don't know who, but that was my understanding.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Okay.

Mr Anderson : So I can't give names, and I don't know—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I'm not asking for names. I guess I'm just asking for clarification as to whether there was any direction given to staff not to sign this letter.

Mr Anderson : I know of no direction, no.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Okay. Has it been raised at a management level?

Mr Anderson : Yes, we have discussed it. We've looked at—along the lines of, as I said before, use of personal social media—people's names appearing on a petition, particularly. I don't think any of our staff are compromised in any way. Judge people by what it is that they publish and what it is that we present the Australian people and what we do officially. I think that's how people should be judged. And I think our reporting is of the highest standard and we hold ourselves to account. So the fact that people have made their own choice as individuals to put their name on that petition is one thing. But I think they should be judged on their reporting.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Just to be clear, what you're saying to me, then, is there has been no direction to stop people from signing this open letter. Do I take it from that there's been no disciplinary action for people who have?

Mr Anderson : No. I have not issued a direction, and I know not of any of my team that have either, when it comes to not signing that petition. Certainly no disciplinary action has been taken by anyone who put their name to it.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have you received any concerns or complaints—and perhaps this is from an editorial perspective—internally about the coverage that the ABC has given to the recent terrible activities and violence in the Gaza Strip?

Mr Anderson : Have we had complaints? Yes. I went through those before. We've had 57 editorial complaints overall with regard to this terrible situation that's happening overseas; 29 complaints have alleged particular coverage was pro-Palestine—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Sorry, Mr Anderson. Are these external complaints?

Mr Anderson : External complaints to the ABC.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: My question is: have there been any internal complaints in relation to the coverage?

Mr Anderson : Not that I know of.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is that something you—

Mr McMurtrie : Not that I'm aware of, no.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Rennick.

Senator RENNICK: Hi, guys. How are you going?

Mr Anderson : Well, thank you.

Senator RENNICK: Okay. Last time I asked a question about the difference in treatment of Bill Shorten and Christian Porter in regards to rape allegations. At the time of the Bill Shorten allegation, the ABC reserved judgement. The journalist didn't make any comments. That's in complete contrast to the way Christian Porter was treated.

CHAIR: Senator Rennick, could you still refer to them by their correct titles.

Senator RENNICK: Yes. Christian Porter—who—isn't that—what do I call—

CHAIR: It's Mr Porter and—

Senator RENNICK: Mr Porter, sorry, and Mr Shorten. So that was in complete contrast to the way Mr Porter was treated. I said, 'Why was there a different treatment?' The ABC has come back and said: 'The circumstances around the two cases varied in significant ways. The fact that the complaint against the Honourable Bill Shorten was a lie and there was a police investigation, as well as other legal and editorial issues, made the story difficult to report fully until Mr Shorten identified himself publicly.' I disagree with that. They both involved rape and they both involved the presumption of innocence. Regardless of the details, there's a standard in this country called 'the presumption of innocence'. In my view, the treatment of Christian Porter on Twitter by ABC journalists—and other journalists—was outside your so-called guidelines that you spoke about earlier. I don't accept the answer that the cases were different. What are you going to do about journalists reporting on criminal allegations that are as yet unproven or untested in court?

Mr Anderson : Of course we have editorial policies and guidelines when it comes to how to report such incidents. I can't be drawn into exact details in regard to former Attorney-General Christian Porter.

Senator RENNICK: My question is around the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and the way you report on the presumption of innocence.

Mr Anderson : I think that's important. I myself, when I presented to you last time, suggested that Mr Porter is entitled to a presumption of innocence. I absolutely believe that to be correct. When it comes to Twitter activity, specifically in regard to Mr Porter, I can't respond to that. I have to claim a public interest immunity in regard to the fact that that's before the Federal Court at the moment—and that will no doubt be part of the proceedings. I agree with you that people should be provided the presumption of innocence.

Senator RENNICK: It happened again just recently with Mr Laming when he was interviewed by Patricia Karvelas. She asked him certain questions about allegations against him. Some of those allegations have been proven to be completely false. They are so false as to be ridiculous—allegations around upskirting, when the woman wasn't even wearing a skirt. Mr Laming said, 'I said to you prior to the interview that I can't talk about this because it's under legal stuff.' Ms Karvelas replied, 'Are you threatening me on national radio?' Don't you think that was a juvenile comment to make and, yet again, showed a lack of respect for the presumption of innocence? There seems to be a habit by ABC journalists of going after conservative politicians for the sake of it and not really respecting the presumption of innocence.

Mr Anderson : On the broad statement at the end there, I don't believe that's the case. When it comes to that particular interview, I didn't see it. So I can't comment on that. If you provide me the details of when that was, I will take that on notice and respond to you on it.

Senator RENNICK: Do you think the ABC should have an external independent reviewer of your conduct rather than reviewing itself, as it currently does?

Mr Anderson : I had that question before; it was referred to as having a separate ombudsman. My answer is no, I don't think we need one. We had our complaints unit reviewed externally by the ANAO in 2018. I would welcome another review if somebody thought that was a good idea.

Senator RENNICK: Given that you're in court for a couple of these instances—

CHAIR: Senator Rennick, please don't talk over the witness.

Senator RENNICK: I'd disagree with that.

Mr Anderson : We have a regulator in ACMA, which people can go to as well. On the fact that we are in court: again, a statement of claim has been brought against the ABC and we are defending it, as is our right. We align with being a model litigant. We are not bound by that. We have independence from it but we do align with it. We do have a right to defend ourselves and we're defending ourselves.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Anderson. Senator Rennick, your time has expired. Senator Hanson-Young, you can have one very quick supplementary question.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you, Chair. Mr Anderson, does the ABC have a specific style guide to direct journalists and your staff as to how to report and publish information in relation to Israel and Palestine?

Mr Anderson : Anything regarding a style guide, I would suggest, is our editorial policies, which we ask and demand that our journalists abide by. There are certain guidelines that go with that. Mr McMurtrie, is there anything you'd like to add?

Mr McMurtrie : We provide guidance, particularly on a story like the big one we just had recently. We provide guidance every day directly to journalists working on stories. And sometimes, when we need to clarify something, we will issue a note—if that's what you're referring to.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: There's no specific guideline?

Mr McMurtrie : There isn't a standing document which deals with reporting just that one particular issue, no.

Proceedings suspended from 18:15 to 19:15

Senator GREEN: Before the break, I was asking about ABC board appointments and what is involved in making sure that those people understand their obligations. Is the independence of the ABC and their role in upholding the ABC's independence included in the induction process?

Mr Anderson : It is. In the break, I was reminded that in the upcoming ABC board meeting on 9 June we have somebody from the Department of Finance attending the board meeting to provide that briefing to not only the new board members but existing board members as well. It will include independence.

Senator GREEN: Is the confidentiality of board deliberations part of the briefing?

Mr Anderson : It is, yes.

Senator GREEN: On board confidentiality, on 1 April 2019 the inquiry by this committee into the allegations of political interference in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation followed the conclusion of Michelle Guthrie's and Justin Milne's appointments to the ABC board. The committee reported with the following recommendation:

Recommendation 5

3.39 The committee recommends the ABC Board formally review these events, including the findings of this inquiry, and report to the Minister on lessons learned and steps taken to guard against a similar occurrence in future.

What, if anything, has the ABC board or the ABC done to reflect the lessons learnt through that process, particularly in relation to that recommendation to guard against similar occurrences in the future?

Mr Anderson : The board considered the findings of the inquiry report and various steps were implemented, particularly having regard to recommendation 5. They included a corporate governance statement, which was completed in June 2019 and has a comprehensive outline of the governance framework of the ABC. The board also revised its charter in October 2019. We obtained a PGPA briefing in April 2019, which was by then first secretary of the Department of Finance Lembit Suur. We also made sure that we had a deputy chair through the process, that was otherwise through the minister, to make sure there was a deputy chair of the board, because at the time of the incident we didn't have a deputy chair. The other one was deeds of access and indemnity. With the approval of Minister Fletcher the ABC entered into deeds of access and indemnity with each director in December 2019. That is something that we've done. Amongst ourselves under the leadership of the chair, I think we will have advice with regard to obligations under the PGPA when we need them. That will be periodic, but certainly we have it scheduled for 9 June.

Senator GREEN: Given all that work you've done, can you confirm for me that, now, as a general rule, it would be a breach of board confidentiality for an ABC board member to relay ABC board deliberations to a minister or the Prime Minister without prior knowledge of the board.

Mr Anderson : I think that would probably constitute a breach, but it would depend if there was permission provided by the chair to do so. While I'm a member of the board, I'm not a non-executive director—obviously they meet privately—so I can't attest to whether that has happened in the past or not.

Senator GREEN: I'm not asking whether it has happened just whether it would be a breach of the board's confidentiality.

Mr Anderson : I think it would depend on the matter itself and, as I said, whether or not there was permission provided by the board for that to happen.

Senator GREEN: That's the key element, isn't it—the permission of the board to disclose those deliberations?

Mr Anderson : Specifically the chair, yes.

Senator GREEN: Would it be a breach of the ABC's independence to relay information from a board meeting, without the prior knowledge of the board, to a minister or the Prime Minister?

Mr Anderson: I'm not sure about it being a breach of independence. I certainly see a breach of independence as government interference with the board and the direction, which I have not seen since I've been in the position that I'm in, either acting or appointed. So I don't have an answer for you as to whether it would be a breach of independence. If that were to happen—if deliberations were to be revealed—you would certainly want that to be with the permission of the board and the chair.

Senator GREEN: Is ABC management aware of federal government advice, via an APS circular, that Commonwealth employers are required to provide the greatest support possible to assist employees seeking to be vaccinated for COVID-19, including providing employees with paid time to get vaccinated?

Mr Anderson: I am aware of that advice, yes.

Senator GREEN: Is the ABC's advice to staff who want to receive a COVID vaccine consistent with that circular?

Mr Anderson: I don't know whether we've provided specific advice on it. Having seen that direction—and I have also seen something circulated by the CPSU today, I think—what we'll do is respond, to ensure people know that we want to provide as much flexibility as possible for people to get vaccinated. I did ask the question, 'Could we host vaccinations on our bigger sites?' The answer came back: 'No.' What we can do is to be flexible with regard to people needing, if they're unable to organise a vaccination in their own time, discretionary leave to take time away from work to get a vaccination.

Senator GREEN: That was a complicated way of explaining it! So you have given a direction?

Mr Anderson : I haven't given a direction to all staff, no. But, being aware of that recommendation, we will build that into—like all organisations, through the pandemic we've had to build procedures and guidelines for staff along the way. This is something we will add to that. We've previously provided discretionary leave for people for other things, and we will provide discretionary leave for people to take time off work if they need to get vaccinated.

Senator GREEN: I appreciate that you're not required to comply with that direction, or that circular, from the government. But it sets a pretty good standard for staff who work for the Public Service—

Mr Anderson : I agree.

Senator GREEN: not just as model employers but also as people who are maintaining critical services, of which I would consider the ABC to be one, during COVID. Are you going to provide ABC staff with paid time to get vaccinated?

Mr Anderson : Yes. As I said, discretionary leave means people will be paid and we won't deduct annual leave for them to do it. I know there was a claim made this week—I don't know where that came from—but we'll make it quite clear that we want to support people getting vaccinated.

Senator GREEN: That means, essentially, that they could schedule an appointment to go and get a COVID vaccine during their work hours—obviously workload management would be part of the equation, but I assume everyone could work around that—and that would be on paid time?

Mr Anderson : Yes. I would want that to happen. I would want there to be a sensible conversation about whether someone could go off and get vaccinated. If that were able to happen during work time, then we would provide leave for them in order to go and get vaccinated, yes.

Senator GREEN: And there's no situation where you would ask them to prove that they couldn't get an appointment outside of work hours?

Mr Anderson : No.

Senator GREEN: We want to get as many people as possible vaccinated. If it's convenient to get it during the day, then—

Mr Anderson : Yes. I know, by trying to book myself, that they are generally only available between 8.00 and 6.00.

Senator GREEN: Yes, that's kind of how it's working for most people. Alright. That's good news. Can I also ask about foreign bureaus, Mr Anderson? How many foreign bureaus do you have at the moment?

Mr Anderson : For some of them, we don't have correspondents in because of the pandemic. I'll confirm on notice for you, but I believe we have 11 foreign bureaus at the moment. I will confirm that on notice to you.

Senator GREEN: On notice, could you provide a list of where they're at at the moment, as well?

Mr Anderson : Sure.

Senator GREEN: How many foreign bureaus did the ABC have in 2013?

Mr Anderson : Again, I'll provide that to you on notice. I wasn't in the position I'm in now, so I wouldn't be able to do that without checking.

Senator GREEN: Okay. But is it— has it increased?

Mr Anderson : I can't tell you, Senator. I don't know.

Senator GREEN: You don't have those figures? Okay.

CHAIR: Senator, your time's up.

Senator GREEN: I just have one last question, then I don't have to come back to this.

CHAIR: Okay.

Senator GREEN: The annual report in 2020 states that, 'To cover the year's biggest international political stories, ABC International established a pop-up bureau in Hong Kong.' 'It involved rotating teams from ABC Asia's bureau and Australia to provide nearly six months of ongoing coverage of the protests, and all of the things that were impacting Australians that were happening there.'

Before we head off to other questions, can I quickly understand what the ABC learned from that experience: whether that was something that you are intending on doing again—having a pop-up bureau in a location for a temporary period where there's world events happening that need to be reported on—and how ABC staff were treated during the protests. I'm also seeking to understand the interaction of your staff with social media channels while that was happening. It's a lot of questions, but I want to get through them.

Mr Anderson : It is. I'll provide answers to you on notice. What I will say is that, when we do have international events that are of significance, we will generally send reporters—foreign correspondents—and bolster our presence. We did that with the US elections and, as you say, with Hong Kong. Right now, in Gaza, we've got Nick Dole and a camera operator out of London to go and join Tom Joyner to bolster our presence there—to be able to expand our coverage, effectively. Of course, we're hampered at the moment with the pandemic and being able to locate people in other places, as well as being able to move them around. But I will provide a substantial answer to that on notice.

Senator GREEN: Okay. In particular, my question—in terms of taking this on notice—was about the treatment of ABC staff on the ground during the protests; if there were any incidents that you need to let us know about.

Mr Anderson : We gave them all the support we could through our foreign desk—

CHAIR: Take that on notice, please, Mr Anderson. That'd be great.

Senator BRAGG: I have a couple more lines of questioning, Mr Anderson. Firstly, are you aware of the ownership of The New Daily?

Mr Anderson : It is owned by Solstice Media, I think.

Senator BRAGG: Are you aware of the real owner of this organisation?

Mr Anderson : Industry Super.

Senator BRAGG: Industry Super Holdings? Are you aware of the principal activities of Industry Super Holdings?

Mr Anderson : I'll say no, I'm not, other than to look after industry super funds.

Senator BRAGG: Maybe I can help you a little bit. The principal activity appears to be to be around lobbying and marketing of super and industry super. The reason I'm asking you this is because one of your—is Mr Kohler an employee or a contractor?

Mr Anderson : Mr Kohler is a contractor of ours.

Senator BRAGG: He's a contractor? Okay. You may know that Mr Kohler is working for the ABC and also The New Daily, which is owned by Industry Super Holdings. Are you aware that he recently produced a four-part series for 7:30, I think it was?

Mr Anderson : Yes.

Senator BRAGG: I guess the reason I'm asking you these questions is: someone who's well-credentialed in finance and economics—no question—but is working for a lobbyist organisation, has produced a four-part series for the ABC on the exact issue that he is working as a lobbyist on. How does that work?

Mr Anderson : I think Mr Kohler's experience and credibility speaks for itself.

Senator BRAGG: Yes.

Mr Anderson : The quality of what Mr Kohler's has done has always been outstanding and respected. Mr Kohler is conscious—as a contractor who previously worked for News Corp and now works for The New Daily, as well as for the ABC—as we are, that, if there are any conflicts that he may have, they need to be brought to our attention and managed. So we are satisfied that there is clear separation of duty in what Mr Kohler is doing. The series he did was in conjunction with our 7.30 team, led by Justin Stevens as executive producer. So I have no concern over Mr Kohler's reporting for that four-part series on 7.30.

Senator BRAGG: All of our conversations at Senate estimates have been on this theme of impartiality and the potential for conflict of interest or professionalism. My concern is that, if you have someone who is working for a lobbyist organisation—it is not a traditional media outfit; it is a lobbyist outfit—and producing content on that exact topic for the ABC, then that presents a real conflict of interest for the ABC.

Mr Anderson : I think that, where there is any potential conflict, it needs to be managed. We will certainly judge Mr Kohler by the quality of what is being produced. There is nothing of concern to me that is in that four-part series for 7.30. I think his expertise speak for itself. We will go for the best quality journalism. Yes, he is also contracted by The New Daily and possibly elsewhere at other mastheads. So, again, I think his expertise—

Senator BRAGG: Do you think there is a conflict or not?

Mr Anderson : Sorry?

Senator BRAGG: You don't think there is a conflict?

Mr Anderson : I think there is a perceived conflict of interest that could exist that needs to be managed. I think that it is being managed and I think Mr Kohler is open and transparent about what he is doing. He does one thing for The New Daily and another thing for the ABC.

Senator BRAGG: Okay, because in that series on superannuation, the four-part series, Mr Kohler used statistics from Industry Super Holdings Australia, not stats from Treasury or ASIC. As a government organisation, I would have thought that you would be using public data, not the data provided by the related party lobbyist that he is working with. Is that an example of the conflict?

Mr Anderson : No. I think the team, and Mr Kohler, will go about their reporting as they see fit. We have received one complaint on that series—

Senator BRAGG: That wasn't from me, was it?

Mr Anderson : and it didn't concern Industry Super Holdings or The New Daily.

Senator BRAGG: I guess the question is, if a person is working for the cigarette industry or the vaping industry and he is working for a media outlet run by vapers, could they publish a story for the ABC?

Mr Anderson : To answer your hypothetical question, I would say that the requirements for people who are employed by the ABC, either full-time, part-time, by casual engagement or as a contactor, have requirements—legislative requirements—with regard to impartiality and accuracy on what it is that we publish. I think we want everyone to be transparent about where else they work, and the potential conflicts that need to be managed. No, I don't like the particular example that you just put to me. I don't think I'm equating Industry Super Holdings to tobacco here, but I am confident in the quality of Alan Kohler's work, and I don't think there is any concern in what he is publishing, or in what we are publishing that stems from Alan Kohler's work.

Senator BRAGG: So is there any other work that the ABC is going to do to put some safeguards around this relationship? Because this is not normal media organisation; this is a lobbying business.

Mr Anderson : The New Daily, I'm sure, consider themselves a publisher of news and information. Yes, we have safeguards in place with regard to this. We have a conflict of interest policy, which we ask people to adhere to. Mr Kohler is aware of that, and we're managing it.

Senator BRAGG: Can you provide on notice exactly what you're going to do to manage this conflict of interest? I don't mind if it's you restating your exact policy, but I would like to see how that works in practice, because I think this is a unique situation that you seem to have been put into again after you unbundled yourself from the New Daily, so I'm interested in seeing how you are going to manage that. Do I have time for one more?

CHAIR: Yes, you do.

Senator BRAGG: Great. I also want to talk to you about another matter. Don't worry, it's not about super. It's about these complaints that I've been writing to you about that you've upheld two of. These are to do with business journalists in the ABC who've covered issues like JobKeeper and also responsible lending reforms. What is the consequence for your business journalists when they are repeatedly making errors which are breaching the editorial standards and you are happy to make corrections.

Mr Anderson : You're specifically referring to your complaint around JobKeeper with regard to—

Senator BRAGG: JobKeeper to dead people, which wasn't true, and also responsible lending laws.

Mr Anderson : It depends. It depends on the breach and the severity of the breach. In every example, certainly the journalist is spoken to. In some instances, training is provided. That can be to a team or it can be to an individual. In its end form, particularly if a journalist brings the ABC into disrepute, we are then in code-of-conduct territory, as discussed earlier.

Senator BRAGG: So we're back to that.

Mr Anderson : We could be. It depends on what the error is. If we get to specifics, there was one with regard to JobKeeper applications. That took us some time to correct, which was too long to correct. We did not get the complaint for a month and we did not make clear that the ATO's investigations into employers' JobKeeper claims for potentially fictitious employees were happening at the application stage, prior to JobKeeper papers being made. It was an error, it was a mistake, and certainly the journalist would have been spoken to about it. I can, if you wish, defer to Mr McMurtrie, who, as editorial director, does actually follow through and follows up with those things.

Senator BRAGG: I think that would be good, because I've had to write to you twice about these matter, and I'd prefer not to have to write again, so I'm interested in what happens now.

Mr McMurtrie : It does come down to the specifics of each situation. In the financial counselling story, it was omission of context and the need to include more from the Banking Association and, I think, some comments from the Treasurer. The situation in the moment was that the journalist was assigned a story and he filed the story, and then he was assigned other stories and he went off and did those stories, and he didn't get back to provide the context.

Senator BRAGG: That's not a very good answer.

Mr McMurtrie : Well, it's the truth. Then, when we revisit these things, we update and always seek to add context. So, when the complaint was received, audience and consumer affairs took a look at the story, and the context was added in that situation. It clearly would have been better had that context been in the original version of the story. On the JobKeeper issue, the managing director has already spoken to that. It was based on an FOI dig and an interpretation that was put on the story where somebody in the audience, a reader, could have assumed we were talking about actual payments rather than the applications process, and there was a full correction. In the case of the JobMaker complaint, audience and consumer affairs didn't uphold that.

Senator BRAGG: I hope this is the end of this matter. I hope you can provide some assurance that this won't happen again.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Bragg. Senator Pratt.

Senator PRATT: Can you please give me an outline of what the ABC is currently doing to support media literacy here in Australia?

Mr Anderson : We held a summit—from memory; I will confirm this on notice for you. We did something a couple of years back around media literacy. Certainly ABC Education is on our website and is available for educators, parents and carers with regard to aligning our content to the school curriculum. A component of that is media literacy, and, as I said, that is available to educators. We do do that. That is just an initial answer, but I can confirm more—

Senator PRATT: Have you got any official or informal partnerships in that regard? The curriculum one is a partnership with whom?

Mr Anderson : We have had a couple of partnerships. During the pandemic we had partnerships with the state department of education and I think we've had federal department of education—I know we certainly partner with them from time to time, depending on what it is that we are doing. I can certainly confirm that with you on notice.

Senator PRATT: Do you align your work in those media literacy initiatives with any misinformation initiatives that we have had some discussion of within department of communications today?

Mr Anderson : I am not sure of the discussions you have had with the department of communications today. But, again, I am happy to respond on notice for you.

Senator PRATT: So there's no formal alignment between what media literacy is, which might include issues of misinformation? Is misinformation included in your education material around literacy?

Mr Anderson : It is. On our corporate website, you will find media literacy as a topic, which does do that.

Senator PRATT: Do you have any specific funding for that purpose?

Mr Anderson : No, we don't. I will note that we are required to inform, educate and entertain. We have educative program material, and we have education which is where we specifically say, 'This is aligned to that school curriculum', as I mentioned before.

Senator PRATT: BTN, which is of course, Behind The News, which I think has been around since I was in school. How long has it been? Around 50 years or so?

Mr Anderson : Yes, 50 years, I believe. It's the second-oldest running current affairs program we have.

Senator PRATT: To what extent is their material and programming integrated with education curriculums?

Mr Anderson : Quite often it is referred to. BTN is located in our news division. It is geographically located in Adelaide. The head of education is otherwise in our entertainment specialist division, which is located in Melbourne. They will collaborate quite a bit between themselves and our children's department so that we will leverage off what we are doing.

Senator PRATT: So media is a reasonably popular subject at high school in the context of both studying English literature but also looking at media content, and media literacy is an important component of that. Has that been included in a scheduled review of the Australian curriculum that is currently underway?

Mr Anderson : As I said, in the last update I got, over 4,000 assets were otherwise mapped to the school curriculum. I've just been advised that our head of education has recently taken over as chair of the Australian Media Literacy Alliance. I think that certainly the information that we have on our website with regard to that will answer a lot of your questions. I will, of course, answer that on notice.

Senator PRATT: It's good to have a formal answer on that review specifically. I'd now quickly like to ask some questions on the government's Media Reform Green Paper. Are you able to update the committee on the ABC's views of the green paper?

Mr Anderson : We will be shortly submitting our submission to the green paper. We had hoped to have done that earlier this week. It will happen, I think, later this week. Our views—there are quite a few actually, so it's quite a long paper and it's quite a detailed submission back. For a start, as I said before, I think the green paper is certainly a good conversation to be having. It's a good discussion to be having. It's about the sustainability of the sector. I think that there's always a starting point. The green paper's a starting point. I think that there are elements within that that the ABC would disagree with—content quotas is one of them, and concerns that we have over spectrum allocation in that—

Senator PRATT: When you say concerns with content quotas, what do you mean? Are you for or against them? The green paper takes a particular approach to them. What's the critique of the ABC of the position in the paper?

Mr Anderson : I think content quotas being applied to the ABC, and SBS for that matter, are unnecessary. I worry that it is impeding on our operational independence—not editorial independence but operational independence—in that it is effectively directing our funding to a certain outcome. I could go to many different areas of content quotas in that you're applying that to future broadcast, which is on demand. What you're looking to do is ensure that high-quality Australian content telling Australian stories that reflect us as a country is an important thing to do and important to spend on. We're the biggest commissioner of Australian drama and comedy and children's in this country and we'll continue to be. It's an element of budget, not of intent. I think though that what the paper is looking for is policy solutions that sustain the sector, which is important, and I just don't think that's the right lever to pull. I think there are—

Senator PRATT: But, if it's an in-principle lever to encourage all broadcasters to create content, is it applied fairly to the ABC or unfairly?

Mr Anderson : It's described as regulatory harmonisation. I think taking it off the commercials and applying it to the public broadcasters—in the ABC's case, we're already exceeding what otherwise the commercial broadcaster, the commercial free-to-air, would be doing. So what you're doing is just reducing the overall spend with the sector. And that's the—

Senator PRATT: Is the ABC's issue not only with your own obligations but also how they relate to obligations with other broadcasters?

Mr Anderson : I think you look at the industry as a whole, but I do worry about the ABC specifically.

Senator PRATT: Of course.

Mr Anderson : I can't speak on behalf of the whole industry, although I have an interest in it. I think what you want to ensure is that we continue to commission content from this country about this country for this country and have concern for losing what it is to be distinctly Australian, because you otherwise have international outfits doing it here for an international audience.

Senator PRATT: Yes, I've certainly noticed those trends as a viewer myself.

Mr Anderson : My concerns extend to spectrum and, with regard to commercial, the possibility that commercial networks will determine the spectrum allocation for both ABC and SBS, but I also worry about prominence. Prominence is an issue both here and overseas. It's being tackled in the UK; also in Canada. And with proliferation of certainly of smart TVs that turn up with apps that are preloaded by the tech companies thinking that they will otherwise dictate to begin with, as a default setting, where you would go for content, it's a bit of a barrier for people then to be able to find what is freely available to them here in Australia. So, prominence is important. I can provide this on notice at some point, but I would like the department and the minister to see our submission first. In the UK Ofcom undertook a comprehensive review of this. So has CRTC in Canada. They are effectively putting obligations for prominence in their country when it comes to free-to-air television or on-demand, depending on the service.

So they're some of the concerns that we have with the green paper. I will say, for the green paper, that we're offering solutions to this as well. So whether it's MPEG4 versus MPEG2, the spectrum or prominence, we're trying to be constructive in our response to help the sector in general, the department and the minister form a view.

Senator ABETZ: Last estimates, on page 91 of the Hansard, I asked:

If you can let us know who authorised the payment and who made the approach to Mr Sullivan and how all that was organised in some considerable—

and the Hansard has the word 'decision' instead of 'precision'. I don't think I've got answers to that, so could I invite you to provide that to me—with considerable precision—on notice, please?

Going back to the bonus of $55,000: are you able to tell us whether that was paid for journalistic endeavour or for administrative skills? Without mentioning the person, are you able to tell us what the great endeavour was that was worthy of this huge bonus worth some 11, 12 or 13 Cartier watches?

Mr Anderson : The decisions we make with regard to this aren't taken lightly. It was certainly not for administrative endeavour.

Senator ABETZ: Was it for journalistic endeavour? What was the endeavour that was deemed so worthy?

Mr Anderson : I do not wish to have speculation run rife, certainly in the media—

Senator ABETZ: That's why speculation is running—because you won't tell us.

Mr Anderson : No. I think that to narrow that down would otherwise start to reveal a list of people that it could have been. Under our employment agreement, it is possible for highly-paid staff to receive bonuses. When it comes to bonuses across the ABC, (1) they're baked into our employment agreement—

Senator ABETZ: If you're not going to tell us, don't wind down the clock, but please don't lecture us about the right to know.

CHAIR: Mr Anderson, can I just point out, from the opening statement of Senate estimates, that the Senate has resolved that there are no areas in connection with the expenditure of public funds where any person has a discretion to withhold details or explanations from the parliament or its committees unless the parliament has expressly provided otherwise—that means a PII. If you want to make a PII on that, you need to make that claim. Otherwise, you need to provide the answer to Senator Abetz.

Mr Anderson : I wish to claim a PII on that, please.

CHAIR: You need to set out the grounds and the harm for that.

Senator ABETZ: I look forward to the explanation that's provided on that. Before the break, you were answering questions from one of my colleagues about the difference between a private Twitter account and somebody doing something on an ABC Twitter account; is that correct?

Mr Anderson : I was referring to ABC social media platforms—so that could be a Facebook account, Instagram—

Senator ABETZ: But somebody doing something on their private Twitter?

Mr Anderson : On their personal Twitter account? Yes.

Senator ABETZ: And that that was to be considered differently?

Mr Anderson : Yes. We are not editorially responsible for an individual on their personal Twitter account.

Senator ABETZ: I'm sure Israel Folau will be very interested to hear that approach being taken—that's editorial. Allow me to move on to whether or not you're aware of the existence of a letter that has circulated amongst journalists calling for a change to the way the conflict between Israel and Palestine has been reported.

Mr Anderson : Yes. Was this the petition?

Senator ABETZ: You're aware of that letter? Thank you. The letter argues that media reporting on these issues presents 'the same discredited spokespeople', relies on 'passive formulations and weasel words (clashes, etc)' and fails to 'make space for Palestinian perspectives'. Do you agree that this is how the ABC reports on Israel and the Palestinian territories?

Mr Anderson : No.

Senator ABETZ: You don't? Good. Now, there are a number of ABC staff members who have signed that letter. I'm just wondering whether they have passed on that concern to ABC management—that they are of the view that this is the style of reporting which they have signed off on?

Mr Anderson : I think those people have put their names against that petition as individuals not representing or presuming to speak for the ABC.

Senator ABETZ: Have there been any directives by ABC management in relation to the coverage of the conflict?

Mr Anderson : Yes. We have provided advice—

Senator ABETZ: Is that written?

Mr Anderson : I might defer to Mr McMurtrie.

Senator ABETZ: If it's written, you can provide it to us on notice; that'd be very helpful. If it's not written, you can provide us with a written description of that which was provided verbally. Do you think it's appropriate for ABC editorial staff to be signing an open letter of this nature?

Mr Anderson : These are people acting as individuals. Where I get concerned is: if it's an individual that has to report on the matter impartially, it's problematic. If it is a name on a petition they are exercising their own judgement for, I'd want to see that their reporting is impartial and accurate, as it should be.

Senator ABETZ: Let's move to the actual reporting of the conflict. There's a Ms Zena Chamas. At first glance, her article appears impartial; she's gone to three Palestinians and three Jewish people commenting. One of the Jewish people is the Executive Council of Australian Jewry CEO, Alex Ryvchin, but the other two are Jewish but both publicly reject the expression of Israel as the Jewish homeland. So it's hardly a balance of three Palestinians, three Jewish; it's in fact three Palestinians, one Jewish person who supports the Israel side and two others of Jewish ethnicity who are opposed to the claim of Israel being the Jewish homeland. So it's really five against one. How do we claim that that is somehow providing balance?

Mr Anderson : I'll defer to Mr McMurtrie, because I think he's looked at the story.

Mr McMurtrie : I have. As I'm sure you know, it's an extremely complex issue and there isn't one Jewish view, just as there isn't necessarily one Palestinian view.

Senator ABETZ: How many various Palestinian views were therefore provided, and how many Palestinian views were provided condemning the Palestinian action? We know the answer, don't we? Zero. So my point remains, does it not?

Mr McMurtrie : It's one story in hundreds of stories that have been filed on this issue.

Senator ABETZ: And was there balance in that story, when you have five against one?

Mr McMurtrie : We don't start from a proposition that says that, on any issue, there must be perfect balance. The importance is that we get the balance of perspectives right over time. You can't include every facet on every story and every source. It's just not feasible.

Senator ABETZ: But it is in every story that emanates in relation to Israel. Let's get to ABC Middle East correspondent Tom Joyner. He told us via tweet that he would stop using the word 'clashes' because of concerns by pro-Palestinian activists that the word 'clashes' implies conflict between two parties and removes agency, allowing blame to implicitly be spread evenly amongst those involved. Mr Joyner, to explain his decision, said, 'Israel have been the instigators of virtually all the violence during recent weeks.' Mr Joyner seems to studiously avoid reporting Hamas political bureau member, Fathi Hammad, a former interior minister, who was filmed last week shouting at a rally, 'People of Jerusalem, we want you to cut off the heads of the Jews with knives.' Hamad even pointed at his throat to show just where to stab and said 'cut their artery from here. A knife costs five shekels. Buy a knife, sharpen it, put it there, and just cut off their heads'. He also said the Jews have spread 'corruption' and have acted 'with arrogance' and their moment of reckoning has come. We don't seem to be able in our balanced reporting from the Middle East to report these facts. Why not?

Mr McMurtrie : I'm not familiar with the detail that you just read out. I would need to look at it. I will come back to you.

CHAIR: We will come back to you if there is time.

Senator GREEN: I just want to ask about some decisions that are happening in relation to outside broadcast van vehicles. The ABC, I understand, has invited an external supplier to tender to the future provision of outside broadcast vehicles. Why is ABC tendering potential future provisions? Has it got something to do with budget cuts or efficiencies?

Mr Anderson : It is prioritisation. We once had a fleet of eight outside broadcast vans and the major van, an expandable Pantech semitrailer. We have over time reduced our amount of outside broadcasts. We moved away from state coverage sport some time ago now and have not been replacing those vans over time. We have been diverting capital towards technology. We're down to two vans. We have just recently put in automation at the National Press Club, so the van that was there in Canberra doesn't need to go anymore. It is an efficiency. We only have a certain amount of capital. We have a certain amount of utilisation. We're not reducing that utilisation into the future but we are better served by going to an external provider, as we do now on some other occasions, but just do it all up.

Senator GREEN: You say 'better served' but what will be the impact on staff with these changes?

Mr Anderson : There will be minimal impact on staff. Something we are looking at is what sort of impact there will be. We do not have standing armies of people who are otherwise doing outside broadcast; people are multi-skilled. They are working in studios and at outside broadcasts and it is the same for the technical staff as well. We don't know what the impact will be of that yet.

Senator GREEN: You said you don't have armies of staff but you have some staff.

Mr Anderson : Yes.

Senator GREEN: Are those staff predominantly involved with the broadcast trucks or do they work sometimes in, for example, the studio, sometimes on roving cameras, sometimes in the truck? So their work is multifaceted. Are you going to make redundancies through this process?

Mr Anderson : Look, we don't know yet. It is possible but it is a small number of staff that are dedicated to the trucks. The remainder of staff, as you described, will have skills that are adaptable between in-studio as well as outside broadcasts as required. We have two trucks, one in Melbourne and one in Sydney.

Senator GREEN: Will the staff who operate those trucks be made redundant?

Mr Anderson : I think there are a very small number of staff who are currently dedicated to those trucks. We're working through, at the moment, what the impact might mean to any amount of staff. But, through other reviews that we've had before, given the amount of outside broadcasts that we do, we don't have many staff that are dedicated to outside broadcasts a hundred per cent of the time.

Senator GREEN: Does this mean that you won't be able to do as many of those outside broadcasts?

Mr Anderson : No.

Senator GREEN: I'm particularly worried about coverage of live events, like Anzac Day and Australia Day and when there are elections, as well. Does it mean the content coverage will change?

Mr Anderson : No. At the moment, when we cover Anzac Day in every state and territory capital, there are two trucks and we're hiring eight other vans. We'll be hiring eight vans instead of six. We'll look to still do the same amount of OBs that we do at the moment. We'll still cover Australia Day—the events, the night before, the Governor-General's address et cetera. We'll do what we do at the moment. So it does not impact on the amount of OBs that we decide to do in the future.

Senator GREEN: What are you going to save by doing this? You said it's about priorities, but priorities is about how much money you've got to spend.

Mr Anderson : That's right, so we've already not been actively investing in the OB vans as they stand. We hire some equipment for it. I think we save—I'm going to use a conservative figure, but I can confirm it to you on notice—some $15 million in capital by not replacing those trucks. That will be diverted to things—we talked earlier about cyber. It'll be product personalisation. There are things that we need to invest in in the future and deinvest in other things that we can go to market for.

Senator GREEN: Maybe you will need to take this on notice: could you also let us know if staff and unions are being consulted through those plans? Is there a consultation requirement under the EBA in any event about changes?

Mr Anderson : There certainly will be if those small number of jobs that are dedicated that might be affected—yes, we will consult on that.

Senator GREEN: I accept that there are budgetary restraints and reasons why you need to move down this path, and the reason we've come in here over estimates and asked you about your budget cuts is to stop people losing their jobs. The problem with outsourcing any type of thing beyond a government department or agency always becomes the control around the quality of employment of those people, so that you are not necessarily being able to put people in secure jobs. People tend to have casual or labour hire arrangements. Can I just be clear: when you outsource the truck and then you have to hire it back, do you have to hire it back with labour hire staff or casual staff or do you just hire the unit? Do you hire the OB and then put your staff into it or do you have to hire the OB plus the staff that it comes with?

Mr Anderson : I'll start by saying that we haven't made a decision on it yet. We've just gone out for tender—

Senator GREEN: You have a plan to do it, and you've invited people to—

Mr Anderson : Yes, that's right. We want to see if there is a provider that can do it effectively for us. What would happen is that you would go to the provider and they would provide the equipment. It's not just one truck; there are actually quite a few trucks that come with it. You would look to supply as many staff as you could that you already have. Ultimately, yes, there are always some staff that would come with hiring an outside broadcast van who know the van well. They are usually senior technical roles or whatever. So, yes, that would be the case. You would still look to provide the opportunities to the staff that you have within the organisation. But we're already doing this in areas. You mentioned Anzac Day before. We have to hire the vans for Anzac Day and supply people that we have and supplement with other people that you find from the market. So this is what we're looking at with outside broadcast. This is what we're looking at with those remaining two trucks and not replacing them in the future.

Senator GREEN: Thanks.

CHAIR: Thanks, Senator Green. Senator McKenzie.

Senator McKENZIE: Great to see you, Mr Anderson. As you know, I love the ABC. I go to catch up on my favourite programs on iview, and I have to have a login now to actually view iview.

CHAIR: Senator McKenzie, can I just point out, this was canvassed earlier and a detailed answer was read into the Hansard. But, if you wish to continue those discussions—

Senator McKENZIE: I came in at six o'clock to ask these questions. I'm here at eight. I haven't been watching estimates in the interim—my apologies. So I will still ask these questions. I want to understand why we now require a login and, specifically, why it's compulsory, as a publicly funded broadcaster.

Mr Anderson : It's not compulsory; it will be as of July. The reason for it is the same as the reason for every other provider of such a service, and that is to pretty improve the experience of the user. We have in any week more than 3,000 hours of content now. At one time I remember it was in the low 200s. So now there's a lot more content to navigate, and people want the features they experience everywhere else. They want to be able to return to something they were already watching or switch devices. They would like to create a watchlist and have recommendations.

Senator McKENZIE: I understand. If I want to have that sort of experience on your platform, then I can have the option to do it. But why is it compulsory?

Mr Anderson : It's compulsory in that we want people to keep coming back to it. So we want to be able to provide these features that are positive to you as a user, so that you see the value of actually signing in. At the moment, I'm not sure that you're going to come back as much as you would if you had the recommendations we would supply you.

Senator McKENZIE: If I had the regular updates on my iPhone—that I missed the last episode of whatever. That's still not the answer as to why it's compulsory. I get that you want to provide an awesome experience and that, when we try it, we're going to love it. Why is it compulsory?

Mr Anderson : I think there's significant investment, certainly in Australian content that we make, and we want to be able to provide that value to as many people as possible. I can't provide a recommendation to you unless you provide me an email address to which I can send it.

Senator McKENZIE: But surely it's my choice whether or not to give you personal details. Your privacy policy that governs this login says that the kinds of personal information we'll collect about you will be your login details, demographics, generated content, payment details et cetera. Some may be sensitive information about 'your race or ethnicity, political opinions or affiliations, religious beliefs or affiliations, physical or mental health and sexuality'.

Mr Anderson : We're not asking you that when we're looking for you to sign in and create an account for ABC iview.

Senator McKENZIE: This is off your privacy—

CHAIR: Senator McKenzie, can I remind you not to talk over the witnesses, please?

Senator McKENZIE: Of course.

Mr Anderson : We do also operate ABC Commercial. Hence, the privacy policy does cover everything that we offer, and we are a broad church, so there are a lot of things that we do. We hope to be able to put together sign-in for ABC listen and sign in for the single sign-on that you have, so that we can recommend podcasts, music programs and other things to you.

Senator McKENZIE: Will that be compulsory? My listen app, my RN—on my walk, when I'm listening to Fran, will that be compulsory?

Mr Anderson : I haven't made a decision on that yet.

Senator McKENZIE: Please, Mr Anderson, don't make it compulsory.

Mr Anderson : I can tell you one—

Senator GREEN: They already know who you are!

Senator McKENZIE: I don't think state owned enterprises should know everything about every citizen. That's where we probably differ, Senator.

CHAIR: Order, Senator McKenzie!

Senator McKENZIE: I believe I should choose to give that information.

CHAIR: Address your questions to the witness. Senator Green, please—

Mr Anderson : At the moment, we're asking for email, so it can be your first name or a pseudonym; year of birth could be anything you like; suburb or postcode; gender—and there's an option not to say for gender. And that's it. That's all we're looking for. If people come in through Google and Facebook and don't wish to have that information shared with Google and Facebook, because you've come in through there, there is an option to say, 'I don't want the information shared.'

Senator McKENZIE: But, as of July, my understanding is that you will be sharing this with Tealium:

From July 2021, if you are a registered ABC Account holder, we may disclose a hashed version of your email address to Google and Facebook, via a technology service provider called Tealium, to show you promotions for ABC content …

Is that correct?

Mr Anderson : That is correct, unless you opt out.

Senator McKENZIE: Yes, you've said that.

Mr Anderson : It's generally if you have a Facebook account and you're on Facebook—

Senator McKENZIE: And everyone's got Google, blah blah blah. Tealium is based in the US—is that correct?

Mr Anderson : I believe so. I think they've got an office here as well.

Senator McKENZIE: What's the security rating for this entity?

Mr Anderson : If we're entering into partnership with anybody who's helping us with data, we ask them to apply the same standards that we apply to ourselves on data protection in the contracting of this.

Senator McKENZIE: So they're rated as a level 4 too?

Mr Anderson : You're referring to the maturity level I mentioned before, which is with regard to cyberattack. Yes, the answer is we require them to have the same level that we have.

Senator McKENZIE: How do you assess that?

Mr Anderson : We seek it through binding contractual obligation. I can give you an answer on notice—

Senator McKENZIE: That'd be great.

Mr Anderson : but my understanding is that we do seek that upfront.

Senator McKENZIE: What background or connections does Tealium have with China or Huawei?

Mr Anderson : I do not know, Senator.

Senator McKENZIE: Could you, on notice, check that out?

Mr Anderson : Yes.

Senator McKENZIE: You say you don't sell the data of your—

Mr Anderson : No.

Senator McKENZIE: So why are we sharing it with Google or Facebook?

Mr Anderson : Generally, if people are on Google or Facebook and they're in that environment and want to receive an update—as I've said, if you've come through Google or Facebook to log into ABC iView, if you don't want anything going back to Google or Facebook by way of recommendation, then that's what that is there for.

Senator McKENZIE: Is there a reason you chose an opt-out instead of an opt-in system?

Mr Anderson : I think we've gone with what—I remember we looked at opt-out versus opt-in. I think we've gone with what is standard practice for other providers. They are opt-out options rather than opt-in.

Senator McKENZIE: You've conducted a survey that found 95 per cent of ABC iView users were interested in a more personal service.

Mr Anderson : Yes.

Senator McKENZIE: Who conducted that survey?

Mr Anderson : I don't have that here at the moment. I think it was us.

Senator McKENZIE: So can you table the survey and results?

Mr Anderson : Sure, yes. To be specific, Senator, 95 per cent were interested in at least one personalisation feature and program watch list and program recommendations, and 74 per cent agreed that they were likely to create an ABC iView account.

Senator McKENZIE: How many iView users were surveyed?

Mr Anderson : It was in 2020. I don't know, Senator. I will provide that answer to you on notice.

Senator McKENZIE: You know, 95 per cent, if only five people filled in the survey—

Mr Anderson : I understand.

Senator McKENZIE: You get my drift. If you could quantify that a bit more accurately, I'd appreciate it. Sophie Elsworth in the Australian raised, I guess, similar issues to what I'm raising tonight. Within a day, you've put up a statement correcting Sophie Elsworth in the Australian. Is that correct?

Mr Anderson : Yes, I believe so.

Senator McKENZIE: Have you corrected the misinformation on Cattle Council that other organisations—have you pursued correcting media reports with quite the vigour that you have with this one? I mean, I think it's quite incredible. She posts on 13 May, then you put up quite a detailed correction—same day. Cattle Council and the entire beef industry is maligned. We discussed this in the last Senate estimates, and it's being investigated by ACMA, et cetera. How long did it take you to put a correction up for that one?

Mr Anderson : I'm going to defer to Mr McMurtrie.

Mr McMurtrie : We published the Cattle Council statement, but it is before ACMA. They are investigating it, and we are awaiting—

Senator McKENZIE: So you haven't done anything as an organisation, as the ABC, have you?

Mr McMurtrie : We published the Cattle Council statement.

Senator McKENZIE: But you haven't actually taken it upon yourself to correct the incorrect assumptions?

Mr McMurtrie : Because we stand by the reporting.

Senator McKENZIE: You and I would disagree that it's actually reporting. I would say it is activism en masse, as does Cattle Council. Well, I look forward to working out how to change it to an opt-in rather than opt-out. I don't think it should be compulsory at all. I look forward to the Tealium answers on notice too.

Senator ABETZ: I will continue on with my questioning about Middle East coverage. On ABC TV 7 pm news on 19 May, Mr Joyner reported accurately that Israel had permitted a convoy of humanitarian goods to travel through one of the border crossings. He also accurately reported that most of the convoy failed to enter Gaza after shells were fired. But the story fails to tell us that the shells that stopped the convoy from getting through to Gaza were actually coming from Gaza. Why was there that fundamental omission in that story? The impression would have been that Israel may have been trying to stop the convoy getting through.

Mr Anderson : I can't tell you, Senator. We can take that on board as a complaint. I'm not familiar with the story itself.

Senator ABETZ: Alright. Take it on notice. But always—each and every story—we have an excuse, we have a reason, but it's always one-way traffic.

Can I refer to Mr Geoff Raby, who is interviewed on a fairly regular basis by ABC as some sort of expert on all matters China. Can you tell us—in rough terms, and take this on notice—how often Mr Raby has been interviewed and how often the ABC has disclosed that he's registered under the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme as an agent of influence of a Chinese state owned enterprise? I would have thought it fairly fundamental for listeners or viewers to know that here we have an operative and yet he's being presented to the public as some sort of expert. Can you explain to us why that has not happened? Chances are, more importantly, will you start doing it in the future?

Mr Anderson : We'll take it on notice. I'll take a look at that.

Senator ABETZ: Have you received any correspondence in relation to His Eminence Archbishop Makarios, the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia?

Mr Anderson : Not that I can recall, no.

Mr McMurtrie : It is ringing bells with me, but I don't have it in front of me.

Senator ABETZ: Alright. I understand letters have been sent from lawyers. That's in relation to the report on St Basil's. This primate, as I understand it, is relatively new, and the condemnation of him driving around in a Holden Caprice, which is about seven or eight years old and was the car from the previous primate et cetera, seemed, to me at least, way over the top. If there are potential legal proceedings, I dare say I'd better tread cautiously on that, but could you take on notice for me whether or not there has been any correspondence with the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia about what they believe to be gross misrepresentations of their church?

Going through corrections and clarifications—and my colleague Senator Bragg has dealt with that—we've had a correction and clarification on JobKeeper payments and we've had one on the Navy dance performance. As to how on earth the video could have been provided that gave the impression that His Excellency the Governor-General was actually there during the dance performance, these things don't happen by accident. Nevertheless—that's editorial from me—I note the correction and clarification. I note the correction and clarification in relation to Jacinta Price. All of these, I think, were in the last month—yes, all of these were in April.

Then Senator Bragg tells us about the misrepresentation of the financial counsellors and that story that was canvassed. Each and every time we're told it's just an error. But look at this: misrepresents JobKeeper, Governor-General in a bad light, a conservative like Ms Jacinta Price in a bad light, government policy in relation to financial counsellors in a bad light. How many corrections are there where you've accidentally, in error, presented the government's position in a manner that was too favourable to the government? There are none, are there?

Mr McMurtrie : Senator, that's an impossible question to answer. We publish thousands and thousands of—

Senator ABETZ: How many corrections and clarifications have you provided in the month of April—just as a snapshot—of occasions where you have accidentally over-promoted or overstated the benefit of government policy in comparison to the times when you have clearly misrepresented it and got it wrong? If I were to believe in the innocence of the ABC, I would think the chances are 50 per cent of the time you're over the top in condemnation, 50 per cent of the time you're over the top in praise. But, when it's all one-way traffic—only being critical of the government, as opposed to being supportive of the government—naive people like me might start thinking that there is some institutional bias which is occasioning this continuous need for corrections and clarifications.

Mr Anderson : Senator, I'd say in response that I don't see institutional bias within the ABC. I think whoever is in government is certainly held to account, no matter which side of politics they're from. It is unfortunate that I sit here before you with a number of instances where we've had errors. When I look at them all individually, I don't join them up as systemic bias. I will go back on notice for you and have a look at the corrections and clarifications that we've made for those purposes, as you've outlined.

Senator ABETZ: Or you'll see that if all of these errors on the one side of the ledger were unintentional—as we are led to believe—one wonders why there are no unintentional errors on the other side of the ledger. That is why naive people like myself sometimes might come to the conclusion that there is some institutional bias.

I'll move on to the ABC's legal department being criticised for its size amid concerns over the its mounting legal bills. Can you tell us by how much the legal department has grown in the ABC? If it wasn't continually making these sorts of 'errors', one imagines the need for this legal department could have been maintained—

Mr Anderson : Senator, I will say that the ABC legal department do excellent work—

Senator ABETZ: I didn't ask about the excellence of the work; I asked about the numbers, please. You know time is of the essence.

Mr Anderson : As of 30 June 2011, there were 44 staff employed in the ABC's division of legal and business affairs, of which 26.5 were lawyers. Right now, we have 26.5 full-time employees—a slight increase of 1.4 FTEs. There are 28 lawyers in total, and some of them are working on a part-time basis. I actually see the legal department being roughly the same with roughly the same number of lawyers employed at the moment in ABC legal as there were in 2011.

Senator ABETZ: There was a job ad posted online by the ABC earlier in the month of April which read: 'This is an exciting opportunity to join the ABC's highly regarded in-house legal team consisting of 28 talented lawyers based at Ultimo.' Was this job ad incorrect?

Mr Anderson : No. There are 28 humans. There are 26.5 full-time equivalents, because a number of people are part time.

Senator ABETZ: And how many more are we trying to recruit?

Mr Anderson : That is the amount of positions we have, and we had a vacancy. They do litigation disputes, pre-publication and training, acquisitions, production, technology, commercial and regulatory. It's not all just sitting there for news.

CHAIR: Senator Abetz, that's the end of that 10-minute period.

Senator ABETZ: Alright, thank you.

CHAIR: Under the standing orders, you obviously can keep asking, but we are keen to move on to the SBS.

Senator ABETZ: No—understood.

CHAIR: Thank you. In that case, Mr Anderson, thank you to you and your team for being here tonight. You have agreed to take things on notice. The date for the return of answers to questions on notice is 9 July.