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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee
Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Australian Broadcasting Corporation


CHAIR: Excellent. We will kick off again. We welcome the ABC—Ms Guthrie and colleagues. I note you provided a written copy of the opening statement. Is it intended it be tabled?

Ms Guthrie : I'm happy to table it in the interests of time, Chair, if you'd prefer.

CHAIR: Are you happy for that to be tabled?

Senator KENEALLY: I'm happy with that.

CHAIR: Okay. We might proceed to questions. Thank you.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you, Ms Guthrie and your team, for appearing today. I want to speak to you about two pieces written by ABC news chief economics correspondent, Emma Alberici, published by ABC News Online around 5.40 am on Valentine's Day—that is, 14 February. One was a news article and the other an analysis piece on the Turnbull government's proposed corporate tax cuts. How many sets of eyes—that is, how many people—at the ABC, reviewed these two pieces prior to publication?

Ms Guthrie : I think that's probably a question that our editorial director Mr Sunderland can specifically answer. I don't know exactly the specifics.

Mr Sunderland : My understanding is that both articles were primarily reviewed by the business editor, who then passed them on, in the case of the news article, to the news online people. They would have gone through more of the mechanical posting of it—putting a headline on it, a couple of cross-heads—and it went to our opinion and analysis editor, who also had a look at it. But primarily the key set of eyes that looked at it prior to publication was the business editor, Mr Verrender.

Senator KENEALLY: How many people all-up do you reckon would have viewed the news piece?

Mr Sunderland : The news piece would have been viewed essentially by two people. I couldn't rule out that others may have something to do with handling it, but, in terms of oversight, I imagine it would have been two people—but primarily just one. Once it was approved by the business editor, the person who then received the news was just really doing the more mechanical side of it.

Senator KENEALLY: And the analysis piece—how many people?

Mr Sunderland : Similarly, it would have been essentially two people.

Senator KENEALLY: Were the subeditors and the editors checking for factual accuracy, clarity, grammar, whether the pieces conformed to ABC policy, or all of the above?

Mr Sunderland : Yes, all of the above.

Senator KENEALLY: Were any errors of fact or issues with ABC editorial policy identified during the editing process?

Mr Sunderland : Well, I've been told that there were changes made during that process. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that somebody formally identified a breach of editorial standards, but it would have meant they looked at it and said: 'Well, let's talk about this aspect. Let's talk about that.' So I understand there were some changes, as would almost always be the case during the subediting process.

Senator KENEALLY: Were these issues raised with Ms Alberici?

Mr Sunderland : Yes. That would have been done in conjunction with Ms Alberici.

Senator KENEALLY: Were either of these two pieces sent to legal advisers for review?

Mr Sunderland : No.

Senator KENEALLY: No?

Mr Sunderland : No.

Senator KENEALLY: It is your evidence to this committee that neither of these pieces were sent to legal advisers for review—

Mr Sunderland : Prior to publication, no.

Ms Guthrie : The first time, no.

Senator KENEALLY: The news headline was originally published as 'Mega profits with no tax—corporate tax avoidance rife in Australia'. Did Ms Alberici write that?

Mr Sunderland : I don't believe so, no. That would have been added by the news online team.

Senator KENEALLY: The analysis piece was originally published with the headline, 'There's no case for a corporate tax cut when one in five of Australia's top companies don't pay it'. Did Ms Alberici write that headline?

Mr Sunderland : I wouldn't be sure. I would have to check that for you. I would not normally expect the reporter to have written either headline.

Senator KENEALLY: Can we take that on notice?

Mr Sunderland : Certainly.

Senator KENEALLY: Is it correct that the analysis piece featured a large photograph of a smiling Alan Joyce, the CEO of Qantas, and the caption beneath the photo read, 'Qantas is about to clock its 10th year tax-free while its CEO Alan Joyce takes home a $24.6 million salary'.

Mr Sunderland : I recollect something like that. If you want me to check the exact wording, I would have to get back to you.

Senator KENEALLY: Did Ms Alberici have any input in the decision to use a photograph of Mr Joyce to accompany the article?

Mr Sunderland : I don't know. I would have to check that.

Senator KENEALLY: Did Ms Alberici select the photo?

Mr Sunderland : Again, I don't know. I wouldn't have thought so. But I would have to check that level of detail.

Senator KENEALLY: Have you reviewed this editorial process at all?

Mr Sunderland : The editorial process? Yes, certainly. We're in the process of doing that right now. And as you probably—

Senator KENEALLY: So you're doing it right now?

Mr Sunderland : There are discussions underway now about the lessons we need to learn from the mistakes that were made.

Senator KENEALLY: Right. But you can't answer these questions completely?

Mr Sunderland : Not those specific ones, no.

Senator KENEALLY: Did Ms Alberici write the caption under the photo?

Mr Sunderland : Again, I would have to check that.

Senator KENEALLY: If I said to you that both pieces were sent to a lawyer, Deb Auchinachie, for review, would you like to reconsider whether or not the pieces went to a lawyer for review?

Mr Sunderland : I have no information. My understanding was that they weren't.

Senator KENEALLY: Can we take that on notice.

Mr Sunderland : Of course.

Senator KENEALLY: It's my understanding that they were sent to a lawyer. Is Deb Auchinachie one of your legal advisers?

Mr Sunderland : Yes.

Senator KENEALLY: It's my understanding that both pieces went to the legal team for review. But you're not aware of that?

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

Senator KENEALLY: Who made the final decision to publish the news article?

Mr Sunderland : Once the articles had been written by the reporter, reviewed by her line manager—the business editor—and then sent off for news online and the opinion editor to publish, they had the responsibility of finally publishing them after they had been reviewed. Ultimately, there was no one single person who made the final decision, but, as they moved up the chain, each level would have looked at it and then made the decision to proceed.

Senator KENEALLY: Somebody must, clearly, push 'send' and say, 'Yes, this is okay to publish.'

Mr Sunderland : Well, if we are talking about the mechanical act of pressing send, that would have been different in each case.

Senator KENEALLY: But someone must give the approval for that.

Mr Sunderland : What I'm saying to you is that a piece is written by a reporter, it's reviewed by their line manager or editor and it then it goes off to be published.

Senator KENEALLY: So you can't tell me who made the final decision to publish?

Mr Sunderland : I thought I'd just explained that.

Senator KENEALLY: You haven't, actually.

Ms Guthrie : It would have been the senior editor.

Senator KENEALLY: Did the director of ABC News, Gaven Morris, have involvement in either editorial process?

Mr Sunderland : Not to my knowledge.

Ms Guthrie : Not before they published.

Senator KENEALLY: Did the editorial process for Ms Alberici's news article differ from the usual editorial processes at the ABC?

Mr Sunderland : Only in the sense that we published material that we, fairly quickly afterwards, decided there were problems with. That is unusual. But, in terms of a story being written by a journalist and then subbed by an editor, no.

Senator KENEALLY: Did the editorial process for Ms Alberici's analysis article differ from the usual editorial process?

Mr Sunderland : No—again, subject to that caveat.

Senator KENEALLY: Before I go to another set of questions, Mr Sunderland, can I confirm that, for the questions you have said you don't have answers for tonight, I would like to put them on notice for the ABC.

Mr Sunderland : Yes, of course.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. I would like to turn to the questions around errors in the article. On 19 February, Media Watch reported that the ABC was claiming there were 'inaccuracies' with the news article written by Ms Alberici. I would like to talk about those. The news article, as originally published, stated that Emirates, Etihad and Qatar are 'Australian airlines'. Did Ms Alberici write this sentence?

Mr Sunderland : Emma wrote the entire article; I'm not sure what was changed as a result of the editing process. In terms of that level of detail, I'm not sure where that issue would have arisen.

Senator KENEALLY: Are you aware that Miss Alberici's original draft, as submitted, read: 'While the Qantas example appears to be the most egregious, it's consistent with the taxing behaviour of 378, or one in five, of the country's largest companies, including all the biggest airlines operating in Australia.'

Mr Sunderland : I would have to check that level of detail of what was in the article at various stages.

Senator KENEALLY: So you're not aware that Ms Alberici did not write the sentence that Emirates, Etihad and Qatar are Australian airlines?

Mr Sunderland : In terms of the precise wording and at what stage that story was changed or edited in any way, I would have to say that I don't have that level of detail with me today.

Senator KENEALLY: Will your review look at that?

Mr Sunderland : Our review is focusing on why a piece that we subsequently had problems with was published. The focus for us is on looking at how our system failed. That's the focus. We go to the substance of how it came about that something was published that we weren't entirely satisfied with.

Senator KENEALLY: I'm going to come to that. Another area that has been discussed extensively in the media is that Ms Alberici did not provide enough context to distinguish between income and profit, so readers could have been left with an impression that they were interchangeable terms. In her original news story, did Ms Alberici explain the ability to offset losses against future profits?

Mr Sunderland : Senator, it's difficult for me to go back through a number of versions of a story and forensically respond to every single point of detail. This is going to be a long process, because what I'm going to say to you is consistent with what I've said to you already, which is: the original story was written, subbed and it went online; it was subsequently changed and we identified errors in it. In terms of the precise language at every step of the way—I'm not sure that I'm going to be able to be particularly useful to you tonight at that level of forensic detail.

Senator KENEALLY: I must say, Mr Sutherland, that is incredibly disappointing, and I do find it hard to believe that the ABC hasn't done a side-by-side analysis, a compare and a contrast of the original article and revised article, and that you don't have that before you tonight.

Mr Sunderland : Senator, I'm happy to explain to you why that's not surprising for me, and it goes to the substance of what this issue is all about. The process we went through—and I'm sorry, I won't go on long, but it is important to try and contextualise what I am talking about here. When a reporter writes an article, that reporter has responsibility for the article; when they hand it on to an editor, that editor takes on responsibility as well—for the end result. So when that story is published, the reporter who wrote it and the editor who worked on it, and any others, all have responsibility—subject to how far upwardly they refer it—for that article. If we subsequently find there to be a problem with it, we go back and we look at that article, and we see what needs to be fixed, what needs to be acknowledged and worked on. What we don't necessarily do is go back and say: 'We need to find the origin of every single line of that story, find out who wrote it.' What our focus is on, in terms of both current needs and future lessons, is to find out what went wrong, and how we make sure we don't make similar mistakes in the future.

Senator KENEALLY: I tell you why I am surprised you don't have that: because your opening statement from Ms Guthrie says, 'Stories were published which hadn't received the editorial scrutiny they needed and weren't up to our standards.'

Mr Sunderland : That's right.

Senator KENEALLY: How can Ms Guthrie make that statement if you haven't finished the review of this particular circumstance and you don't know where the standards fell down?

Mr Sunderland : No; I'm sorry if that's the impression I gave you. That's not what I'm saying. I'm not saying that we don't know whether there were errors, or whether our standards let us down; we know that—because we changed the stories and we publicly acknowledged that online, with both stories. We've acknowledged that there were mistakes. We've acknowledged that there were errors that needed to be fixed. And we are now looking at how the process did not pick that up sooner, before we published. But when you start going to, 'Can we please identify precisely at which point it happened'—the issue for us was that the story, as published, was not what we wanted it to be, and the process of getting it right happened after it was published, which is not the way it should operate. That's the focus for us, in terms of the standards.

Senator KENEALLY: I feel like we're going to go round and round here, so let me ask this question, back to the point about the concern that there was not enough context to distinguish between income and profit: would you agree that if the ABC had a concern that readers would have been confused by Ms Alberici's article, the ABC should have noted this in the editing process?

Mr Sunderland : I'm sorry, I don't quite understand what you mean.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you agree—and I would say that the ABC does agree, because they changed the article—that Ms Alberici did not provide enough context to distinguish between income and profit? And, if you agree with that, should the ABC have picked that up in the editing process before the article was published?

Mr Sunderland : When we amended and republished the story, we acknowledged that there were one or two issues where we needed to make factual corrections, and some areas in the story where we felt the need to provide more context. Whether that missing context was precisely and solely to the issue of the difference between income and taxable income, or whatever it was, there were a range of issues where we felt the story would benefit from better context. That doesn't mean that the original story lacked all context, or that the original story confused income and taxable income. What we were saying is that we thought some things could have been better expressed and more clearly contextualised. Of course, the story should have been perfect when it was published; it wasn't. The editing process subsequent to publication was designed to rectify what we recognised immediately as being some areas for improvement.

Senator KENEALLY: I'm going to come to the time frame in a moment. The concern does seem to have been addressed by changing the term 'income' in the first paragraph in the updated news article to 'pre-tax profit'. This could have been dealt with, surely, without pulling the article down and reposting it. You surely could have just gone online and updated that.

Mr Sunderland : My understanding was that the news article wasn't pulled down and replaced; it was replaced with an updated version. It was the analysis article that came down for a number of days.

Senator KENEALLY: You're saying the news article was never pulled down? There was never a period of time when the news article did not appear on the website?

Mr Sunderland : I don't believe so.

Senator KENEALLY: We might come back to that. In terms of errors of accuracy, there were two errors I've identified—firstly, that CSR doesn't have a sugar division anymore and, secondly, that GPT is a property trust and, therefore, pays distributions rather than reporting profits. Would you say that these are consequential errors that fundamentally alter the story?

Mr Sunderland : Anytime there's an error that occurs that we consider is material, we recognise it and change it. I don't think it's particularly helpful for me to express an opinion on how consequential they were, other than to say that, if there is a suggestion that the article was riddled with errors or that there were massive errors that undermined the very article itself, of course that wasn't the case, otherwise we wouldn't have been able to rectify them and repost them and stand behind what we consider to be an important story.

Senator KENEALLY: Did you repost the article or did you just rectify those errors online?

Mr Sunderland : No, by rectifying them, we reposted. Perhaps the language I'm using is not as precise as it should be, but, effectively, if an article is changed, a new version comes up—a new version goes online. So it wasn't just that there was a note made that the article contained errors; the errors were corrected.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you have a list of what you would identify as the errors of fact in the news article?

Mr Sunderland : I don't have a full list, no. Our processes would not normally be, in amending an article, that we'd provide an exhaustive list of every single change we've made. What happens is we have an editorial adviser and a senior news person who work with the reporter to say, 'What do we need to fix?' They fix it and say, 'We're now comfortable that this meets our editorial standards,' and we repost it. And that's what happened on this occasion. We don't then, as a by-product of that, produce a definitive list of every single change that was made to that story.

Senator KENEALLY: So you don't have such a list?

Mr Sunderland : I personally don't have such a list, no.

Senator KENEALLY: Does a list exist?

Mr Sunderland : Not to my knowledge, no.

Senator KENEALLY: This news article has generated such controversy and such debate about whether there are errors of fact in it. You're saying the ABC have not reviewed it and can't produce a list of what they say are the errors of fact in the article?

Mr Sunderland : I don't think I've said we haven't reviewed it. The point I would make is that of course I understand that this article has led to an enormous amount of discussion and speculation and criticism and praise and blame and concern and everything else—I'm aware of that—but this article we handled and we treated the same way we do all of our content all the time. We have not applied to this, because of the level of sensitivity or scrutiny, some sorts of special additional measures that we would not apply to any other story. The sequence we've been through with this story, although the outcome was absolutely not what we would like, is exactly what would happen to all of our content all the time. Something is posted. If we think there's a problem with it, we fix it and we acknowledge it. That's what we've done on this occasion. A step further is that we look at it and say, 'What failed in the process that we can learn from to reduce the chance of this happening again?' None of that involves somebody producing a complete definitive list of every single change that was made to the story during the process of getting it right. We look at the story as it currently stands.

Senator KENEALLY: How do you even determine what you need to get right if you haven't identified what's wrong?

Mr Sunderland : Our editorial adviser and the senior editors involved and the reporter sit down and go through the story and identify the things that they think need to be fixed, and they can be many and various, and they fix them. They don't keep a contemporaneous note of every single change that's been made. Their responsibility is to get that piece into a shape where we can put it back up and we're happy with it, and that's what happened on this occasion.

Senator KENEALLY: Just to be clear, are you doing a review of the editorial process that led to the publication of this article?

Mr Sunderland : We're doing two things at the moment. We are of course dealing, through our independent complaints handlers, with the complaints that have been raised, and some of those are very, very detailed and very specific. We are also looking at it from the point of view of the news division and also more broadly to say, why was it that a story went up that we weren't entirely happy with? It was a failing—

Senator KENEALLY: What about the story are you not happy with? You've said that phrase a few times.

Mr Sunderland : You understand the sequence, that the story was posted early in the morning?

Senator KENEALLY: Yes, I do. I'm about to go through the sequence.

Mr Sunderland : Within an hour and a half, our director of news had said: 'I think this problem's with these stories. I'm not happy with it. Can we take a closer look at them? I'm not sure they're right.'

Senator KENEALLY: Why don't we go to that then, rather than go round and round here.

Mr Sunderland : Sure.

Senator KENEALLY: I want to ask a series of questions about the time line subsequent to the publication at 5.40 am. At 6.08 am on 14 February, the ABC Twitter account tweeted a link to the analysis piece. The tweet said, 'There's no case for a corporate tax cut when one in five companies don't pay it, writes Emma Alberici #analysis.' Did Ms Alberici write that tweet?

Mr Sunderland : Where did the tweet come from—the ABC News account?

Senator KENEALLY: The ABC Twitter account.

Mr Sunderland : I would imagine that the people responsible for the ABC News account wrote that and that it wouldn't have been Ms Alberici.

Senator KENEALLY: Did Ms Alberici write the sentence, 'There's no case for a corporate tax cut when one in five companies don't pay it,' anywhere in her analysis article?

Mr Sunderland : Off the top of my head, I'm not sure. Are we talking about the headline of the article?

Senator KENEALLY: Did she write that sentence anywhere in her analysis piece?

Mr Sunderland : I don't know, Senator.

Senator KENEALLY: I put to you that she did not.

Mr Sunderland : You may well put that to me; I've said to you that I don't know.

Senator KENEALLY: Perhaps that's one for your review—

Mr Sunderland : No, I don't think so. I don't think it is, Senator—

Senator KENEALLY: how the Twitter account managed to write that Ms Alberici wrote something that she didn't actually write. All right, we'll leave that—

Mr Sunderland : I think it's important—

Senator KENEALLY: At 7.11 am, Ms Alberici appeared on ABC News Breakfast television. The television strap on the bottom of the screen read, 'Corporate tax avoidance, one in five of the nation's largest companies avoid corporate tax.' Did Ms Alberici write that strap?

Mr Sunderland : I would have thought not, but I don't know. That won't be part of my review either.

Senator KENEALLY: On 19 February 2018, ABC Media Watch reported that Media Watch had seen an email from ABC News director, Gaven Morris, raising concerns, 'Less than two hours after the story was published.' But Media Watch advised its viewers that it could not show them the correspondence. Why couldn't ABC Media Watch show viewers that correspondence?

Mr Sunderland : I have no idea.

Senator KENEALLY: Can we have the correspondence tabled?

Mr Sunderland : I'll take that on notice and see. I would think so, Senator, but I'll check and see.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you know what time the correspondence was sent?

Mr Sunderland : It wasn't sent to me, so I can't speak definitively—

Senator KENEALLY: Do you know who it was sent to?

Mr Sunderland : No, I don't know. I know that the next step was that senior news management and one of my advisers who works in the news division followed up on it, so I would assume it was sent to one or both of them. I was made aware by my editorial adviser that that had happened.

Senator KENEALLY: On 19 February, The Australian quoted an ABC spokesperson who said that Mr Morris flagged his concerns at around 7 am to his managers. Who are Mr Morris's managers?

Mr Sunderland : That would be referring to the next level down.

Senator KENEALLY: Who are they?

Mr Sunderland : As I said to you, I don't know who the email was sent to, but I can tell you that the relevant managers involved would have been either the head of news coverage or the head of investigations. He has about seven or eight reporters that report to him.

Senator KENEALLY: You don't know who he sent that email to, but you're aware that he sent an email to someone at around 7 am?

Mr Sunderland : Yes. That's right. That's my understanding.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you know what concerns he raised?

Mr Sunderland : No, only that they were editorial concerns.

Senator KENEALLY: So you don't know what editorial concerns he raised?

Mr Sunderland : There are only 13 editorial policies; it would have been one of those.

Senator KENEALLY: Did he raise errors of inaccuracy or fact?

Mr Sunderland : I'm assuming, given what subsequently happened and what the focus of the examination was—

Senator KENEALLY: You're assuming, but you don't know—

Mr Sunderland : that we were talking about accuracy and impartiality.

Senator KENEALLY: Did he raise questions about tone and opinion?

Mr Sunderland : I don't know, but that would go to impartiality.

Senator KENEALLY: Did Mr Morris contact Ms Alberici directly when he first raised concerns with his managers at 7 am?

Mr Sunderland : I don't know, Senator.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you know when Mr Morris first contacted Ms Alberici?

Mr Sunderland : No, I don't.

Senator KENEALLY: If I put to you that he emailed her for the first time at 8 pm?

Mr Sunderland : As I've said to you, I don't know.

Senator KENEALLY: Would that be a usual process, for the director of news to wait 11 hours before he raised concerns with the author of an article?

Mr Sunderland : It would obviously be a high priority for him to raise concerns. As to whom he spoke to and in what order, I can't comment.

Senator KENEALLY: Are you concerned that the news director was roused at 7 am to raise concerns with his managers and didn't speak to the author of the article, which was the subject of great controversy, until 11 hours later? 12 hours later—actually 13; my maths! It's late at night.

Mr Sunderland : My primary concern in all of this is to learn from why we posted content that we subsequently fairly rapidly weren't entirely happy with. That's my focus. The precise sequence is of less significance to me than to review why our systems let us down on this occasion. That has been the focus for me. Obviously the focus for me in terms of Mr Morris—sorry?

Senator O'NEILL: Given the nature of this story I'm surprised that you, knowing you're here to give evidence this evening, have so little detail in front of you and are unable to answer Senator Keneally's questions. Frankly, it is quite disturbing. If the senator has all this detail, why can't you have that detail and answer those questions?

Mr Sunderland : In response to that I would say that my focus is neither on apportioning blame to individuals nor on constructing a precise time line in order to apportion blame to individuals; my focus, and the important stuff I've brought to the committee, is on what I need to do in my role—that is, to talk to you about the process we go through when these things happen, where we collectively take responsibility. The failings in this fall neither to Ms Alberici nor to one single editor; they fall to the ABC's editorial system. I apologise, but my focus has not been on constructing a time line that allows me to work out the precise movements of every individual and moving piece in this, because to me the real focus is, 'Why did it go up when we weren't happy with it, what did we do to fix it and how can we learn from this?' That is the stuff I've come here to talk about this evening.

Senator KENEALLY: I submit to you that learning how to fix it involves learning how it was dealt with—

Senator O'NEILL: Exactly.

Mr Sunderland : I agree with you on that.

Senator KENEALLY: both prior and subsequent to publication. Did anyone at ABC News contact Ms Alberici by either phone or email on the morning of 14 February in response to the publication of the story?

Mr Sunderland : Same answer: I haven't come here with a list of who made phone calls to whom.

Senator KENEALLY: Did the deputy news director, Craig McMurtie, contact Ms Alberici that morning?

Mr Sunderland : Same answer: I'm focused on the matter of substance in this.

Senator KENEALLY: This is a matter of substance.

Mr Sunderland : I understand that, but I can't answer those sorts of questions.

Senator KENEALLY: You haven't satisfied yourself to find out what your news director or deputy news director thought about the two articles that were published on the morning in February?

Mr Sunderland : Of course I have, but as part of that I haven't constructed a time line of their phone calls.

Senator KENEALLY: Are you aware of what the deputy news director thought of the article?

Mr Sunderland : I've spoken to him about what was wrong with the article and what we needed to fix.

Senator KENEALLY: Did he give feedback to Ms Alberici on the morning of 14 February?

Mr Sunderland : That I don't know.

Senator KENEALLY: You don't know the content of the feedback he provided to her?

Mr Sunderland : I don't have that information.

Senator KENEALLY: Can you take that on notice, please.

Mr Sunderland : Certainly.

Senator KENEALLY: A report in The Australian on 19 February quotes an ABC spokesperson as saying:

… by midday Editorial Policies had provided the advice there were issues with accuracy in the news report and impartiality in the analysis report.

What is meant by Editorial Policies? Who specifically would have provided that advice?

Mr Sunderland : That advice came from my adviser who works in the news division. Mark Maley is his name. He's one or my three or four advisers.

Senator KENEALLY: So Editorial Policies reports to you?

Mr Sunderland : Reports to my division, yes. We provide advice.

Senator KENEALLY: Did Editorial Policies review the piece prior to publication?

Mr Sunderland : No, we did not.

Senator KENEALLY: Would you usually review it prior to publication, or do you get involved afterwards?

Mr Sunderland : No, we are there essentially to provide prebroadcast and prepublication advice, but the reason we have a fundamental process of upward referral is that stories are referred as far as up that chain as they need to be, and they call in editorial advice as and when they need to. One of the lessons from this is that this was a story of sufficient import and significance, in my view, that it would have been sensible to get prepublication editorial advice. Having said that, the vast majority of our content necessarily, given how much we put out, does not receive prepublication, specific editorial advice.

Senator KENEALLY: I understand that. Who would usually refer a piece to Editorial Policy for prepublication advice?

Mr Sunderland : Every level. We get references from the reporter who has originated a piece. We get references from a producer working on it, from an executive producer, from one of the managers in News. At every step of the way, there is the opportunity—

Senator KENEALLY: Anyone can make that referral. So will your review look at whether that referral should have been made?

Mr Sunderland : Absolutely.

Senator KENEALLY: Okay. On 14 February, I understand that Sally Jackson, the communications lead for News at the ABC, wrote on her personal Facebook page that there were issues of accuracy with the Alberici pieces. Did Ms Jackson direct journalists to that post as an official ABC statement on that matter?

Mr Sunderland : Again, I'm sorry, Senator, but my focus has been on the editorial process, not looking into the behaviour of each and every one of the people's social media activities.

Senator KENEALLY: Maybe I'll direct this then to Ms Guthrie. Did the statement that Ms Jackson posted on her personal Facebook page receive approval from the ABC?

Ms Guthrie : That's not a statement that I authorised.

Senator KENEALLY: You didn't authorise that statement. Do you know if Gaven Morris approved that statement?

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

Senator KENEALLY: Okay. Was the statement that Ms Jackson posted on her personal Facebook page provided to TheAFR and The Australian as a media response?

Ms Guthrie : That shouldn't have happened.

Senator KENEALLY: Is using a personal Facebook page the usual process used by the communications lead for News at the ABC—

Ms Guthrie : No.

Senator KENEALLY: to respond to media inquiries? No?

Ms Guthrie : No.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, I have a question for you. With the deepest respect to both the government and the ABC, I'd assume that, from time to time, when there are questions of fact or error in a story, that would give perhaps a government department, a ministerial office or a minister a perfectly legitimate reason to contact either an author or an editor to correct the record? That would be, from time to time, a legitimate reason for you or a department—

Senator Fifield: Yes, certainly.

Senator KENEALLY: Okay. This is a question to the ABC: on what other stories have ABC employees been contacted by a ministerial office or a minister between 2013 and 2018?

Ms Guthrie : That's something that we obviously don't have in front of us. We have 4,000 employees.

Senator KENEALLY: Then let me put it to you this way: on what other stories have ABC news directors, you or senior management been contacted by a ministerial office or a minister between 2013 and 2018?

Ms Guthrie : We get contacted by ministerial offices from time to time.

CHAIR: Just on that—sorry, Senator Keneally—I did see some reporting, I understand, Minister, that you had written—

Senator KENEALLY: I'm going to get to that, Senator, if you don't mind.

CHAIR: Are you? Did you write, and, if so, have you received a response?

Senator Fifield: Yes and yes.

CHAIR: And are you able to table that response?

Senator KENEALLY: Are you able to table your letter, Minister?

Senator Fifield: Yes, I can—

Senator KENEALLY: You can table your letter and you can table your response?

Senator Fifield: Yes, I can table both of those for the committee.

Senator KENEALLY: I'm going to come back to that. This is to the ABC again. On what other stories have ABC Board members been contacted by a ministerial office or a minister between 2013 and 2018? That's a question to the ABC.

Ms Guthrie : Again, we have multiple board members. I have no way of tracking that.

Senator KENEALLY: You have no way of tracking that.

Senator Fifield: I should just—

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, I might be a little—

Senator Fifield: through you, Chair, mention that I'm sure that there are members of the Labor Party, members of crossbench parties—

Senator KENEALLY: Yes, but you're the minister, and the estimates are for questioning you. So let me be a little bit cheeky here. In the interests of transparency, Minister—

Senator Fifield: Senator Keneally, I'm still speaking.

CHAIR: Senator Keneally, let the minister finish.

Senator KENEALLY: Well, Minister, you're wading into areas that have nothing to do with your portfolio.

Senator Fifield: They absolutely do—

CHAIR: Continue, Minister.

Senator Fifield: because I'm making the point that it is not uncommon for members of parliament from all parties, be they government, opposition or crossbench, to contact the ABC at a variety of levels to offer comment on things that the ABC has broadcast or written or posted. That is something that happens often, and—

Senator O'NEILL: Often?

Senator KENEALLY: Often? So, Minister, let me ask you this, then. In the interests of transparency, have you ever contacted any ABC employees regarding a story since you've been the minister—since 21 September 2015?

Senator Fifield: Have I contacted the ABC about stories? I have. I have, indeed.

Senator KENEALLY: To raise what types of concerns, minister?

Senator Fifield: To raise a range of concerns, but they haven't just been in relation to stories. Sometimes I've phoned the managing director. Sometimes I've written to the managing director. Sometimes my office has made contact with the ABC. And I have absolutely no doubt that the Leader of the Opposition's office is in regular contact with a range of media outlets when they have views on a particular topic.

Senator KENEALLY: So nothing stands out particularly? Nothing stands out in your memory?

Senator Fifield: Look, I'd say it's something that happens occasionally. I wouldn't say it's something of great frequency in terms of myself and my office.

Senator KENEALLY: And have you tabled your correspondence? Can you table your correspondence on the Alberici matter?

Senator Fifield: I have done so.

Senator KENEALLY: And the response from the ABC?

Senator Fifield: Correct.

Senator KENEALLY: To the ABC: was the ABC chairman, Justin Milne, involved in any way in the discussions relating to the Alberici story? In relation to the decisions taken or the concerns raised about the Alberici pieces?

Ms Guthrie : No, he wasn't.

Senator KENEALLY: No phone calls, emails or conversations with you about the Alberici stories?

Ms Guthrie : We have had phone calls and conversations, in the same way that we would on any issue that is in the public domain that is controversial and being discussed.

Senator KENEALLY: Did he express any concerns about the publication of those stories, that they failed to meet ABC standards, or that there were errors?

Ms Guthrie : I have certainly kept him appraised of the position around the reposting of the news article and the taking down of the analysis piece.

Senator KENEALLY: You have kept him appraised?

Ms Guthrie : Yes.

Senator KENEALLY: But he hasn't provided any urging or—

Ms Guthrie : No.

Senator KENEALLY: Ms Guthrie, as managing director, were you involved in any way in the discussions relating to the response to the Alberici stories, the decisions to repost and the decisions to take them down?

Ms Guthrie : Again, I was deeply involved in discussions with both Mr Sunderland and Mr Morris on both those issues.

Senator KENEALLY: I want to ask some questions now about the time line. I want to put a time line on the record, so if you could just bear with me, please? From 11.23 am to 4.12 pm on 14 February the coalition media account published nine tweets criticising Alberici pieces. At 2.03 pm the Prime Minister said in question time that the Alberici analysis was:

… one of the most confused and poorly researched articles I've seen on this topic on the ABC's website.

At 2.15 pm the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, tweeted:

Turnbull is in parliament attacking the ABC for telling the truth about his $65 billion handout for multinationals. Here's the full story.

He provided a link to the Alberici analysis piece.

At 2.22 pm Ms Alberici tweeted a comment about Scott Morrison, noting that Treasury modelling shows GDP doubling by 2038, with or without the corporate tax cuts. At 2.25 pm @unionsaustralia tweeted:

The ABC pulled down this article that Malcolm Turnbull attacked in Parliament. It'd be a real shame if it got retweeted hundreds of times again.

They provided a link to the analysis piece.

At 5.36 pm Scott Morrison's senior adviser, Andrew Carswell, emailed Gaven Morris with a list of complaints about the Alberici article. I also know that there were media reports in The AFR and The Australian. They reported that the Minister for Communications, the Prime Minister, the Qantas chief executive, Alan Joyce, and the Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia, Jennifer Westacott, also complained to the ABC. Did the Prime Minister express his concerns in writing to or in conversation with the ABC?

Ms Guthrie : The Prime Minister has not contacted me on this issue.

Senator KENEALLY: There were reports in The AFR and in The Australian that actually quote from the letters from the Prime Minister.

Ms Guthrie : I think that what you're referring to—

Senator KENEALLY: Are you saying the Prime Minister did not raise concerns with the ABC?

Ms Guthrie : I think that what you're referring to is an email that went from the Prime Minister's office to Gaven Morris, or to somebody in the news division.

Senator KENEALLY: You haven't seen that communication?

Ms Guthrie : I have seen that communication; but I think that's what you're referring to. I thought you asked me a question about the Prime Minister—

Senator KENEALLY: Was it the Prime Minister or his office?

Ms Guthrie : It was his office.

Senator O'NEILL: Can you table it?

Senator KENEALLY: Can we have a copy of that email please?

Ms Guthrie : We can take that on notice.

Senator KENEALLY: You can take that on notice. Do you know what day and time that was sent?

Ms Guthrie : Not in front of me right now.

Senator KENEALLY: Would it have been on 14 February?

Ms Guthrie : I couldn't be certain.

Senator KENEALLY: Did Mr Alan Joyce express his concerns in writing?

Ms Guthrie : Alan Joyce wrote to me directly.

Senator KENEALLY: What day and time?

Ms Guthrie : I don't have that in front of me.

Senator KENEALLY: Was it an email or a letter?

Ms Guthrie : It was sent to me by email; it may have been a letter.

Senator KENEALLY: Can we table a copy of that letter?

Ms Guthrie : Again, we'll take that on notice.

Senator KENEALLY: Did Ms Westacott express her concerns in writing?

Ms Guthrie : The Business Council of Australia wrote to me also.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you know what day and time?

Ms Guthrie : It was in the course of that week. I couldn't tell you—

Senator KENEALLY: In the course of that week, but you don't know the day or the time right now. Can we have a copy of that letter?

Ms Guthrie : Again, I will take that on notice.

Senator KENEALLY: Can we have a copy of Andrew Carswell's email to Gaven Morris?

Ms Guthrie : We will check that.

Senator KENEALLY: Did Mr Carswell give Gaven Morris an undertaking that he would not make the email public?

Ms Guthrie : I couldn't tell you.

Senator KENEALLY: Did Gaven Morris seek an undertaking that the emails between them would not be made public?

Ms Guthrie : I'm not aware of any discussions between Mr Carswell and Gaven Morris.

Senator KENEALLY: Can we take that on notice, please? When was the analysis article removed from ABC News online?

Mr Sunderland : From memory, I think it came down late on the Thursday, I think it was.

Senator KENEALLY: Which would be 15 February?

Mr Sunderland : That's right.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister Fifield, when did you send your concerns to the ABC?

Senator Fifield: On 14 February.

Senator KENEALLY: And we know that the Treasurer's office sent an email expressing a complaint on 14 February, we know the Prime Minister's office expressed their concerns, but we don't yet have a date in writing they can express their concerns—possibly on 14 February. Certainly the Prime Minister expressed his concerns in question time on 14 February. And then on 15 February, after complaints from the Prime Minister, the Minister for Communications and the Treasurer's office, the ABC removed the analysis piece from online

Mr Sunderland : It sounds like you're suggesting a causative relationship there.

Senator KENEALLY: I'm just outlining the time frame. Is that correct?

Mr Sunderland : Then you've missed all the essential elements of the time frame that explain why the story was changed and taken down in both cases.

Senator KENEALLY: I tried to ask those earlier and you didn't have any detail.

Mr Sunderland : Again, Senator, respectively, I think you are missing the point I'm trying to make—either that or not giving me the opportunity to make it, because the time line about who wrote which sentence on which occasion and who made a phone call and the time line about which person complained is not relevant to the process that my team and the news managers were involved in once the director of news had raised editorial concerns.

Senator KENEALLY: Back to this point, that the article was removed on 15 February—

Mr Sunderland : The analysis article?

Senator KENEALLY: Yes, the analysis article. Who made that decision?

Mr Sunderland : That was a decision made by the news division to take it down.

Senator KENEALLY: So that would be Gaven Morris, who's the head of the news division?

Mr Sunderland : Yes. Now, whether he ultimately personally made that decision—but he would ultimately have responsibility for it as a director of news. All I know is I was advised that they were working on the news article and would repost it when they were happy with it, and for the time being they would take down the analysis article. I was advised that by News.

Senator KENEALLY: So the news article was amended and republished.

Mr Sunderland : Yes.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you know on what date that occurred?

Mr Sunderland : No, I'm sorry. I would have to check. It might have been the Thursday, but I'm sorry—let me check that and confirm that for you.

Senator KENEALLY: I believe it was Friday, 16 February. On Friday, 16 February @CoalitionMedia re-tweeted Bill Shorten's tweet from the 14th and they added, 'Does Bill still back this analysis, which has been taken down because it is so economically illiterate?' And then on Friday, 16 February at 2.13 pm, 'ABC corrections and clarifications issues its first post on the two stories with no references to errors in the original text.' Is that a usual process—to issue a post on stories saying they've been amended but not actually providing references to errors in the text?

Mr Sunderland : Yes, it is. If you look at not just the corrections and clarifications but the editor's note that was attached to the article itself, where you're dealing with—which I believe was the case here—a number of very small changes, some rewriting of pieces, some addition of context, what we would normally provide, as we did on this occasion, is an overarching summary that acknowledges that the article has been amended in relation to accuracy and context issues, which is what we did on this occasion.

Senator KENEALLY: So you're saying you wouldn't normally point out the actual errors or—

Mr Sunderland : Sorry to interrupt you. If it were a single, quite obvious sole error that we wanted to quickly draw attention to, yes, we would. But if it becomes something which is complex and detailed and there's a little bit of nuance in it, then, no, we would simply acknowledge that the piece had been updated and corrected.

Senator KENEALLY: I'll leave that for the moment. On 19 February The Australian quotes an ABC spokesperson as saying:

To clarify, ABC News had already made the decision to withdraw the analysis report and amend the news report before that time—

meaning before the Prime Minister rose in question time. But I put to you that Mr Morris did not contact Ms Alberici until 8 pm on 14 February, after complaints from the Prime Minister's office, the Minister for Communications and the Treasurer's office. The analysis piece wasn't removed from ABC News online until 15 February, after complaints from the Prime Minister's office, the Minister for Communications and the Treasurer's office, as well as the BCA and Qantas. The news report wasn't amended and republished until 16 February, after complaints from the Prime Minister's office, the Minister for Communications and the Treasurer's office. In fact, ABC news director Gaven Morris did not contact the author, Ms Alberici, or withdraw the articles until after the ABC was contacted by the Prime Minister's office, the Minister for Communications and the office of the Treasurer. Yes?

Mr Sunderland : I understand you'd put that to me. What I'm saying to you is that this is the process that occurred and this is the time line that I have brought with me today, because from my perspective this is the time line that is relevant. And that time line is simply that the articles were published early in the morning. The director of news immediately, within 90 minutes, when he'd read them, raised with his line managers in News and with my editorial adviser in News—

Senator REYNOLDS: Did you say immediately, in 90 minutes?

Ms Guthrie : Within 90 minutes.

Mr Sunderland : Around seven o'clock, I beg your pardon.

Senator REYNOLDS: It doesn't seem quite immediate.

Mr Sunderland : What I meant was immediately upon reading them. He raised those concerns with his editorial line managers and with my adviser in News, and, from the moment that happened, the focus of that editorial team was on the editorial status of those stories. Now, I cannot tell you precisely at which point Emma was brought into the discussion and who brought her in—whether it was her immediate line manager, whether it was the director of news, but to me that's not the salient point. The salient point is that immediately the journalists were involved in working on that story, the complaints that were flowing externally to that, that were happening, were not part of that process, and the process that was undertaken was an editorial process, and that's the one I'm focused on and that's the one I'm happy to tell you as much about as you want to hear.

Senator KENEALLY: The ABC content management system—does that allow you to go back and look at previous versions of a story to work out—

Mr Sunderland : I'm sure it does, yes.

Senator KENEALLY: You're sure it does—you don't know?

Mr Sunderland : Well, I don't know how many stories, I don't know what triggers a story to be saved, I don't know how many iterations would exist in the system, particularly if it's gone through a number of hands at various stages. But I know there is some capacity to do some of that.

Senator KENEALLY: The analysis piece was removed on 15 February due to concerns it did not conform to the ABC policies on opinion in analysis pieces. We've established that it was removed on 15 February. When was it reposted?

Mr Sunderland : Again, it was—

Ms Guthrie : Afternoon on the 22nd.

Senator KENEALLY: No, the analysis piece, not the news piece.

Mr Sunderland : There was a period of some days.

Senator KENEALLY: I believe it was eight days?

Ms Guthrie : It was about 22 February.

Senator KENEALLY: When did Ms Alberici submit it for republishing?

Mr Sunderland : She submitted a version of it for republishing I believe on the afternoon of the Friday.

Senator KENEALLY: So on the afternoon of the Friday, and it took into the next week for it to be republished?

Mr Sunderland : Yes, and the version that was republished was not the version that was submitted on the Friday.

Senator KENEALLY: So you know that about the analysis piece? You're able to track the different versions of the analysis piece?

Mr Sunderland : I know that about the analysis piece simply because, by that stage—and because it was about analysis and opinion, where I've had a bit to say and had some involvement in our guidance note around analysis and opinion—my editorial adviser was saying to me: 'We've got to look at this; we've got to do some work on it. It's going to take some time.' So I was aware of that process.

Senator KENEALLY: Did Mr Morris express concerns about republishing the analysis piece?

Mr Sunderland : The communication I saw from him was that we can quickly fix the news report, and we will. We'll take a closer look at the analysis piece. That'll take longer, and I'm not sure what will happen with that.

Senator KENEALLY: You don't know if he raised any concerns or objections to republishing the analysis piece?

Mr Sunderland : The only concern raised with me by anybody, including Mr Morris, was about making sure that we got it right when we republished it.

Senator KENEALLY: You say you don't know exactly when Ms Alberici was brought into the process of trying to, to use a colloquial term, 'fix' the article to conform to ABC standards. How can she be locked out of her own story? She's the chief economics correspondent; shouldn't she have been brought in immediately?

Mr Sunderland : I agree with you. She certainly wasn't locked out of her own story.

Senator KENEALLY: It took 13 hours, until 8 pm, for her to be contacted by Mr Morris.

Mr Sunderland : With respect, you're assuming that the only person responsible for bringing Emma into that process would have been the director of news. That would be the last person I would expect to be doing that.

Senator KENEALLY: Who should be the first person to bring her in?

Mr Sunderland : As soon as the director of news raised concerns, I would expect the reporter to be brought in. I have no doubt that she would have been brought in; it just wouldn't have been by the director of news, necessarily. It may have been the business editor, who approved the piece, who might have contacted her and said, 'We've got problems.' Somebody would have brought her into that piece very early on. Again, my concern is not with reconstructing the kind of timeline that you are seeking; my concern is with making sure that process operated. I can take on notice precisely when Emma was first told there was an issue, but I would be most surprised if that wasn't very, very soon after News itself was alerted there was an issue they had to work on, because of course the reporter would have to be involved in that right from the start.

Senator O'NEILL: I'm surprised you can't tell us that tonight.

Mr Sunderland : I'm not trying to be unhelpful here. I'm trying to explain that if you come at this from the perspective you seem to be coming from, where you want to construct a precise timeline with individuals' names on it—for what purpose is not entirely clear to me—then yes, I can see why you're surprised. If you come at it from my perspective, which is to say, 'The ABC collectively takes responsibility,' as we should, 'for the quality of our content.' I need to find out what went wrong with the process, what we can learn from it and how it went wrong. I'm less concerned, for example, with whether it was Mr McMurtrie, Mr Morris, Mr Verrender or somebody else who first picked up the phone to Ms Alberici and I'm more concerned with making sure the process works.

Senator O'NEILL: There have been documents tabled here this evening that assert the reports were subsequently reviewed and amended as there were some accuracy and contextual issues with the news story. There are claims made about how this matter has been managed to date which would require some considerable detail before you could make that public comment, send it to the minister and table it here, yet every single time you're asked a detailed question, you say: 'I'm sorry, I'm unaware of the detail. Look, I'm sure that she was contacted by someone, but at this point of time I haven't checked, yet I'm going to allow the chair to put a letter to the minister where there is an assumption that detail has to have been informing what was going on.' How can you send a letter without any of the detail? How can you make the claims in this letter without being able to provide any of the detail that has been asked?

Ms Guthrie : I think what we're really trying to get across is that there is a collective responsibility in the news management team and the news editorial process arrangements that clearly failed in this instance. We were very up-front in both the letter to the minister and in my opening statement that there have been failures in the process. It is not part of that process to determine who was responsible for every word in the article, in the first place, and it's also not as part of that process to determine who contacted who or when complaints came in, because we were very, very focused on making sure that we reposted both articles as quickly as we could. So that is what we spent time on, not on apportioning blame.

Senator KENEALLY: This is not about the process. We can change tack slightly. Does Ms Alberici have a history of making gross errors in her reporting?

Ms Guthrie : No.

Senator KENEALLY: No?

Ms Guthrie : No.

Senator KENEALLY: Prior to this, have you had any findings of error in regard to any of Ms Alberici's articles?

Mr Sunderland : I'd have to check on that.

Senator KENEALLY: But nothing jumps to mind?

Mr Sunderland : No, nothing jumps to mind.

Senator KENEALLY: Okay. Given the news and analysis pieces contained minor issues of accuracy and given that, as you've said tonight, the ABC as a whole is responsible for this in terms of its editing and fact checking, its social media, its television straps and conforming to ABC policies, the ABC as a whole—if I can borrow your words, Mr Sunderland—seems to have failed to fit into the high editorial standards of the ABC.

Mr Sunderland : Certainly we've made mistakes.

Senator KENEALLY: So given that Ms Alberici had rewritten the news and analysis pieces so quickly, why did the articles have to be withdrawn? Why did the analysis piece have to be withdrawn?

Mr Sunderland : Okay, let me recap that for you and make the distinction.

Senator KENEALLY: Would you agree that it's a drastic step to withdraw an article and leave it off publication for eight days?

Mr Sunderland : Look, it is something we avoid doing if we can. It's certainly not without precedent and it's not necessarily hugely unusual, but we prefer not to do it. Understand, of course, that the news article was treated very differently; it was amended, reposted and not taken down much more quickly than we were able to deal with the analysis piece. The reason the analysis piece took the length of time it did was that, once we determined that it didn't fit our requirements as a piece of analysis, it wasn't a simple case, as it was with the news piece, of going back, checking a few things, adjusting the context and picking up a few minor—

Senator KENEALLY: How do you know that? You haven't done a side by side comparison.

Senator O'NEILL: Exactly.

Mr Sunderland : What we have done with the opinion piece to turn it into an analysis piece—

Senator KENEALLY: It not an opinion piece; it's an analysis piece.

Mr Sunderland : It was an opinion piece when it started and it was an analysis when we reposted it. What we did was sit down with the reporter, the editorial adviser and the senior management and worked that piece, reworked it and came back. I understand it went through a number of different versions until everybody—the reporter, the editor and the editorial adviser—was comfortable that it was a piece that was fine to repost, and then we reposted it. All of that detailed work was done by the people whose responsibility it was to do it. The failing was that it wasn't done prior to the initial publication. So all of that analysis took place and all of those changes were made, and I personally have satisfied myself, on the advice of my editorial adviser, that the piece we reposted now meets our editorial standards.

Senator KENEALLY: Could the problem have been fixed without taking Alberici's analysis down and hanging her out to dry?

Mr Sunderland : I don't believe so. Well, let me be more accurate. It could have been fixed if we'd left it up for several days, because we now know how long it took us to get a piece that everyone was comfortable with editorially. The only alternative to taking that piece of analysis down would have been to leave up for that number of days a piece that we knew did not conform to our editorial policies. That's not an option we would take.

Ms Guthrie : Senator Kennelly, I object to the proposition in your question that we hung Ms Alberici out to dry.

Senator KENEALLY: This is the exact question posed by Paul Barry on Media Watch—I'm just using his words. He thinks the answer is absolutely yes, the piece could have been updated online. You disagree with that proposition?

Ms Guthrie : Yes, I do. I disagree with that fundamentally. I do not think at all that we have hung Ms Alberici out to dry. We have been focused on making sure that we provide the adequate editorial and other support for Ms Alberici and the change that we've made to our processes and resourcing as a result of the review we've conducted is really to make sure that support is provided to the business team.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you feel regret that your senior journalist has had a hit to her reputation as a result of the way the ABC handled this story?

Ms Guthrie : I don't view that Ms Alberici has had a hit to her reputation at all.

Senator KENEALLY: Really? There have been countless pieces in many newspapers questioning her qualifications. Chris Mitchell and Nick Cater have written articles questioning the qualifications, the intelligence—

Ms Guthrie : And others have supported her. Numerous articles have come out in support of the work Ms Alberici has done.

Senator KENEALLY: So let me ask you this then, Ms Guthrie. You say you don't accept that her reputation has taken a hit. Do you have full confidence in your chief economics editor, Emma Alberici?

Ms Guthrie : I can say to you that Ms Alberici is our chief economics correspondent and will continue to be our chief economics correspondent. The important thing here—and I think this has been lost in the context, and this is where I think we do take responsibility at an institutional level at the ABC—is that we made some changes at the end of last year in terms of making sure that we were providing our news, analysis and context on a truly cross-platform basis. This was one of the first times Ms Alberici was writing a substantive analysis piece.

Senator KENEALLY: Can you give us a statement—

CHAIR: Senator Keneally, you have had your full hour.

Senator KENEALLY: I know, and I appreciate that so much, Chair. With your indulgence, I am almost done.

CHAIR: We need to move on. If there's time at the end, we can come back to it.

Senator KENEALLY: There are some yes-or-no questions—there are two.

CHAIR: They normally are. Senator Reynolds.

Senator REYNOLDS: Thank you very much.

Senator KENEALLY: I would like to ask—

CHAIR: We can come back. Senator Keneally, I've given the call to Senator Reynolds.

Senator KENEALLY: I'm sorry. I would really like to ask Ms Guthrie—I gave her some leeway to finish answering the question. I'd really like her to answer the question—

CHAIR: But we've had an hour, Senator Keneally, on this one—

Senator KENEALLY: if she has confidence in her chief economics correspondent, Emma Alberici.

CHAIR: And Ms Guthrie did answer that question. Senator Reynolds, you have the call.

Senator KENEALLY: Did she answer it?

Senator REYNOLDS: Thank you very much.

Senator KENEALLY: Did she say yes or no?

Senator REYNOLDS: I've just had a look at the letters that the minister tabled, and there are just a few issues I'd like to follow up, perhaps as a point of clarification. The first one was Senator Fifield's letter to you, Ms Guthrie. I hadn't been aware of this, but he commented that Ms Alberici had liked and retweeted a politically partisan attack on the government by the opposition leader. Could perhaps you or Mr Sunderland provide information on the nature of that tweet and where it fit in the time line? Was it before or after these two pieces in question?

Mr Sunderland : It might be safest for me to take that on notice.

Senator REYNOLDS: I'm sorry, but I won't accept that. This is an issue at the heart of the letter that the minister has written to Ms Guthrie about. It has been the subject of intense media speculation. And the fact that you're going to take that on notice I find almost unbelievable.

Mr Sunderland : In terms of the timing of a tweet that was made by Ms Alberici.

Senator REYNOLDS: I sat there and listened—

Senator ABETZ: It was mentioned in the minister's letter.

Senator REYNOLDS: Mr Sunderland, I sat there and listened to your nonresponses on questions that I would have absolutely expected an editorial director to be able to answer. That you don't know if the tweet that the minister raised with Ms Guthrie was before or after this event—can you just say whether it was before or after?

Ms Guthrie : Senator, perhaps I can be helpful.

Senator REYNOLDS: Thank you, Ms Guthrie.

Ms Guthrie : My understanding is that that tweet happened after both articles were posted.

Senator REYNOLDS: Was it in relation to a similar matter, in relation to taxation?

Ms Guthrie : I can't be sure, but I understand it was after the articles.

Senator REYNOLDS: I literally, unlike my Labor colleagues, find it almost inconceivable, Mr Sunderland, that you have come here so unprepared to answer the very obvious questions we are asking here today. Talking about the tweet, it's actually very reminiscent of a discussion we had in October last year, if you'll recall, in relation to Mr Sami Shah—when we had a bit of a dance about 'When is a journalist a journalist?' and 'When's a broadcaster not a broadcaster?' It was my belief at the time that he was actually in the employ of the ABC, and you came back and confirmed that. If you recall, with those tweets we had a discussion that never had a conclusion satisfactory to my end. What responsibility does the ABC have for your broadcasters and journalists who tweet things that should never be editorially acceptable to the ABC but are tweeting merrily away on things that are clearly partisan and quite inappropriate?

Does this fall into that category of—I understand that Mr Shah is still working. In fact, he's replaced Red Symons in Melbourne. So, to me this raises a big issue. Earlier you said: 'Well, you know, it's private tweets; I'm not sure if he actually works for us or not. We'll have to look into it.' But this is starting to look like a pattern of behaviour that has not been addressed by the ABC. Have you addressed it in terms of Mr Shah, in terms of other employees, about their personal use of tweets that clearly would bring the ABC into disrepute?

Ms Guthrie : We do have a social media policy. Actually, a number of tweets from Mr Shah's personal account were in breach of our social media policy and he was counselled on that matter, and the issue has been resolved.

Senator REYNOLDS: Was Ms Alberici similarly counselled, about this tweet?

Ms Guthrie : I wasn't aware that the minister was specifically raising an issue that I needed to investigate in terms of a breach of our social media policy. But—

Senator REYNOLDS: But—sorry—it was in his letter to you.

Ms Guthrie : As one example of issues that he had concerns around.

Senator REYNOLDS: So the ABC has not addressed the issue of this tweet—which you are obviously aware of—in any way. The issue that it was inappropriate for your chief economic editor to be reposting tweets from the Leader of the Opposition criticising the government on the very issue she's writing editorials on—has that not been addressed?

Ms Guthrie : Again, I haven't done a separate investigation on that social media—

Senator REYNOLDS: If you could you perhaps take that—because that, clearly, was raised by the minister in his letter. I want to go back to some of Mr Sunderland's responses to the Labor Party senators. The letter back from Ms Guthrie to the minister says, 'While both pieces went through the online subediting process, they were not upwardly referred to more senior editors prior to publication.' So I'm presuming that the subeditors were the ones responsible for uplifting it?

Ms Guthrie : Upward referral, do you mean?

Senator REYNOLDS: Sorry; upward referral, to use your terminology. So it was the responsibility of the online subeditors, if they'd seen anything wrong with it, for them to upwardly refer. Is that correct?

Mr Sunderland : The responsibility rests with every step of the way. So it's open to the reporter to upwardly refer matters, right up to—

Senator REYNOLDS: Okay. So did Ms Alberici, at any point, refer this upwards for review before she submitted it?

Mr Sunderland : Yes, of course, because she submitted it to her line manager, who was the business editor. In terms of upward referral, Ms Alberici did upwardly refer it to her line manager, and I understand—

Senator REYNOLDS: Are these the online subeditors?

Mr Sunderland : No, that would be to her business editor, Mr Verrender. And then, ultimately—because it was online copy—it would have finished up with the online subeditors.

Senator REYNOLDS: So it actually went through two lines of editing in your department.

Ms Guthrie : Not in Editorial Policy; within News.

Mr Sunderland : It's not quite that simple, because the responsibility of, for example—

Senator REYNOLDS: Mr Sunderland, you're not talking about that many people, or a vast bureaucracy of hundreds of people. What I understand from this letter—'while both pieces went through the online subediting process'—is there was an online editing process. Who referred it to them? Ms Alberici?

Mr Sunderland : I'll be brief; let me try and capture this. The reporter writes it, it goes to her line manager, who is the business editor. He then looks at it; they then—

Senator REYNOLDS: So he or she didn't raise any concerns with Ms Alberici's story at the time?

Mr Sunderland : He—my understanding was that there was a conversation about concerns—and there were some changes made. My understanding is that that process—

Senator REYNOLDS: So her online manager raised concerns with the content of one or both of these pieces. She made changes to the piece, and then it would have gone back to him for review. Is that right?

Mr Sunderland : Ultimately, by passing that off to be published, that was an indication that it had been through the normal, immediate upward referral you'd expect, and her editor was happy with the piece, the reporter was happy with the piece. The two pieces then go separately. One goes to the online and opinion editor for online: they have a responsibility as well to have a look at it and make sure they're happy with it; the news piece goes to the newsroom.

Senator REYNOLDS: Mr Sunderland, taking a step back from this and looking at this from our perspective, you can see there's a very—unusually, for this committee—partisan point of view on this. If you, or any of us, are looking at this process: here you've got your chief economics editor writing a piece on a highly politically charged issue of the day, for the government and the opposition. And yet it managed to go through all of your own editorial processes and: 'Oops, we made a mistake.' To me, it demonstrates a serious flaw in your editorial processes that at no point did anybody think—a senior economic editor, a very politically controversial issue—'Should we actually have a look at this?'

Ms Guthrie : Senator, we acknowledge that. That's why we've made the changes.

Senator REYNOLDS: Ms Guthrie, let's come to your acknowledgement of that. Both of you have said several times here: 'It's an organisational responsibility; we're all responsible for this'. But at no time have either of you said that somebody is actually accountable for this process. As the editorial director, Mr Sunderland, instead of saying, 'We're all sorry and we're all responsible,' I would have thought you would have said, 'I'm accountable for this because it's my people who've systemically stuffed up.'

Ms Guthrie : Senator, perhaps I can be helpful here. The news division is separate to the editorial policy division—editorial director. The news division had an upward referral process. At no point did it go for referral to editorial policies for the original posting of both the news and the analysis piece. On reflection, that was a mistake. On reflection, there should have been more upward referral. On reflection, there should have been more resources supporting Ms Alberici and the business editor, particularly in relation to longer pieces.

Senator REYNOLDS: Ms Guthrie, I understand that, but, ultimately, this was an absolutely catastrophic failure. The ATO had to put out a statement on that—very rare. You had ministers and you had anybody who knew anything about economics, pretty much, saying, 'She was wrong.' What are you going to do in the ABC? What are you doing? This is what we have not said. You said, 'We all take responsibility.' It wasn't your section, Mr Sunderland. Somebody has to be accountable for this, and changes have to be made so it cannot happen again.

Ms Guthrie : It's absolutely the case that we are reinforcing that editorial team. We have created a new role—the executive editor—who is in place to oversee those key specialist areas, like business, finance, investigative journalism and politics, and we're also creating a new digital unit which has more resources within the business reporting team. That kind of strengthens the quality control processes for online content from the business reporting team. We recognise these are critical areas where the ABC should be providing analysis.

Senator REYNOLDS: On probably the most highly charged political issue of the day, federally, your senior economics correspondent got the facts unbelievably wrong. Not only did she get them wrong, but nobody in your organisation picked it up. That just seems unbelievable.

Ms Guthrie : Again, Senator, I don't agree with your characterisation that Ms Alberici got the facts completely wrong. The news piece was amended, but it was the analysis piece that was the most problematic piece, and that's where we spent a lot of effort.

Senator REYNOLDS: Thank you.

Senator ABETZ: Can I ask the chief financial officer how much income the ABC received in the last financial year, just in rough terms?

Ms Higgins : Just over a billion dollars.

Senator ABETZ: How much money was left over at the end of last financial year?

Ms Higgins : I don't have that in hand, but it would be very minimal, given our budget is fully allocated.

Senator ABETZ: There's a difference between income and profit, isn't there?

Ms Higgins : Yes, there is.

Senator ABETZ: Why don't we tell Emma Alberici to talk with the chief financial officer and she might get a basic lesson in economics! Can I ask you, Ms Guthrie: are we able to table all complaints to the ABC from the opposition leader's office, Labor and Green parliamentarians and unions since the last federal election?

Ms Guthrie : I'm not sure why that is necessary.

Senator ABETZ: It is not for you to wonder why. It's for me to know why I'm asking these questions. Are you able to provide that information? I would have thought it's pretty obvious, given the questioning we got from the Labor Party as to representations being made by the minister to yourself complaining about ABC stories. I just wanted to know whether the Labor Party and the Greens do the same thing.

Ms Guthrie : We can absolutely agree with you that we have complaints from members of the public, we have complaints from interest groups and we have complaints from various—

Senator ABETZ: Let's not waste time tonight. It's very short. Are you able to provide a list of people from the list that I provided: opposition leader's office, Labor and Green parliamentarians, federal, and trade unions?

Ms Guthrie : Many of those may be telephone calls that we don't keep track of. Many of those may be emails where—

Senator ABETZ: You don't keep track of telephone calls?

Ms Guthrie : No, we don't keep track of telephone calls.

Senator ABETZ: From parliamentarians or the opposition leader's office?

Ms Guthrie : No.

Senator ABETZ: They just go into the ether and are forgotten about?

Ms Guthrie : Well no, they don't. But I speak to politicians—

Senator ABETZ: All right—any written complaints then; any written complaints in the last 12 months. Do your best with it. Now can I refer to the Jon Stephens case that I asked questions about at the last estimates and some of the responses that I received. Is it fair to say that it has taken the ABC about a full year to commence an investigation into this very serious claim of sexual assault against a minor?

Ms Guthrie : I think we are certainly still currently investigating the particular incident and, as part of that, we're aiming to locate and interview relevant employees.

Senator ABETZ: I asked: did it take you about a full year to commence an investigation into this very serious complaint?

Ms Guthrie : But I think in the interim there were court proceedings, so we didn't feel that there was—

Senator ABETZ: And why? Why would court proceedings stop you from undertaking what should be your concern about this young person? These court proceedings were criminal, which requires a standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt. In relation to civil remedies, it might be, just on the balance of probabilities, that compensation might be potentially payable. But I would have thought that, out of a social conscience, the ABC might have proactively sought to ascertain from this individual what occurred and deal with him in an appropriate manner. There are more than 17½ thousand stories on relating to the child sex abuse royal commission, yet this case, which involved an ABC employee, I think hit the news once. And the ABC's standard on this has been a huge double standard in relation to its treatment of other institutions. But is it correct that, to date, the individual has not yet been contacted by the ABC?

Ms Guthrie : Yes, that's correct.

Senator ABETZ: Well, can I just lodge that I think that is absolutely disgraceful. But let's move on. The investigation finally commenced in August 2017, and yet the ABC has not been able to establish the agreement between the ABC and the talent agency. Does that remain the case?

Ms Guthrie : That is the case. We are still trying to find that talent agreement. But, as you know, that happened many, many years ago.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, and that is what the Catholic Church and others say as well, but your journalists seem very anxious to pursue them. Now what about the policies or procedures that were in place at the time? Are you able to establish them?

Ms Guthrie : Yes, we are.

Senator ABETZ: You have?

Ms Guthrie : My understanding is: we have conducted an investigation into the policies that were there at the time.

Senator ABETZ: And what were they?

Ms Guthrie : We certainly have a duty of care over the physical wellbeing of people who are involved, of children who are involved—

Senator ABETZ: Which means that, since you became aware of it, you still haven't contacted the person to find out what the ABC could potentially do to alleviate this person's circumstances.

Ms Guthrie : Well, we're investigating the circumstances in which the offence occurred.

Senator ABETZ: But the circumstance has now been determined by a court with a plea of guilty, right? There is no doubt that it occurred, is there, in the ABC's mind? Yet you have still not contacted the victim. Yet the ABC pontificates nearly every night about church organisations, schools and other groupings within the community, for a standard that seems very similar to that adopted by the ABC—all of which, might I add, are unacceptable. But what I find grossly unacceptable is the double standard of the ABC.

So, have you found the policies or procedures that were in place at the time?

Ms Guthrie : I'll have to take the specifics of that on notice.

Senator ABETZ: All right, if you could, because last time you said that you haven't been able to find them. But if they've since been found that'd be good. Have you been able to establish whether the ABC has a duty of care to this individual?

Ms Guthrie : We are determining any potential liability that we might have to the individual in question. But, as I said to you at the outset, we are still investigating.

Senator ABETZ: Do you accept that, apart from legal responsibility, you just might also have a duty of care? A social responsibility?

Ms Guthrie : It's certainly not something that I want to go to in public circumstances, because, as I said, the investigation is still continuing. But I can say that one of the issues that is still open is to what extent we are responsible, in terms of—

Senator ABETZ: On the occasion that this occurred, was Mr Stephens an employee of the ABC?

Ms Guthrie : Can I just make one overarching statement? We are not responsible for the actions of our employees on weekends, or on holidays or in a number of circumstances. So we have to determine liability at a time when somebody was acting as—

Senator ABETZ: Was Mr Stephens an employee of the ABC at the time?

Ms Guthrie : That is my understanding.

Senator ABETZ: Thank you. That's all I asked. There is no doubt that Mr Stephens engaged in criminal conduct with a young male?

Ms Guthrie : That was the subject of the proceedings.

Senator ABETZ: Yes. And that young male came into the presence of Mr Stephens courtesy of an ABC assignment?

Ms Guthrie : We are not clear about that.

Senator ABETZ: How long is it going to take you to find this out?

Ms Guthrie : We want to conduct a thorough investigation.

Senator ABETZ: It's amazing your journalists have been so exceptionally quiet on this case. Anyway, that's another matter. What is the expected cost of this investigation?

Ms Guthrie : I'll have to take that on notice. My understanding is that no third-party costs have been incurred so far.

Senator ABETZ: You might like to have a look at that, because I understand you've got an independent barrister working on the case. You mightn't have paid out any money, but I dare say he's not doing it pro bono. Is the taxpayer funding this?

Ms Guthrie : We do have independent legal advice, as I said; we haven't yet—

Senator ABETZ: That must be costing the ABC.

Ms Guthrie : We haven't made any payments so far.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, but, do you know what the anticipated cost will be?

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

Senator ABETZ: Thank you. And can you confirm in relation to this matter that the ABC only had one news story?

Mr Sunderland : That's my understanding, and I think that remains the case.

Senator ABETZ: Why did the ABC think that they could only investigate the matter after the court case had concluded?

Ms Guthrie : It was important to us to determine the facts. Essentially, the allegation and—

Senator ABETZ: Could you imagine your journalists saying to anybody, especially the Catholic Church, 'We're not investigating any of these complaints until somebody's been convicted in a court of law'?

Ms Guthrie : I can tell you that I—

Senator ABETZ: Can you imagine the outcry of your journalists? Yet this is exactly the attitude the ABC has adopted.

Ms Guthrie : Can I make it clear that the ABC was not a party to those court proceedings. It isn't something that I was aware of, in terms of the case, until sentencing.

Senator ABETZ: They were criminal proceedings; of course you weren't. So why were you hiding behind proceedings that you weren't part of—criminal proceedings—and not getting an investigation underway as soon as you were told by the victim, some 12 months ago?

Ms Guthrie : All I can say to you is that this is the investigation that is continuing. We waited until the court proceedings were finalised. As soon as they were finalised and as soon as I became aware of the situation, I initiated the investigation.

Senator ABETZ: But why did you have to wait until the criminal proceedings had been—

Ms Guthrie : Because, frankly, Senator, I wasn't aware of it.

Senator ABETZ: What? Surely you would have been aware that he had been charged?

Ms Guthrie : I wasn't aware that—

Senator ABETZ: You mightn't have been, but were other people below you within the ABC, who would have potentially worked with this Mr Stephens character in previous years, aware that he was up on a charge?

Ms Guthrie : My understanding is that that wasn't something that we were aware of.

Senator ABETZ: Know nothing; saw nothing. I wish the ABC journalists would be as kind to other people in relation to these types of matters. So what are the procedures now? Are we just continuing to employ lawyers or independent barristers but not reaching out to the victim?

Ms Guthrie : We have employed one independent barrister, and that barrister is conducting interviews of relevant employees at the time.

Senator ABETZ: And are any of them still with you?

Ms Guthrie : My understanding is that they aren't.

Senator ABETZ: In relation to Triple J's Hottest 100, does the ABC accept that it has a charter obligation to listen to all Australians?

Ms Guthrie : I don't think there is a specific charter obligation around listening to all Australians, but I can say that, obviously, the charter is very clear that we provide services to all Australians.

Senator ABETZ: And the ABC is aware from published opinion polls of the overwhelming support in the Australian community for having Australia Day on 26 January?

Ms Guthrie : Absolutely, and the ABC has always maintained, and will continue to maintain, a very strong commitment to covering Australia Day celebrations. I myself was down here at the Australian of the Year—

Senator ABETZ: But Triple J can discount that completely?

Ms Guthrie : But Triple J has a distinct audience where the median age is early 20s, and they conducted their own survey of 60,000 of their listeners.

Senator ABETZ: I will put some questions on notice, or, if there's a spillover, we'll ask further questions about that.

CHAIR: There will be one.

Senator ABETZ: All right. Can I go to the report on 7.30 on Ahed Tamimi on 20 February this year. Generally speaking, would you expect an ABC reporter to include the entirety of a quote from a key player in a news story?

Ms Guthrie : I'll have to take that question on notice. It's not something I'm aware of.

Senator ABETZ: Surely that would be a given that you would expect the reporter to include the entirety of a quote from a key player in a news story?

Ms Guthrie : It depends on how long the quote is.

Senator ABETZ: Would you consider it acceptable for a reporter to edit out a remark that changes the context and, possibly, even the meaning of the quote?

Ms Guthrie : I really am not aware of the circumstances of this.

Senator ABETZ: As a matter of principle, would you agree that that is a standard that the ABC should be setting for itself?

Ms Guthrie : Of not editing selectively?

Senator ABETZ: For a reporter not to edit out a remark that changes the context and possibly even the meaning of the quote?

Ms Guthrie : As a general statement of principle, yes.

Senator ABETZ: Thank you. You've previously told this committee, Ms Guthrie, that you are responsible for all broadcasts out of the Middle East bureau. Did you watch the report by Sophie McNeill on 7.30 on 20 February on Ahed Tamimi?

Ms Guthrie : No, I didn't.

Senator ABETZ: In that report, Ms McNeill edited a quote from Ms Tamimi. The quote used during the report was:

Trump has declared the decision and they have to take responsibility whatever our reaction is whether it's stabbing attacks, or suicide attacks, or stone throwing.

That's where she finished the quote. However, the quote goes on to say that this Tamimi lady, I understand, continued by saying, 'Everyone must do things so we can unite this way, so we can get our message across in the required way.' In other words, she was inciting violence for people to stab and have suicide attacks and stone throwing. Yet that was just cut off at the end of the sentence to make it seem as though Ms Tamimi was not inciting violence.

Ms Guthrie : Senator, I'm not sure—

Senator ABETZ: Could I invite you to have a look at that story and come back to the committee with a written response to my questions. The reporter also appeared to put the first quote to Ms Tamimi's lawyer for comment rather than her second, which elicited the response, 'She is not saying people should act in that manner or be stabbing people or making terrorist attacks,' when of course the actual statement was, 'Everyone must do things,' such as stone throwing, suicide attacks or stabbing attacks.

Ms Guthrie : Again, I am not aware of the precise story that you're talking about.

Senator ABETZ: That's why I am inviting you to look at it.

Ms Guthrie : I will say that the sentence you read out didn't seem to me to be talking about incitement of violence at all.

Senator ABETZ: 'Everyone must do things'—so, we say, 'They have to take responsibility for whatever our reaction is. Whether it's stabbing attacks, suicide attacks or stone throwing, everyone must do things so we can unite this way'—that is not incitement, in the view of the ABC's Managing Director and Chief Editor? That's bizarre.

Ms Guthrie : When you first said, 'Everyone must do things,' I thought that was the line that you were talking about. I am not aware of the entire quote. I don't know where you have got the different versions. But can we take all of that on notice?

Senator ABETZ: There are no two different versions. What the ABC and Sophie McNeill, as a past master at this, did was cropp the sentence so it doesn't look that bad. Yet there was incitement to violence, if the whole statement is read out. That is what makes this report so objectionable and, yet again, so pro-Palestinian, so anti-Israel, which is a recurring theme at these estimates. Sometimes I wonder why I bother, but I will continue in a vain attempt to try to get the ABC to recognise that the reporting that comes out of the Middle East is not up to standard. But you have agreed to take this on notice, and I would invite you to do so. Can I quickly turn to the ABC's change from Telstra to Optus, and ask—

Ms Guthrie : We've actually changed from Optus to Telstra.

Senator ABETZ: First of all from Telstra to Optus, and that was a debacle, so you changed back from Optus to Telstra. That's correct, isn't it?

Ms Guthrie : I disagree with the characterisation it was a debacle. We got better terms with Telstra and we are always striving for more effective and efficient procurement.

Senator ABETZ: Be very careful with that answer. You changed from Telstra to Optus because you were allegedly going to get better value, until I think you realised the footprint wasn't there, and then you had to switch back.

Ms Guthrie : I disagree with that.

Senator ABETZ: Why did you change from Telstra to Optus?

Ms Guthrie : In order to reduce our costs.

Senator ABETZ: To save money.

Ms Guthrie : Yes.

Senator ABETZ: And you changed from Optus to Telstra also to save money?

Ms Guthrie : Because Telstra offered us a better deal at that point.

Senator ABETZ: Didn't you have a locked-in contract with Optus?

Ms Guthrie : Perhaps Ms Higgins can provide details, because she's responsibility for procurement.

Ms Higgins : We had reached a point in our contract with Optus where we could switch out and go back to Telstra.

Senator ABETZ: And Telstra then gave you an even better deal than Optus?

Ms Higgins : They gave us a better deal than they had at the time that we had tendered the—

Senator ABETZ: No, better than the Optus deal? Be careful with your answer.

Ms Higgins : I will be very clear with my answer. It matched the Optus deal.

Senator ABETZ: So it was not better, Ms Guthrie. Why would you bother changing if it matched the Optus deal? Something else is behind this, isn't it? If the price is exactly the same, why would you bother changing?

Ms Higgins : It's important to note—and it's a valid question—even though we didn't make better savings on that switch-back, we do have a broader operational contract with Telstra. When we recently renegotiated that deal in totality, savings were absolutely delivered.

Senator ABETZ: But that was separate to your changing out—none of that concerned you when you switched from Telstra to Optus in the first place, did it?

Ms Higgins : It did.

Senator ABETZ: Then why did you switch?

Ms Higgins : We switched because—

Senator ABETZ: If it concerned you so greatly, why did you switch from Telstra to Optus?

CHAIR: I'm afraid we are out of time.

Senator ABETZ: All right. We will follow this up on another occasion.

CHAIR: We will all be gathering again because my Labor colleagues requested a spillover for the ABC, amongst a couple of other agencies. Written questions on notice need to be with the secretariat by close of business on Friday, 9 March. Thank you, Minister, and thank you officers from the ABC.

Committee adjourned at 23:01