ABC Responds to Call for Salary Disclosures
Australian Broadcasting Corporation Chairman Justin Milne has responded to Communications Minister, the Hon. Mitch Fifield, over calls for the national broadcaster to disclose individual names and salaries of all employees earning above a threshold of AUD$200,000 p.a.
In responding to a request from the Minister, Chairman Milne cited the ABC’s responsibilities under Section 8 of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 to maintain the integrity and independence of the ABC and to ensure that its functions are performed efficiently and with the maximum benefit to the people of Australia.
“The Board agrees with your statement that taxpayers are entitled to expect a high degree of transparency about how their taxes are being expended,” said Milne. “The ABC is subject to a level of scrutiny well beyond that imposed on any other media organisation in Australia. As you note, the Corporation has already taken steps to provide more information about the remuneration of its executives and on-air talent. These measures are consistent with guidelines that exist for Commonwealth departments and portfolio agencies.
“The Board is proposing some additional measures that align with standards in the private sector. However, the Board does not believe that the disclosure and reporting suggested in your letter is warranted or in the best interests of the Corporation and its employees. The requirements are onerous, exceed best practice in the public and private sectors, and will prove counter-productive. They will also require overriding the Privacy Act.
“The Board notes your intention to legislate to enforce the disclosure requirement. Ultimately, this is a matter for the Parliament to decide.”
In his response, Justin Milne has committed the ABC Board, from January 2018, to disclose the total remuneration of its Key Management Personnel (KMP), namely:
- The Chair
- The non-executive directors
- The Managing Director
- The Chief Financial Officer
- Director TV
- Director News
- Director Radio
“The consent to the disclosure of this information will be sought from the relevant individuals, prior to disclosure,” said Milne, noting that the remuneration of the Board members and the Managing Director are set independently and regularly published by the Remuneration Tribunal.
According to the ABC Chairman, no member of the ABC leadership team is paid more than the KMPs on an annualised basis, and that it is the intention of the Board to also provide information on other ABC employees (including journalists and on-air talent) with salaries of more than $200,000 per annum within $25,000 bands and on an anonymous basis to protect the privacy of the individuals.
“In framing this policy,” says Milne, “the Board has canvassed salary disclosure practices across the public and private sector; the ABC’s ability to attract and retain on-air talent; fairness to individuals and personal safety; our obligations under the privacy law; and our role as an independent broadcaster.
“The Board has considered the disclosure practices and policies of a wide variety of corporations, including a cross section of Australian listed companies, entities who have high profile talent, Government Business Enterprises, Commonwealth Government Departments, as well as overseas public broadcasters.
“The ABC considers that revealing the names and salary information of persons not identified as KMP exceeds established disclosure practice in Australia. Moreover, studies in the US, Canada and Australia indicate that such disclosure has the effect of ratcheting up executive salaries. The BBC has made it clear it does not agree with the disclosure regime imposed on it as it has led to salary inflation and undermined staff engagement.”
In referencing examples of other organisations, Milne cited:
- CBC/Radio Canada, which discloses titles and salaries of its senior management and on-air talent on an anonymous basis by reference to bands.
- TVNZ and RNZ, both of which disclose all employees in bands and do not name individuals, except for their CEO.
- The BBC has been forced to disclose salaries of staff and on-air talent above £150,000, a significantly higher threshold than that proposed for the ABC. The BBC opposed this new disclosure regime on the grounds it would undermined its ability to compete for talent.
- NBN Co, which discloses individual remuneration of KMP only.
- Australia Post, which discloses the individual remuneration of its MD and “senior executives”
- SBS, which discloses details of substantive executives in $25,000 bands and other executives earning more than $200,000 in $25,000 bands.
“The ABC competes with the private sector for talent,” said Milne. “The requested level of disclosure would give commercial competitors an unfair advantage as they will have full visibility of our remuneration strategies and structures. This will inevitably undermine the ABC’s ability to attract and retain quality talent.
“Our employees are accountable to the public for their performance. The ABC believes it would be particularly unfair to on-air talent to be targeted because of their salary, given their profile within the Australian community. A presenter who is on TV or radio every day is very different from a KMP who has a limited public profile.
“The ABC is subject to the Privacy Act. The ABC is not able at law to disclose personal information for a purpose other than for which it was collected, unless the individual has consented to the disclosure, or another exception applies. We consider that the requested disclosure places individuals, such as on-air talent, in precisely the situation which the Privacy Act intends to guard against. It unduly impinges on the privacy of individuals.”
“In relation to gender equity, which has been raised in the debate over salary disclosure, we would like to point out that five of our nine board members are female, 49% of our senior executive is female and 51% of the general workforce is female. We have undertaken a gender pay equity analysis and identified that there is no pay gap unfavourable to women at any level in the ABC.
“We intend to disclose salaries consistent with law and current practice. The Board is committed to transparency and accountability and adopts a best-practice approach to these matters. But the right balance must be struck. It is important to protect the privacy and safety of our employees, particularly our on-air talent, who occupy a unique position in the Australian media landscape.”
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