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ABC rejects salary disclosures, claims it would give commercial competitors an ‘unfair advantage’

The ABC has rejected a proposal to disclose the individual names and salaries of all employees earning more than $200,000 a year, arguing it would give commercial competitors an “unfair advantage” and would undermine the government-funded broadcaster’s ability to attract talent.

In a letter written by ABC chairman Justin Milne to Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, Milne argued revealing salaries would be unfair to on-air talent, as they could be targeted and said the request level of disclosure would allow commercial competitors to have “full visibility” around the way ABC pays its staff.

Milne has agreed to disclose the salaries of KMPs and those making over $200,000 anonymously

Milne’s letter follows the passing of the media reforms bill last month, which included an amendment by Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

The deal to help pass the media reforms bill was as follows: “To increase transparency of the salaries provided to senior staff and on-air talent for our national broadcasters, the government will write to the boards of the ABC and SBS stating that it is Government policy that they undertake regular and ongoing disclosure of individual salaries and allowances of staff and on-air talent where their total salary and allowances are in excess of $200,000 per annum.

“In the event either broadcaster does not agree to implement this policy, the Government will introduce legislation before the end of 2017 to amend the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 and the Special Broadcasting Services Act 1991 to give effect to this policy.”

While the board agrees taxpayers are entitled to expect a “high degree of transparency” about where their money is being spent, Milne said the ABC was subject to more scrutiny than any other media organisation, and thus had some additional measures to align with the standards of the private sector.

The ABC Board did agree taxpayers were entitled to transparency

“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,” he said.

“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.”

The board said it had agreed to disclose the total remuneration of Key Management Personnel (KMP) includes the chair, non-executive directors, managing director, chief financial officer, director of TV, news and radio.

But the board said no member of ABC leadership was being paid more than the KMPs on an annual basis.

On the topic of disclosure, Milne acknowledged there were other ABC employees on more than $200,000 a year, and said the disclosure of their salaries will be organised within $25,000 bands, and will be provided on an anonymous basis to protect their privacy, as previously requested.

“In framing this policy, 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 letter said.

Milne said The ABC believed revealing the names and salaries of people not identified as KMP exceeds established disclosure practice locally.

Making reference to the Privacy act, he also pointed to the clause which says the ABC is not allowed to disclose personal information for any purpose other than which it is collected, arguing to disclose “impinges on the privacy of individuals”.

He went on to clarify another aspect of the salary disclosure debate – gender equity.

“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.”

“The stated objective of your request is to provide taxpayers with “a high level of transparency about how their taxes are being expended on their behalf,” Milne concluded.

“We believe that disclosing individual remuneration details of our KMP and reporting on salaries of other employees who earn more than $200,000 in $25,000 bands meets this objective.”

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