ABC reviews spending: ‘We must maintain broadcast services for our large and loyal audiences’

The ABC’s CFO Louise Higgins last night fronted a Senate estimates hearing.

The ABC’s chief financial and strategy officer Louise Higgins last night fronted the Senate, Environment and Communications Legislation Committee. Her statement is published below:

• Budget 2018 and public broadcasters – ABC funding frozen, Modest boost for SBS

As Chief Financial and Strategy Officer, my job is to ensure the public understands how the ABC is funded, how those funds are spent and our strategic direction for the broadcaster into the future.

Like my colleagues, I treat seriously the ABC’s obligation to be transparent and accountable. After all, there are many demands on the public purse, and our annual funding of more than $1 billion is a significant investment made on behalf of all Australians.

To improve transparency and accountability, in February the ABC held its first ever Annual Public Meeting. Our objective was to detail how we spend public money, outline our strategy for the future, and – importantly – describe ways in which public service broadcasting can help address policy challenges.

To build on that initiative, the ABC Board is continuing to adopt public company governance principles in relation to matters such as oversight, ethics, reporting and risk. And we are building an internal culture of disclosure that respects the public’s right to be provided with information about the ABC’s activities and positions on key matters of public importance.

As well as transparency and accountability, I am committed to the ABC’s efficiency.

That is not to say the ABC has been sitting on its hands. 30 years ago, the ABC had five platforms and 6,000 employees. Today, by contrast, we have six times the platforms but just two-thirds the staff and half the real funding per capita.

This is not a complaint so much as a statement of reality. A further reality is that our productivity journey must continue, not just because we are stewards of public resources, but also because we face two sets of rising costs.

First, like our commercial peers here and abroad, the ABC faces production costs that are escalating faster than inflation, driven by the giant content budgets of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google.

Second, we must maintain traditional broadcast services for our large and loyal audiences, at the same time as modernising our technology platforms so that digital audiences can access ABC content wherever, however and whenever they want it.

Every dollar we can save – and then some – will help the ABC meet these challenges.

No doubt the Government’s foreshadowed efficiency review will give us an opportunity to demonstrate how the ABC’s productivity has improved in recent years, and how it will continue to improve.

Chair, I appear before this Committee representing 4,000 ABC people who do important work for Australia. I include 855 journalists who work as far afield as Broome and Beirut to deliver the most trusted news service in Australia, 2,000 storytellers who provide Australian stories in a world deluged by foreign content, and many more women and men who enable the frontline through their critical support services.

My colleagues and I understand the importance of our work at the ABC – an organisation that reaches 71% of adult Australians every week, delivering a service that fully 83% of them value and 82% rate as ‘trustworthy’.

Our collective aim is to maintain those achievements while building a public service broadcaster that is transparent, accountable and efficient.

Thank you.

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