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ABC FOI bid could reveal David and Margaret’s tax: union

The union representing ABC employees has backed the public broadcaster’s bid to block an FOI request that would reveal the salaries of ABC staff, saying it would set a dangerous precedent.

The performance reviews and superannuation tallies of ABC program makers could become public if a freedom of information request by the Herald Sun proves successful, according to the union representing ABC employees.

The Herald Sun has made an FOI application for documents dealing with salaries and other payments to presenters and producers on 13 ABC programs to be made public. According to ABC sources, these programs include 7.30, At the Movies, The Gruen Transfer, Media Watch and Four Corners.

Echoing arguments made by the ABC and backed by the president of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Community and Public Sector Union argues the request is broad enough to catch personal records such as tax invoices in its net.

CPSU National President Michael Tull told Crikey: “The ABC is a very transparent organisation and we applaud the fact that it does disclose top manager’s salaries but this request goes well beyond that and raises some very important issues and concerns.

You could end up with someone’s group certificate being disclosed or even their performance review … You have to ask yourself who is that going to benefit? We view it as nothing more than an intrusion of someone’s privacy.”

In a December decision, Administrative Appeals Tribunal president Duncan Kerr found the class of documents requested by the Hun would include group certificates and tax invoices.

Tull says he’s also concerned staff members’ superannuation tallies and mobile phone, car parking and taxi receipts could be made public in the future. Production staff and junior producers would be affected as well as high-profile presenters. He also fears rival media organisations will undertake snap audits of the costs of particular programs and use them to undermine the ABC.

The ABC is under attack from many different quarters and as it enters the final stages of its triennial funding discussions with the government, the disclosure of such details would only serve to arm its attackers,” he said.

But, as Crikey reported earlier this week, the push for ABC salaries to be revealed is backed by some current staffers and former ABC managing director David Hill. “At the end of the day it’s taxpayers’ money and the taxpayers have a right to know where it’s going,” Hill told Crikey. “It’s about the principle of transparency.”

The CPSU, however, backs the ABC’s long-standing claim that publicising staff salaries would put Aunty at a disadvantage in salary negotiations and could lead to top presenters being picked off by commercial networks with deeper pockets. Hill and other ABC insiders reject this argument, saying commercial networks are already able to match or better public broadcaster salaries if they want to hire ABC staff.

Although Aunty has lost two appeals in its bid to block the FOI application the case is unlikely to reach a speedy resolution. The ABC’s tactic so far has been to argue that salary documents count as “program material” (which is exempt under the FOI Act) to test how broad the exemption is.

If this line proves unsuccessful, senior ABC sources say the broadcaster will switch tactics and argue against the FOI request on the basis of privacy or commercial in confidence information. The latter will be particularly relevant to programs such as The Gruen Transfer which are commissioned by the ABC but made by independent production companies.

13
  • 1
    bluepoppy
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    How does revealing a salary payment via FOI equal the giving out of strictly private information like group certificates and other material? It is simple. Mr X earns ‘Blah Blah’ per annum. End of story. No need to give out any other details which are already restricted by privacy provisions in any case. These arguments are grasping at straws.

  • 2
    geomac62
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Commercial in confidence must trump any attempt at disclosure of salaries . If that fails then governments must reveal contract detail of projects such as PPPs . A contract between a media organisation and a presenter is a commercially sensitive contract and that doesn,t change if its the ABC or channel nine . If the hun succeeds then by rule of law so must FOI for PPP contracts and payments to advisers . That would be the only benefit from the Murdoch medias curious snooping . Question is why they see a need to find out as its not as though they are about to divulge the salaries of their staff because that is private .

  • 3
    Anne Picot
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    Thank you bluepoppy for some common sense. There is nothing to stop the ABC from providing the basic monetary value of the staff members’ salary packages while refusing (properly) to release tax details or third party information, for example, where school fees for dependent children are included in a package. I cannot see why high profile ABC staff should not have their pay in the public domain, they are paid out of the public purse as I am, a University worker. Once upon a time such things were reported in the Commonwealth Gazette, but we have gone a long backwards since then…

  • 4
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Good, we’ll be able to compare their wages with those in the private/commercial sector - they’ll be made just as public?

  • 5
    Matt Hardin
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    @Bluepoppy as it says in the article:

    In a December decision, Administrative Appeals Tribunal president Duncan Kerr found the class of documents requested by the Hun would include group certificates and tax invoices.

    It is not just the salaries; it appears to be a broad net cast to get information.

  • 6
    Edward James
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    When my taxes are being spent, I would like to know how much and for what exactly! As for Public Private Partnerships all to often we get the news when these PPP arrangements go bad. The we find out how one sided some of them are. as an aside it is interesting Stephan mayne the founder of crikey is now on Melbourne council where he intends to make the councils arrangements more transparent in respect of just how much ratepayers are subsidising tenants renting council properties. $12 and $14 a year sounds really good value. I would like to know just how much public money is being used to buy influence. Edward James

  • 7
    geomac62
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    Ed
    Doyle got backing from developers in the hundreds of thousands which only is divulged months after the election . His ticket was the only one that I can remember not divulging info on backers . Hard to see Mayne doing much besides pointing out whatever he sees wrong , Doyle and another 5 ? on his ticket got elected . First I,ve heard about $12/14 rentals for CBD or MCC property . Warehouses ?

  • 8
    Mark Errey
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Every public sector worker’s salary scale (including mine) is freely available public information and is published in the public sector gazette when they win a promotion or transfer. It has always been so. ABC staff are paid from the Budget, straight out of taxpayers pockets and their salaries should be public information, same as every other public servant, it’s called transparency and is only proper. It smells to me like the ABC is scared it will attract a little approbrium from Joe Public should they be allowed to know how much of the public’s money they are spending on themselves.

  • 9
    geomac62
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    Mark Errey
    A presenter isn,t a clerk or similar straight type job that can be rated to a scale . For the sake of your reasoning I presume you would also state the same for PPPs yet we are told commercial in confidence . Who started that crap , Kennett ? Anyway my point is that transparency is not universal in all government dealings . That last statement seems odd , spending on themselves ? You mean I take it the salary paid to presenters etc to put a show to air . How is that spending on themselves ?

  • 10
    GF50
    Posted Thursday, 10 January 2013 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    I agree totally with the post 1,2,3. I recind a post I made on another article. (being a smart aleck, well at least flippant.) the details as to the range of the FOI request were not given.

  • 11
    Edward James
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 12:46 am | Permalink

    Geomac62 I found the reference in a story by Michael Pasco here http://www.smh.com.au/business/who-are-your-rates-subsidising-20130110-2chzd.html#ixzz2HXG45ZWe
    There are vastly more important transparency issues than what the Scout Association pays Manningham Council to use 45 Yarra Street, Warrandyte, for dib dib dibbing ($11.96 a year) or the $12.28 a year the Tunstall Square Kindergarten Association pays for 77 Tunstall Road, Doncaster East, but that disclosure is healthily symbolic of the approach that also needs to be taken to the big ticket issues of planning and building approvals. Mayne’s election to Melbourne Council could prove to be one of the more interesting outside state and federal politics. Edward James

  • 12
    geomac62
    Posted Friday, 11 January 2013 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    ED
    Thanks for reply and links .
    I was curious because the only type of similar Melbourne council rent I could name was sheds on the Yarra for sculls etc . Elite schools like Scotch pay a pittance but so to do some more mundane groups/group . $1 a year I think .
    Time will tell if Mayne has success but Doyle and his crew may block him . One thing Mayne is quite good at is drawing attention to matters he sees as not right .

  • 13
    bluepoppy
    Posted Saturday, 12 January 2013 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    @ Matt Hardin
    The class of documents requested by an FOI applicant is not at issue. It is what is allowed to be released minus what is not allowed through legislated exemptions. Tax invoices and group certificates would from my understanding come under ‘personal information’ and would be exempt. However an employment contract document displaying annual salary would be allowed with redactions made naturally to information of a private nature such as home address.

    Just because the Appeals Tribunal president Duncan Kerr found the class of documents requested by the Hun would include group certificates and tax invoices does not mean they can be released. You can ask for whatever documents you want, whether you get them is another matter.

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