Communications Minister Senator Helen
Coonan has finally got round to appointing consultants to investigate
funding of the ABC. The gig has gone to accounting firm KPMG, as this
announcement from the Minister says.

“The review will assess how the ABC uses its funding and provide a
sound basis for future consideration of the ABC’s funding needs,” says
Senator Coonan. “As stated in the Australian Government’s broadcasting
election policy, any additional resources identified as a result of
this review will be available to the ABC to use towards meeting its
Charter obligations.”

The
ABC will receive around $792 million from the Government this financial
year, plus the millions it generates from internal businesses like film
and tape sales and enterprises and the rental of facilities.

But
ask any long-term employee and a cascade of rorts, real and imagined,
come tumbling out. For example, it’s roughly a year since the biggest
alleged fraud in ABC history started emerging. The sum is claimed to be
just under a million dollars and the method of the alleged defalcation
was simple.

It took advantage of poor checks and balances in the
internal audit and vetting process that sees the ABC’s operations
predominantly based in Sydney, but the checking of the invoices and
other payment material located in Adelaide. It was based in the huge
News and Current Affairs division and involved at least three programs
and the Asia Pacific Service.

Then there’s the situation with
contractors: they are used extensively throughout the ABC but there’s
an internal rule that a contractor cannot do three successive
contracts. Why? Because they would make them a full time employee
(that’s three contracts of six months one after the other). So
producers, camera people and other technical people working as
contractors quite often have two contracts back to back and are then
forced to wait around in no man’s land for several months before
returning to work at the ABC on yet another contract or two.

Then
there’s the scheduling of staff travel interstate and within cities:
instead of people travelling to a location for a shoot together, the
camera people, stills photographer and quite often a reporter and/or
producer will turn up separately, with three different cabcharge
dockets. That doesn’t happen all the time, but it has been enough to be
noticed.

Then there’s the lack of knowledge about exactly how
many leases the ABC has over office and telephone equipment, mobile
phones, laptop computers, PDAs and the like. When ABC TV moved from
Gore Hill to Ultimo in Sydney several years ago a host of telephone
lines, handsets and other telecoms and office equipment were found to
be leased, much to the surprise of ABC financial people.

If KPMG is tough-minded enough this funding and efficiency review could really make some gains.

Peter Fray

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