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.

Peter Fray

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