Structurally Separate the ABC

Well, well, well.  The news coming out about the ABC shenanigans continues.

But honestly, is anyone really surprised.  An ungovernable, unaccountable, bureaucratic behemoth that is ….. to big to manage.  Yes too big to manage.

The media industrial complex, ABC division, is usually the first to call for and support government mandated structural solutions, especially when they apply to the private sector.  Perhaps it is time for the ABC to look inward because it is time for the structural separation of the ABC.

It happened with Telstra.  It is being argued for with the banks and energy companies.  Supermarkets are only a matter of time.  But what is the argued virtue of structural separations?  Simplification of governance, diversification of risk and dilution of power.  And where else can these benefits be achieved …. you got it.  At the ABC.

Much as Spartacus admires the work and thinking of Sinclair Davidson and Chris Berg in their recent book advocating for the privatisation of the ABC, sadly Spartacus does not think it will happen.  Privatisation that is.  As a second best solution, structural separation should be considered.

Spartacus would suggest that there are more than 1 separation models, but anyone of them would achieve benefits.

Infrastructure vs Content – ABC can be split along the content distribution and content production lines.  That way, the distribution part of new ABC (internet, television and radio pipes) can purchase content from other other part of ABC (eg the news division, the drama division).  The benefit of this would be that ABC-Distribution could source content from places other than just ABC-Content.

Radio vs Television – the business models of radio and television are different.  ABC-Radio and ABC-Television could/should be structurally separated.  The ABC “talent”, and Spartacus uses that word advisedly, would need to pick a team or alternatively become contractors offering services to both media, but also experiencing the employment risk that the most other Australians face.

State vs State – ABC is meant to be a national service.  Perhaps it be broken in to state/territory lines.  Separate management and separate boards to deal with separate local conditions and issues.

Most importantly, any structural separation should not cost a cent of additional money to the tax payers.   Ideally funding should be cut or frozen, but Spartacus won’t hold his breath.

Prime Minister Morrison has been presented with a once in a generation opportunity to do something important and creative.  If his government is not going to do the privatisation thing, they must consider something other than the status quo ante.  The ABC is too big and too complex to manage and govern.  If the government can’t get money back (through budget cuts), they should at least ensure that the ABC operates efficient and in compliance with legislation.  You know, like the ABC would like the banks to do.

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43 Responses to Structurally Separate the ABC

  1. stackja

    ABC needs changing.
    ALP/Greens don’t want change.

  2. Entropy

    Deck chairs on the titanic.

    I only wish it was sinkable.

  3. Nick

    So long as the luvvies keep frothing about ‘Murdoch’, any cognitive based change is beyond them.

  4. RobK

    I think there would be a high risk of these changes being done in a half baked fashion and the end result being worse than what we have. The government should realize the value of the fixed assests to offset debt. By all means lease it out to the employees or whoever can do something constructive with them.

  5. Pete of Perth

    From the tax payerd

  6. dauf

    Australia will not get another chance in the foreseeable future to ditch this hopelessly lost and now totally unnecessary agency…just abolish it (even give it away to staff…saving heaps annually) and let people access the plethora of news available at the click of your mouse.

    Chris Kenny’s notion of what you would know/not know if you were ‘isolated’ and only saw/heard ABC was rather telling

  7. billie

    the public’s relationship with the ABC is very much what you see in a bad marriage

    no one leaves because every so often, the partner is useful or nice or whatever, but the other shoe dropping never happens

    it gets worse and worse till there is no respect left and clearly we are well down that path

    the people who used to defend the ABC do it less and less, the arrogance of some of the public figures of the ABC gets more and more poisonous and downright insulting (Jon, that’d be you mate) as if they know the partner will never leave, so the behaviour is rewarded in that way

    there are a few ABC supporters who are becoming frantic in their support, like not-Trumpers, easily triggered

    so what happens to bad marriages?

    grave dancing, yes, but it would appear we’re in for a long wait

    no one around today had the agats to do anything and at any rate, Labor would just reassemble it unless the Libs had the wherewithall to insert a poison pill, like Labor does to pet projects and works (maaaaate, Victoria, rooled by unions!)

  8. A Lurker

    Make the ABC & SBS two subscription-based services like Foxtel.

  9. The sorts of insiders the government perceive have the politically correct credentials for appointment to the Board of the ABC are utterly incapable of effectively managing it. Another good reason for drastic change.

  10. sabena

    A starting point is removing as many personnel from offices in Sydney as possible.How about Newcastle,Wagga,Dubbo or Tamworth?

  11. Their ABC can’t be sold off as that would be unacceptable to the general public and no government would survive the fallout. However, structural change could be done and the current board drama is a reasonable reason for doing so.

    A complete review of what Their ABC does and who it serves, a bit like a Royal Commision, would enable a thorough investigation of its reason for being. That will also draw a lot of flak, but that flak could be managed.

    Does any government have the balls to do this? I doubt it. However, if Their ABC forms the opinion that no one can touch it, and that’s not far off, even Labor won’t be safe. Every political party and every politician will have to bend over for Their ABC and take what’s given, or else.

  12. Entropy

    Did people read the rather catty former insider discussion of the Acting ABC Chair by albrechtson in the Oz? (Payealled).

  13. Habib

    How about all ABC personnel’s empty heads be separated from their pudgy, pasty, gender unspecified bodies, داعش style? Ironic as they’ve been their PR source since they crawled out from under the dome of the rock, advantageous, and hilarious. Unlike anything they’ve put to air or interwebbed in the last two decades or so.

    We have to destroy the ABC in order to save it.

  14. Howard Hill

    How about we gather up anyone who even remotely mentions trying to save their ABC is thrown in a river to see if they float and if they do we burn them at the stake?

  15. Singleton Engineer

    Structural separation of News Corp is more urgent.

  16. areff

    How about Newcastle,Wagga,Dubbo or Tamworth?


    How about relocating the offices and staff to Ceduna, Andamooka, Marble Bar, maybe even Macquarie Island?

  17. jupes

    Prime Minister Morrison has been presented with a once in a generation opportunity to do something important and creative.


    That dickhead wouldn’t know a political opportunity if he fell over one. Look at his lack of action on Paris.


  18. cuckoo

    Saw a Fairfax journo tying herself in knots bagging Michelle Guthrie. According to her, Guthrie failed by doing exactly what the Age wants the ABC to do and ditching an old white middle-class presenter (Red Symons) for young wimminses and persons of (muslim) colour. The consequent ratings drop was all Guthrie’s fault, because she didn’t consider the sensibilities of the ABC’s core audience. The unstated (because correct) implication being that the core audience is old, white and middle-class.

  19. H B Bear

    The only argument for structural separation of the ALPBC is that it may make it easier to flog it off in bits. Cutting a sh1t sandwich in half doesn’t make it more palatable.

  20. jupes

    What a truly idiotic time to be alive:

    Black women reject racism and embrace their natural hair

  21. Tim Neilson

    #2829796, posted on October 2, 2018 at 3:24 pm

    Is that the $8 million new website?
    Don’t link – the clicks will just encourage them to keep wasting our money on that drivel.
    Though, I suppose, they’re going to waste it anyway, and that site may well be less harmful than whatever else they’d do with our hard earned.
    So carry on.

  22. Fred

    Move the ABC to Tennant Creek.

    With all the technology these days, there is no reason why it needs to be in Sydney.

    Those committed ABC employees will happily move.

  23. Dr Fred Lenin

    Amalgamate the two communist gangrene broadcasters ,form a public company on the ASX float it and pay the entitlements and pensions of all employees in shares in the new company they will of course be the majority. Shareholders . Lease the promises and equipment owned by the taxpayers to the new company at commercial rates ,then the geniuses can show everyone how to run a great private broadcaster as a Soviet collective ,they would know all about them of course . The leading fees to the taxpayer to be paid weekly and have first claim on revenue ,before salaries pensions etc .

  24. Bruce of Newcastle

    Here’s an idea. Structurally separate the BC into two equal corporations, a fifty fifty split.

    One will be called the Left Media Corporation of Australia. The other would be called the Right Media Corporation of Australia.

    The LMCA would then broadcast entirely left-wing material (rather like the whole ABC does now). The RMCA would overtly broadcast from a conservative and libertarian perspective. Any employee caught promulgating a left-wing view would be immediately transferred to the other corporation. And vice versa, although that seems unlikely to ever occur. An Inspector General with these powers would be established to enforce the transfers.

    The assets would be split 50:50 and the budget also.

    By this the ABC Charter would no longer need to be followed and the LMCA could be as lefty as they want. On half of the current budget. Meanwhile the other half of the Australian electorate which presently has no public broadcaster would have the RMCA.

    I think it would be a very fair arrangement…

  25. Bill Thompson

    Speaking of their ABC – Outside Insiders stayed up late last night to chat with some of the panelists on Q&A. The Brett Kavanaugh “high-tech lynching” continues – to borrow a phrase from Clarence Thomas. Meanwhile, I’ll keep asking any pollies I encounter in Melbourne whether they would support our own Senate issuing an invitation for that lady who accused Bill Shorten to come forward & be heard – under parliamentary privilege, perhaps…

  26. Dr Fred Lenin

    Arref Macquarie island sounds good if they don’t adopt my plan ,have them all in the one small place easier to control ,one downside you can’t get soy latte there ,but I’m sure thst can be remedied if we can find an investor stupid enough .

  27. Iampeter

    I think this is a good post to demonstrate what you’re constantly getting wrong about politics and your position in it, Spartacus.
    The political question is not how to make the ABC “work” or something, but whether or not it is even a legitimate function of government to be running media companies in the first place.
    Those of us who are right wing obviously don’t think this is a function of government and so we celebrate books like what Sinclair and Chris B have put out as helping to mainstream the discussion about privatizing the ABC.
    Someone like you then comes along, claiming to be an alternative to the left and getting very angry when I point out that you’re not and patronizingly dismiss this idea as something that “will not happen”.
    Then you propose a “second best” option that doesn’t do anything to address the actual political question and ends up keep media in the hands of the state.
    THIS is why you are not an alternative to the left. You and many, many people like you don’t have alternative ideas to the left and are casually dismissive of those who do and instead just propose ways to help the lefts terrible ideas work a bit longer.

    Why even bother, Spartacus?

  28. Roger

    The luvvies are all for democratic socialism – hand it over to them to run.

  29. Squirrel

    An Infrastructure vs Content split would have the added benefit of making clear how much is being spent on content vs all the rest, including general bureaucracy, and it would also allow for scrutiny of how much is being spent on local content vs. off-the-shelf stuff from BBC, ITV etc.

    As much as possible of the content money should be contestable, and could be used to fund additional local content for commercial networks.

  30. egg_

    Infrastructure vs Content – ABC can be split along the content distribution and content production lines. That way, the distribution part of new ABC (internet, television and radio pipes) can purchase content from other other part of ABC (eg the news division, the drama division). The benefit of this would be that ABC-Distribution could source content from places other than just ABC-Content.

    Founded in 1929 as the Australian Broadcasting Company, the ABC was a Government licensed consortium of private entertainment and content providers, authorised under supervision to broadcast on the airwaves using a two-tiered system. The “A” system derived its funds primarily from the licence fees levied on the purchasers of the radio receivers, with an emphasis on building the radio wave infrastructure into regional and remote areas, whilst the “B” system relied on privateers and their capacity to establish viable enterprises using the new technology.

  31. egg_

    Chris Kenny’s notion of what you would know/not know if you were ‘isolated’ and only saw/heard ABC was rather telling

    Surely that’s their aim, with constant indoctrination re CAGW for example, even though they themselves have admitted that the subject is now toxic with Joe Public.

  32. I favour the ‘check box on the tax form’ approach. It would be like the same sex ‘marriage’ referendum, the traditional marriage cohort just had to suck it up. There was a new definition and that was that.
    When it turns out their ABC would only get a couple of million $, tops, they’d have to come up with some options themselves. Imagine the infighting, it would be spectacular to watch, 4000+ mutually exclusive ‘5 year plans’ all going hammer and tongs. Classic FM would go subscription at $1000/year, including orchestras etc. It would get more money.

  33. Empire 5:5

    As a second best solution, structural separation should be considered

    It’s no solution at all. The Keating Option didn’t work for telcos and won’t work for media.

    The fundamental problem with your proposal is you are positioning for defeat prior to commencing the deal.

    The initial demise of the immoral black hole that is public broadcasting will require some compromise, but waving the white flag at the starting line is bad politics.

  34. egg_

    The Keating Option didn’t work for telcos

    Keating’s policy was to separate Telecom and OTC, with OTC being privatised as competition for Telecom – but the Cabinet chose to privatise Aussat as Optus and merge Telecom and OTC as AOTC and so ‘Telstra’ was born (the Australian and Overseas Telecommunications Corporation, formerly Telecom Australia).

  35. DaveR

    The ABC is shrieking for the Banks to be held to account for repeatedly and deliberately breaching the laws governing their operations and their obligation to the public.

    In an unrelated statement, the ABC is shrieking not to be held to account for repeatedly and deliberately breaching its Charter containing the laws governing its operations and its obligation to the public.

  36. Justinian the Great

    Good work Spartacus. We need more creative solutions to reform the ABC. Personally, I don’t get the Sinclair-Berg privatisation model that seems to gift a financial windfall to the very people who should be hauled over hot coals for being in breach of their charter. That said I haven’t read Sinclair-Berg in detail but am going off what has appeared in posts. It would seem from a cursory glance the real value is in the assets rather than the operations. Prime property sites across the nation but especially in Melbourne and Sydney would fetch a pretty penny. Then there are the license and spectrum values and so forth. How about a very simple solution. The ABC must transition over the next triennium funding deal into a full fee for service provider. That way the government (taxpayer) retains the assets and ABC management / staff manage according to fee subscription revenue in the same way as Foxtel. In one hit you defund the organisation which simultaneously creates the commercial incentive to appeal to a wider audience than communists left of the Greens. This could be achieved by a tick a box contribution on an annual tax return. My guess is the “public support” for the ABC touted by management would be akin to the amount of ordinary punters that volunteer to fly carbon neutral out of their own pocket. I believe we are talking only a few dollars but a paltry uptake sub 5%. My guess is that at a $100 plus annual subscription per household (the current mandatory household subsidy based on 9m households and $1b in funding) will be taken up by less than 2m households equating to an annual budget of around $200m rather than $1b plus. Foxtel has about 1.7m subscribers thereabouts albeit at higher subscription rates but also has far greater content. I can’t see the ABC raising more than $500m through subscriptions. Time to market test it.

  37. .

    Just give them away:

    Privatising the ABC

    The privatisation of the ABC is a high priority and a perfect candidate for a share give-away to the people. If New Zealand is able to live without a national government-owned broadcaster, then so can Australia

    The ABC today includes TV stations, radio stations, retail outlets, book publishing (over 120 titles each year), magazines, videos and DVDs, contemporary music and logo licensing. Each one of these has commercial competitors and there is absolutely no reason why the government should be involved in any of these industries.

    Many people take a conservative approach and are afraid of change, but privatising the ABC is necessary not just on efficiency grounds but also for equity reasons. More Australians pay for ABC TV and radio than watch or listen to it. Only a minority of Australians, generally well educated with higher incomes, use the ABC. Consequently, continued corporate welfare to the ABC is a subsidy provided by taxpayers to higher income earners.

    The ABC not only loses money (about $800 million per year or $80 per taxpayer) but is also losing the ratings war as it is less popular than commercial alternatives. Those who insist that the ABC is actually “better” are in effect criticising the majority of Australians for preferring the other channels.

    Once privatised, the ABC would stop costing the taxpayer money and become directly answerable to its owners and audiences. This is a benefit to both the taxpayer and the consumer.

    If it really is “our ABC”, then give it to us. And if ownership implies the ability to control your asset, we should be free to choose whether we keep or sell our share in it.

  38. Texas Jack

    Just shut it. Today. Tonight. It won’t be missed.

  39. Senile Old Guy

    Good work Spartacus. We need more creative solutions to reform the ABC.

    I am not picking on you.

    But this is all stupid. The ABC literally is “too big to fail”. It has squashed numerous attempts to change it and will continue to do so. I would love to see it go back to being what it was when I was young but it will never happen. It has been totally converged and captured by the left. The staff are overwhelmingly left wing and they own it and run it.

    In the last two decades there have been several attempts to reign it in and they have all failed miserably. The ABC campaigns relentlessly for the left, the ALP and the Greens despite the fact that they are supposed to be neutral. The LNP cannot do anything because because…The ABC campaigns relentlessly for the left, the ALP and the Greens.

    I have read many, many proposals about reforming the ABC. It cannot be done, in this political climate. It would take, at least, 5 years relentless campaigning to change the public perspective of the ABC before there was any chance of doing anything.

    Further, there is the problem of the regional ABC. The real problem is not the ABC, it is the Sydney-Melbourne-Canberra ABC. Regional ABC, in my experience, is actually good. I listen to regional ABC and it is topical, informative and interesting; and only slightly left wing. This is, I suspect, because the broadcasters are living in the area, interacting with people in the area, and like what they are doing.

    It is the f*ckwits like Jon Faine, who are entirely divorced from reality, who get paid far more than they are worth, who are the problem.

  40. Lysander

    Having spent every second week in a regional WA town over the last five years (with politicians) I can honestly say that I agree that Regional ABC radio is good value. They’re always connected to local stories and people and they are actually non-partisan. Ultimo are the problem.

  41. Boambee John

    I am not sure, but suspect that the Doomlord’s proposal would not gift the fixed assets to the staff, only the name, the movable assets (computers, vehicles, furniture) and the staff liabilities. Plus intellectual property, such as it is.

    Even if they got the lot, it would probably be written off agsinst a couple of years budget under the present system.

    The amusing bit would be watching the socialists of Their ABC scrambling to get their share out before the collapse in value.

  42. Crossie

    Guthrie’s fault, because she didn’t consider the sensibilities of the ABC’s core audience. The unstated (because correct) implication being that the core audience is old, white and middle-class.

    The ABC is the epitome of middle class welfare, the well-to-do insuring that they get what they like for free while those on lower incomes who like sport but don’t have Foxtel must go to a pub to see games. The poorer people not only subsidise the middle class but pay for their own amusement by having to buy a drink or dinner in a pub to watch games not available free to air. For their pains they are then called such lovely names as rednecks and bogans by the Friends of the ABC.

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