We pay, but what do we get?

There was much interest in a leaked list of the pay packets of the ABC’s star personnel yesterday, published (paywalled) in The Australian. If I’d been asked to guess how much these folks were paid I would have been thinking the $80,000 to $120,000 range, which shows how out of touch I am.

The salaries listed in this article range from Annabel Crabb on $217,000 (rounded down to the nearest 1000) to $355,000 for Tony Jones.

My question is whether we are paying for star power, essentially personality, or for competence, outstanding ability to do the job. With respect to the latter, I don’t rate highly at all the competence of many listed. Tony Jones is an awful interviewer and is more interested in entertainment than journalism in my book. So my impression is that we are paying mostly for personality.

Some of the people listed are unknown to me in terms of their work. Richard Glover must be an awfully good radio presenter to be worth $280,000.

The Courier Mail today picks up on the Queensland scene. I believe Spencer Howson, local radio’s Breakfast presenter, was the only one to make the top 100 at $160,000. He’s light, breezy and rates well. It’s a long time since I’ve listened to him. For me Fran Kelly at $255,000 would be my choice in the time slot, and that seems an awful lot of money. Steve Austin, our local Mornings presenter, is on $115,000. I rate him and that strikes me as about what he’s worth.

The Community and Public Sector Union were not impressed, seeing it as an attack on the ABC.

It’s claimed that the women are paid less. Leigh Sales at $280,000 is paid $11,000 less than Quentin Dempster, but $25,000 more than Chris Uhlmann.

Jonathon Holmes was on $187,000, which inclines me to think we are rating star power above competence.

Someone pointed out that you can take a bunch of any half dozen and their combined salaries come nowhere near that of Kyle Sandilands.


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50 responses to “We pay, but what do we get?”

  1. wilful

    Brian, I think there might be a bit more to the job than you’re giving credence to. Broadly, the salaries mentioned are within my range of expectations. And yes, compared to equivalent private sector presenters, these folks are cheap as chips.

    Comparing relative salaries for ABC faces to other “productive” jobs is a pointless exercise. Yes we could get a few more nurses/teachers/firemen/soldiers if they were paid less, but those sorts of contradictions and absurdities are rife in this life.

  2. Tim Macknay

    I agree with the CPSU take on it.

  3. Terry

    According to Crikey, Karl Stefanovic and David Koch are paid about $1 million a year, and Lisa Wilkinson about $750,000 a year, so you would need to situate these salaries in the context of the TV industry generally.

  4. Ronson Dalby

    I wonder if this is the beginning of an LNP/Murdoch sustained attack on the ABC for some reason(s) in the future?

    I agree with the CPSU too: they should never have been made public.

  5. Chris

    I’ve no doubt its a Newscorp attack on the ABC. Fortunately Abbott is otherwise distracted.

    I actually thought that the very high profile ABC presenters would be paid more than what they are. Much like the commercial tv counterparts they build up quite a bit of personal appeal and that gets reflected in their salaries. For example, not any ordinary reporter would be able to pull off something like Kitchen Cabinet and get people to watch it.

  6. Chris

    I agree with the CPSU too: they should never have been made public.

    Or the ATO could just publish everyone’s salaries and tax returns. I bet that would reduce tax avoidance 🙂

  7. Sam

    Many have commented that these salaries are peanuts, at least compared to what is paid to people doing similar jobs in commercial broadcasting. But the skills are not the same. Imagine Leigh Sales trying to host A Current Affair or Richard Gliver trying to be a shock jock.

    Unfortunately low brow crap for the masses attracts the big audience and so pays more.

    It’s no accident that the host of the semi-low brow Q&A is paid the most at the ABC.

  8. Tim Macknay

    Chris @6: They do that in Scandinavia. I’m informed that it really does work.

  9. FFranklin

    Going into the ABC website before the election and putting in the key words Landline and Direct Action and getting nothing is what we get!
    In the three years between 2010 and 2013 the ABC’s flagship current affairs program Four Corners did not produce one episode that examined Tony Abbott, his policies and his past and waited until the last week of the campaign to produce an episode which focused mainly on the micropolitics in one seat. That’s what we get!
    Then with 2013 being the ten year anniversary of the commencement of the Iraq war we saw how the public broadcasters in the other “Coalition of the Willing” countries produced multi-episode programs examining their path to war and the ABC ie. Four Corners et al. produced virtually nothing on our path to war. That’s what we get!!

  10. michaelfstanley

    It’s almost impossible to argue what would be a reasonable rate for most of the people listed. Some of the radio figures (Jon Faine is generally in the tussle for top morning ratings in Melbourne), and newsreaders could make a lot more in the commercial sector. However I wonder what Fran Kelly or Jonathon Holmes would make in the commercial arena – probably something similar or even less.

  11. Terry2

    [email protected] : If Karl Stefanovic is earning $250K more that Lisa Wilkinson there is definitely something very wrong with salary allocations at Channel Nine.

  12. GregM

    If the figured are declared under the Corporations Law then they would include the employer contribution to the employee’s superannuation.

  13. Chris

    In the three years between 2010 and 2013 the ABC’s flagship current affairs program Four Corners did not produce one episode that examined Tony Abbott, his policies and his past and waited until the last week of the campaign to produce an episode which focused mainly on the micropolitics in one seat. That’s what we get!

    How many episodes did Four Corners do on Rudd, his policies or his past prior to 2008? From quick scan I couldn’t see any in 2007 or 2006. Governments are much more interesting and really I’d prefer they keep their focus on what the people actually in power are doing.

  14. adrian

    The main point is that we pay their salaries so we are entitled to know how much they are being paid.

    Second point is that comparing them with their commercial counterparts is quite futile because unlike the ABC employees the commercial hacks don’t have the security of tenure or other benefits enjoyed by ABC employees.

    Third point is competence. I don’t think the ABC has fulfilled its charter as a public broadcaster for a long time as FFranklin implies.
    Someone like Chris Ulhmann doesn’t even pass the basic competency test for a public broadcast journalist.

    And I’ve got nothing against Quinten Dempster, but $290,000 for fronting Stateline once a week?

  15. Katz

    I wonder how many of these folks would walk if their salaries were halved.

    Many are at the ABC because they baulk at commercial alternatives.

    Others are unsuitable for the meretricious was demanded of commercial media.

    The salaries appear to be disigned to flatter but not to pamper.

    Individuals may resent their position on the ladder of esteem. I couldn’t care less.

  16. Casey

    Second point is that comparing them with their commercial counterparts is quite futile because unlike the ABC employees the commercial hacks don’t have the security of tenure or other benefits enjoyed by ABC employees.

    What is tenure at the ABC, Adrian? A job for life?

  17. wilful

    There are two arguments that I can think of that would advance a case that this is public money badly spent. The first is that the ABC should not do anything that the commercial media can do, it should not be in competition if possible. However these are the sorts of roles and sorts of names that have been doing this sort of stuff for a very long time – if we are to have a discussion of the ABC’s purpose then lets have it, but out in the open.

    The second, related argument is that public servants shouldn’t get paid anything like what the private sector offers, they should do it mostly for the love of the job (and the “tenure”, which doesn’t really exist). I think that’s rubbish. While senior public servants such as Ken Henry (yes I know he’s retired) and the like are well remunerated, they could get paid a lot more in the private sector, and if the disparity was too great they would make that choice.

  18. adrian

    Casey, I don’t think tenure at the ABC would be a ‘job for life’, but it would be more secure than their commercial counterparts, simply because they are not slaves to ratings to the same extent, or shouldn’t be.

    I don’t really care that much what they get paid if they would do the job that they are supposed to do.

  19. billie

    My understanding is that the ‘talent’ at the ABC is on contract, has always been on contract, well since the 1950s

  20. billie

    The old saying, “If you pay peanuts you get monkeys”.

    We haven’t paid peanuts but we still get monkeys

  21. Casey

    Adrian I worked at the ABC. As far as I know (I can’t know everything though so I could be wrong) everyone got contracts, regardless of ratings.

  22. adrian

    Ok, they are on contracts, my mistake. Maybe it’s just the kind of journos that they seem to give long term contracts to, with some honourable exceptions.

    The problem’s also at management level and production level, but News Ltd wouldn’t be interested in that.

  23. Sam

    Brian 17

    Steve Austin is the $6 million man, should he should be flicked if he doesn’t deliver.

  24. mindy

    Richard Glover has quite a following and is a lovely chatty friendly chap. I think he is worth the money, although quite often I am only reading his stuff not listening to him.

  25. Smithy

    None of those clowns would make it in the real world

  26. Nickws

    @ 10:

    Jon Faine is generally in the tussle for top morning ratings in Melbourne

    Today’s Green Guide features an interview with Faine’s commericial opponent Neil Mitchell, and it’s all centred around the fact that Faine has beat him in four of the last seven ratings surveys, with another draw (poor Mitch is trying to pretend he’s not obsessed with all that.)

    Sydneysider Tim Blair is the author of News Limited’s tabloid ‘expose’ of this, even the version which appeared in today’s Herald Sun. Faine is listed as being no different than all the others on the list.

    In other words, the Melbourne paper couldn’t even do the subtle thing of cutting any reference to the successful local 774 broadcaster.

    These Murdoch articles attacking Aunty, they’re not being written from a position of Newscorp newsgathering dominance over the national broadcaster. They come from an organisation that realises it’s in a tighter spot than the ABC…

  27. Adrian

    Maybe we should factor in the fact that most of them are off the air for a couple off months or more over Christmas.

  28. Fran Barlow

    mindy

    Richard Glover has quite a following and is a lovely chatty friendly chap. I think he is worth the money, although quite often I am only reading his stuff not listening to him.

    I find him to be a bit or a conservative airhead and so I generally give him a miss, but as commentators go, he’s fairly innocuous.

  29. Malcolm

    Fran [email protected], I am genuinely perplexed how you came to the conclusion that Richard Glover is a conservative? I’ll concede that he seems to have a pathological hatred of Kevin Rudd but, if that is a conservative trait, then half of the posters on this board and much of the Labor Party and the Greens also meets that criteria. Of course he doesn’t openly state his political biases on air but I’ve always gotten the impression from the type of comments he makes and the way that he conducts interviews that he’s left of center. Furthermore he wrote an article strongly defending Julia Gillard last year and was openly critical of Pauline Hanson and her supporters during the 1990s. I’ve never got the impression he’s aligned with the conservative side of politics -exactly the opposite

  30. philip travers

    I notice my last post here didn’t make it or was removed forthwith. [Moderator note: comment snipped - threats are unacceptable content]

  31. Ronson Dalby

    Malcolm, I have to go with Fran on Glover being a ‘conservative airhead’, particularly the latter word.

    For some reason I don’t understand, I subject myself to his programme while I make dinner and have done so for a long time.

  32. adrian

    Re Glover. I think all ABC on air presenters have strict instructions regarding ‘balance’, which in reality means avoiding anything too overtly pro Labor and avoiding wherever possible too much emphasis on certain ‘hot button’ issues, which will send hard line conservatives (are there any other sort these days?) to the phones in a rage.

    Wouldn’t be surprised if Glover and others are not as conservative as they may appear, but you’ve got to toe the line when you couldn’t earn anything like that amount elsewhere.

  33. tigtog

    adrian: when you couldn’t earn anything like that amount elsewhere

    ABC702 is the second highest rating radio station in Sydney overall (AM & FM), and Glover’s drive-time slot regularly tops the ratings, in particular regularly out-rating all those extremely highly paid FM hosts. Why do you think Glover couldn’t earn more money elsewhere if he chose to go commercial?

  34. mindy

    @Fran

    Richard Glover, I believe, is paid to be an interesting but uncontroversial bloke to listen to while stuck in traffic. That might be why he comes across as a bit conservative.

  35. Liz

    Having had work commissioned by ABC television, they value ratings highly. But, they do have to balance having content with broad appeal so as to justify every taxpayer supporting them, with doing innovative work that the commercial networks won’t support. They do this within very limited funding. For instance, the BBC gets about eight times the amount of government funding on a per capita basis, as the ABC does.

    I have no problem with the amount these journos are paid. But, please remember the ABC only produces a very small amount of television itself. Virtually nothing outside of news and current affairs. The rest is commissioned from outside production companies. One of the reasons it does this is that it’s cheaper than in-house production.

  36. adrian

    Why do you think Glover couldn’t earn more money elsewhere if he chose to go commercial?

    Because his style isn’t what boofhead radio demands in Sydney. I think that if he left the confines of the ABC he wouldn’t get nearly the level of ratings that he gets now.

    I think most ABC listeners are committed to the station itself, and few would follow the presenters to the commercials.

    I quite like Glover, he’s certainly a lot better than the supremely annoying Adam Spencer, but is he worth $290,000?

    There seems to be a strange acceptance of these sorts of salaries for people who are little more than glorified announcers.
    Comparisons with people who do very difficult, demanding and essential jobs, but are paid a fraction of what ABC announcers get, show just how inequitous the wage structures are.

    Why the hell should one public servant get paid 4 times the amount of another public servant for doing a job with fewer hours and longer holidays, just because they happen to work in the media?

  37. tigtog

    I agree with you that wage structures in general are iniquitous, with many professions being underpaid considering the vital service they provide and/or the hard slog involved in what they do. It’s just not uniquely an ABC problem, and if they are to continue being a quality media/entertainment provider then they have to pay within cooee of the media/entertainment industry standard.

    I also don’t think that counting only the on-air time for various presenters is in any way a fair representation of their workloads, nor is calling the periods when their shows are off-air and for which therefore their contracts would not be remunerating them a “holiday”.

  38. tigtog

    P.S. My dad worked as a public servant for decades, as a civil engineer for the Department of Main Roads (later subsumed into the RTA). Just like all the other DMR engineers, he was paid a lot more than the cleaners in his office area and also a lot more than the road-workers who built the roads and bridges his engineering department designed and oversaw. Just like all the other DMR engineers, he wasn’t paid as much as civil engineers working in the commercial construction industry.

    Should the DMR have paid its civil engineers the same wage as the office cleaners and the road workers?

  39. adrian

    I also don’t think that counting only the on-air time for various presenters is in any way a fair representation of their workloads, nor is calling the periods when their shows are off-air and for which therefore their contracts would not be remunerating them a “holiday”.

    Don’t know the terms of their contracts, and I’m not stupid enough to believe that they just turn up for their 2-3 hour shift. However, even allowing for preparation time, I wouldn’t imagine it would equate to a typical nurses shift for example.

    Also, I’m obviously not suggesting that civil engineers be paid the same as cleaners, heavens no, that would be some sort of socialist utopian suggestion and completely out of place in modern free enterprise Aussieland.

    But a nurse or a teacher with years of qualifications and some media personality with maybe no formal qualification.

    The disparity can’t be justified IMHO, but we just accept it for some reason.

  40. mindy

    The disparity can’t be justified IMHO, but we just accept it for some reason.

    adrian how long have you got? *prepares the feminist hivemind*

  41. tigtog

    But a nurse or a teacher with years of qualifications and some media personality with maybe no formal qualification.

    The disparity can’t be justified IMHO, but we just accept it for some reason.

    I would be utterly astonished if any of the most highly paid presenters on the ABC roster have zero formal qualifications, but you are welcome to astonish me if you find otherwise. They certainly all have years and years of experience which is why they have the public profile that they do.

    I’m all for paying nurses an income better comparable to those in other valued professions, but I don’t think that dropping the income of other professionals in other industries is the way to go about it.

  42. Chris

    Also, I’m obviously not suggesting that civil engineers be paid the same as cleaners, heavens no, that would be some sort of socialist utopian suggestion and completely out of place in modern free enterprise Aussieland.

    But a nurse or a teacher with years of qualifications and some media personality with maybe no formal qualification.

    The disparity can’t be justified IMHO, but we just accept it for some reason.

    I think that mostly we accept it because the side effects of attempting to “fix it” are worse than living with it. The engineer is going have a lot of trouble getting much work done if the cleaner never comes around so in that sense the cleaner does critical work. But there’s a lot more people willing and capable of doing the cleaning work.

    In a way that’s similar with engineers compared to teachers. There’s a lot more people able to get teaching qualifications for the jobs available than engineers. Also with the majority of teachers working for the government wages get pushed down because of an unwilingness of the public to pay more. As tigtog mentions that happens for engineers in the public service to a certain extent too. And I know they have trouble retaining good engineers in the public service where the private sector offers a lot more money.

    I’d speculate that there are similar issues around the shortage of maths/science teachers – if you have a maths/science degree the private sector is going to be a lot more lucrative. But we stick to the premise of paying teachers fairly equally regardless of demand and we end up with a shortage as a result.

    Re: media personalities vs teachers. I think people are underestimating the skill required to do the job well as a TV/radio presenter. The ABC, like other government organisations is under quite a bit of pressure to reduce costs and if there was a big pool of qualified candidates capable of doing the jobs they do I don’t think salaries would have risen that high in the first place. Unless you think that management are conspiring with their employees to raise their salaries (which I think must be pretty uncommon!).

    Also there is an effect where a small increase in teacher salaries cost the the government a lot of money because there are so many teachers, whereas there’s not that many highly paid media people so the total impact on the budget is not as significant.

    Cutting salaries at the ABC may not have an immediate effect, but I think over the long term it would, with many talented people being unable to resist the lure of the private sector with the wage disparity so high.

    Overall I don’t think the public should be micromanaging the individual salaries of public servants. Although I’d support transparency at the executive level. We elect MPs who appoint managers to do that. They’re given budgets and we should judge them for their overall performance. And although there are valid criticism of the ABC, in news and current affairs I think they do much much better job than their commercial counterparts.

  43. Fran Barlow

    Malcolm:

    I am genuinely perplexed how you came to the conclusion that Richard Glover is a conservative?

    As the others after your post have argued, Glover comes across as conservative and vacuous due to his effort to seem ‘balanced’ (and I would add ‘non-political’.) There’s nothing like analysis in his program, and he tends to give the official and unofficial conservatives who do come onto his program a metaphoric foot rub and otherwise accept the MBCM framing of issues as the self-evidently unproblematic version of reality and adapt his commentary to that.

    This is an excellent aproach from a job security perspective but it does make for insipid and at times infuriating fare, and one might add, it fails the ABC’s diversity test.

    More generally, on the issue of comparative wages, I’m an egalitarian, so one can infer easily enough what I would think of the situation. I don’t argue that all wages should be equal today or anytime soon. Some important skills are capable of being acquired and developed only with the application of very significant resources, so for as long as material scarcity obtains, inequality is inevitable.

    OTOH, the disparities we now have offend both ethics and even good sense, as their marginal utility is either zero or negative. People are drawing resources from the common pool without adequate warrant as a matter of structure.

    I see no good cause for a radio announcer in Australia to be paid better than anyone who can speak well enough for radio broadcast and is sufficiently literate to relate what comes across their desk and needs to go to air. Perhaps they should be paid the equivalent of a teacher at entry level of a clerk in the public service who has had 2-3 years experience.

  44. Fran Barlow

    or of a clerk

  45. Conal

    What you get for paying very high wages to public intellectuals is a class of intellectuals who are sympathetic to wealthy people and disconnected from the common people. You get smugness, establishment loyalty, complacency, conservatism, insider views, cynicism, and superficiality.

  46. Charlene M

    I’ve little sympathy for the poor darlings at the ABC. Nor should there be any due to them. They are having a taste of their own medicine.

    They’ve happily released what are more or less state secrets, and vigorously published information that is indisputably not in the national interest.

    Live by the sword, die by the sword. “Suf-fer” (as we used to say in the schoolyard)

  47. Chris

    I see no good cause for a radio announcer in Australia to be paid better than anyone who can speak well enough for radio broadcast and is sufficiently literate to relate what comes across their desk and needs to go to air. Perhaps they should be paid the equivalent of a teacher at entry level of a clerk in the public service who has had 2-3 years experience.

    I’d guess that there are a lot of people out there who would love to be radio announcers in commercial (and ABC) radio land. And yet those profit maximising companies commonly end up paying their radio announcers significantly more than an entry level teacher even though it is in their interest to pay as little as they can and they have lots of people to choose from. Perhaps there are other requiremements that you are unaware of that make the skill set required to do a good job quite a bit rarer than those held by your typical entry level teacher or clerk with 2-3 years experience?

    One thing that comes through from listening to even friendly radio/TV interviews is that being able to communicate with an audience effectively is not a skill that many people have, even though they are well qualified and experienced professionals in other fields.

    They’ve happily released what are more or less state secrets, and vigorously published information that is indisputably not in the national interest.

    I think it is definitely in the public interest that the information (as well as a lot of other stuff that Snowden released) was published. The damage to the relations between Indonesia and Australia comes not from the publishing of what occurred, but the act itself.

  48. Fran Barlow

    chris

    And yet those profit maximising companies commonly end up paying their radio announcers significantly more than an entry level teacher even though it is in their interest to pay as little as they can and they have lots of people to choose from.

    Which reflects a rather different skill — the ability to create/foster a saleable audience for products carried by the station. As the ABC isn’t a commercial station, that’s not germane, though of course, they see themselves as needing to compete with those corporate entities for which it is.

    These are really entertainers of a kind rather than announcers, as Jones self-described some years back but since the products themselves are easily sourced without radio advertising, one wonders at the marginal utility of the activity, especially when promotion comes at such a severe cost in the rigour of public discourse.