On 8 February 2018, the Senate, on the recommendation of the Selection
of Bills Committee, referred the National Broadcasters Legislation Amendment
(Enhanced Transparency) Bill 2017 (the bill) to the Senate Environment and
Communications Legislation Committee (the committee) for inquiry and report by
26 March 2018.
Purpose of the bill
The bill proposes to amend the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Act 1983 (ABC Act) and the Special Broadcasting Services Act 1991
(SBS Act). Its stated purpose is to provide more transparency in how government
funding for salaries and allowances paid to employees of both the Australian
Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) is
allocated – in particular, payments to employees and on-air talent contractors
where the total amounts paid exceed $200,000 annually.
The bill's Explanatory Memorandum stated that a further purpose of the
bill is to improve gender pay gaps through increased scrutiny of how employees in
national broadcasters are remunerated based on their gender.
If passed, the bill would require the ABC and SBS to include the
following information in their annual reports:
the combined amount of salaries
and allowances paid to employees;
the name of the employee where the
total amount of salary and allowances paid to the person exceeds the applicable
reporting threshold for the reporting period; and
the positions held by the person;
for on-air talent:
the total amount paid to, and the
name of each individual, who is a party to one or more on-air talent contracts
if the total amount paid to the individual in the reporting period was more
than the applicable reporting threshold for that period; and
the nature of the services
performed for each contract.
The proposed applicable reporting threshold for the first period
beginning after the commencement of the bill would be $200,000 AUD. This amount
would be indexed for subsequent periods by reference to the Consumer Price
Index (CPI) published by the Australian Statistician.
Conduct of the inquiry
The committee advertised the inquiry on its website and wrote to
relevant organisations inviting written submissions by 28 February 2018.
The committee received three submissions which are listed at Appendix 1
of this report. The public submissions are available on the committee's website
The committee thanks all of the individuals and organisations that
contributed to the inquiry.
Reports of other committees
When examining a bill or draft bill, the committee takes into account
any relevant comments published by the Senate Standing Committee for the
Scrutiny of Bills. The Scrutiny of Bills Committee assesses legislative
proposals against a set of accountability standards that focus on the effect of
proposed legislation on individual rights, liberties and obligations, and on
In its Scrutiny Digest No. 1 of 2018, the Scrutiny of Bills Committee expressed
concern that publishing the names and remuneration details of ABC and SBS
employees and contractors receiving more than $200,000 would impact on the
right to privacy of such persons and may unduly trespass on personal rights and
liberties. The Scrutiny of Bills Committee noted that Commonwealth Government
departments and agencies usually publish salaries and allowances of senior
public servants by salary bands without disclosing individual names, and state
the number of persons employed of each gender under each band. It drew these
concerns to the attention of senators and left it to the Senate as a whole to
determine the appropriateness of publishing such details.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights also expressed its
concern over 'whether the public disclosure of the names and remuneration of
employees and on-air talent' was proportionate to the legitimate objectives of
the bill. It asked for the minister to provide advice on this issue and to
consider whether there are less rights-restrictive methods to achieve the
Issues raised in submissions
Objectives of the bill
Submitters to the inquiry raised concerns about whether the proposed
amendments would lead to increased transparency and improve the gender pay gap.
Gender equality in remuneration
The ABC submitted that de-identified reporting of data could meet the
objective of improving gender pay gaps, arguing that 'there is no direct
correlation between the publication of individual names and salaries and the
identification of gender pay gaps'.
The ABC further asserted that according to analysis undertaken in May
2017, no level at the ABC features a pay gap unfavourable to women, with 49 per
cent of its senior executive being female.
SBS also contented that SBS had 'a positive record in terms of gender
representation', with 57 per cent of its Senior Leadership Group being female.
The second reading speech stated that the national broadcasters should
be commended for their assertion that their organisations do not feature a pay
gap unfavourable to women. It further argued that the 'measures proposed by
this bill will ensure ongoing scrutiny and visibility to the Australian public
of the performance of the national broadcasters in this regard'.
SBS stated that it publishes de-identified information about executive
salaries on its website and in its annual reports.
The ABC contended that it already 'meets the highest levels of
transparency...[by] setting disclosure levels beyond those required in law by any
other organisation in Australia, taxpayer funded or otherwise'.
This includes existing Executive Remuneration Reporting Guidelines for
Commonwealth departments, entities and companies, as well as additional
remuneration reporting consistent with private sector standards, including
total remuneration paid to key management personnel.
The second reading speech emphasised that because high profile employees
'occupy significant positions of public trust...it is reasonable to expect
greater transparency of the remuneration arrangements that apply to
high-earning individuals at taxpayer-funded broadcasters'. Further, salaries of
senior public servants are publicly available.
In response, the ABC asserted that the salaries of senior public
servants and military officers, judges and ministers of the Crown 'are applied
to the positions, rather than individuals as required under this bill'.
The Minister for Communications, the Hon. Mitch Fifield, previously
argued in Senate Estimates that there is 'a greater level of transparency
currently about what senior officers of government departments receive than
there is of the public broadcasters' because salary classifications are not
attached publicly to individuals in public broadcasters.
He also suggested that because of the amount of funding allocated to
public broadcasters, the level of transparency expected of their senior staff
should be enhanced:
ABC receives over a billion dollars a year. SBS receives a
couple of hundred million dollars a year. This is a significant public
investment, and the government is of the view that having enhanced transparency
for senior staff of these organisations is appropriate, that there is a high
level of transparency when it comes to the salaries of people on the public
payroll, whether they be judges or members of parliament or senior military
officers, and that this level of transparency is appropriate for the public
The main issue that submitters emphasised in their concerns raised about
the bill was that the amendments would lead to the publication of names of
senior executives and talent alongside their salaries. In particular, SBS
expressed concerns that the proposed changes, if enacted, would lead to a violation
of the Privacy Act 1988:
The Privacy Act protects personal information relating to the
employment of agency employees. The definition of "employee record"
in the Privacy Act includes terms and conditions of employment, and the
employee’s salary or wages, as examples of personal information relating to the
employment of the employee.
The Bill would amend Section 73 of the SBS Act to report
details of annual salaries and allowances of SBS employees, and amounts paid to
"on-air talent" in excess of $200,000...This information clearly falls
under the definition of "employee record" under the Privacy Act.
SBS further noted that the requirement that individuals earning above
$200,000 be named is not a feature 'in counterpart public services agencies' or
The second reading speech stated that 'The concept of reporting on
employee salaries is not a new one'. As outlined above, the salaries of members
of Parliament, ministers, judges, senior public servants and military officers
are all publicly released, and private companies, including commercial
broadcasters, also 'are required to include similar information in annual
reports, provided for under the Corporations Act 2001'.
The second reading speech further noted that the Privacy Act 1988
allows for cases where Australian law requires disclosure, and that while
privacy issues may be a concern to the individuals affected by the proposed
amendments, national broadcasters are expected to 'manage these issues
The Department of Communications and the Arts in its response to
questions on notice put to it by the committee emphasised that it had weighed
up the question of any issues surrounding privacy:
...the Department attempted to balance issues such as the need
to protect privacy against the competing need to improve public visibility over
how the national broadcasters allocate and spend the significant taxpayer
funding which they receive each year.
Comparisons with the BBC
SBS in its submission referred to the statement in the second reading
speech that a similar requirement to report salaries has been made of the
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which now publishes the names of all
senior executives paid more than £150,000.
SBS argued that the BBC was not directly comparable to SBS because SBS is not
fully funded by public funding, and the BBC minimum reporting threshold is much
higher than the $200,000 proposed by the bill.
Similarly, the ABC also highlighted that the ABC 'is a considerably
smaller player in the Australian media market than the BBC is in Britain', with
the ABC receiving around a third of the BBC's funding on a per capita basis.
In their response to questions on notice put to them by the committee,
the Department of Communications and the Arts observed that 'the British
Broadcasting Corporation is a global leader among national broadcasters. The
salary transparency of the BBC is considered to be good practice'.
Public assessment of value for
SBS expressed concern that the bill, if enacted, would place the onus on
members of the public to assess whether the remuneration of senior executives
and talent equated to value for money. The SBS explained that its board is
currently tasked under a statutory framework to consider the question of value
for money, and asserted that its existing employment and performance framework
was the most appropriate method for determining remuneration of individual
The ABC also echoed these concerns, and drew the committee's attention
to the ABC Board, which is tasked with ensuring that the ABC's functions
provide the maximum benefit to Australians.
The second reading speech stated that the way Government funding is spent
is of interest to the public, and 'The payment of salaries and allowances in
excess of $200,000 per annum is a major allocation of Government funding which
should be visible to the taxpayer'.
Impact on staff retention and financial implications
SBS outlined a number of potential negative impacts it considered would
arise if the bill was passed. These included staff retention, with staff
possibly choosing to leave SBS if they knew their salaries were made public; difficulties
attracting new staff in the future; and existing employees negotiating higher
salaries which, SBS stated, had happened in the United Kingdom after the BBC
had commenced reporting of individuals' salaries.
The ABC also was of the opinion that the proposed measures of the bill
had 'significant potential to lead to wages pressure' and could be detrimental
to its ability to retain and attract employees.
The Department of Communications and the Arts stated in their response
to questions on notice put to them by the committee that the bill was not
expected to have any financial impact on national broadcasters, because it
would require them 'to publish information available from within existing
The committee is of the view that the measures proposed by the bill will
lead to improvements in gender pay gaps. The ABC and SBS pointed out in
evidence to the inquiry that unequal remuneration based on gender is not a
feature of their organisations. The increased transparency provided for under
the measures would require public broadcasters to set an example for the rest
of the broadcasting industry to follow in terms of being transparent about
differences, or lack thereof, in remuneration based on gender.
While the names of senior public servants, military officers, judges and
ministers of the Crown may not be attached overtly to salaries, it is clear, based
on their seniority, which pay band applies to an individual. This means that
members of the public are able to infer salaries based on the individual's
level. The proposed changes to requirements for public broadcasters would allow
members of the public to access a similar form of information, thereby
increasing transparency and public trust that government funds are being used
Concerns were raised in evidence to this inquiry about whether the
provisions of the bill would constitute a violation of privacy for individuals
whose names would be reported. However, the committee notes that the Privacy
Act 1988 allows for instances where full disclosure is required by
Australian law, and considers that the ABC and SBS will be able to manage any
issues related to privacy appropriately.
The committee considers that the benefits of the bill, such as
transparency regarding differences in pay based on gender, outweigh any
potential negative impacts that could arise from the proposed amendments.
Given the importance of increased transparency and ensuring that public
trust in the allocation of government funding is maintained, the committee
recommends that the bill should be passed.
The committee recommends that the National Broadcasters Legislation
Amendment (Enhanced Transparency) Bill 2017 be passed.
Senator Jonathon Duniam
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