Scott Morrison has said he is “quite surprised” ABC staff refused to cut their own pay, arguing it was out of step with public service and media company cutbacks during the Covid-19 recession.
Morrison made the comments on Sydney’s 2GB radio on Thursday, taking aim at ABC staff for their decision to block an attempt by management to delay a 2% pay rise by six months.
The result of the staff vote, revealed on Wednesday, comes after 250 job cuts at the public broadcaster and amid a fierce political debate about Coalition cuts to its budget.
In April the federal government imposed pay freezes on most of the Australian public service but the statutory independence of some agencies gives their staff a vote on whether to delay pay rises already agreed in workplace pay deals.
The national science agency, the CSIRO, approved a six-month pay freeze as part of negotiations for a new deal but other agencies, including the Australian Security and Investment Commission and the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, have resisted the freeze.
ABC staff rejected the proposal to delay their pay rise from 1 October 2020 to 1 April 2021 to make a one-off saving of $5m.
Asked whether ABC staff should “read the room”, Morrison replied: “I think so.”
“There’s 112 commonwealth government agencies that elected to take the freeze, and had to have had the freeze put in place.”
Morrison noted that commonwealth public servants and commonwealth politicians “are the same”, in reference to MPs and staffers also copping a pay freeze.
“And particularly in the media sector … other parts of the media industry in private media … are taking big pay cuts.”
“I was quite surprised [ABC staff] took that view. It was a six-month delay – and so both to their fellow public servants and those in the media industry, I was surprised.”
According to the thinktank Per Capita, the ABC has lost $783m in funding since the Coalition came to power in 2014.
Morrison has argued the ABC’s funding is “increasing every year” and there have been “no cuts” to the public broadcaster. The ABC rejects that claim – with its chair, Ita Buttrose, noting indexation freezes amount to an $83m reduction over three years.
Elsewhere in the media industry, News Corp executives and Southern Cross Austereo staff have taken pay cuts. Most news organisations have dealt with cost pressures and revenue declines in Covid-19 through job cuts rather than cutting pay.
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