Results of efficiency probe come as ABC funding debate gathers steam

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has previously hinted toward an efficiency dividend for the ABC and SBS. AAP/Daniel Munoz

The government’s review of the efficiency of the ABC is believed to be finished, as speculation mounts about budget cuts to the national broadcaster.

The review, which also covers SBS, was established by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and done by his department, with outside assistance from Peter Lewis, formerly chief financial officer of Seven West Media.

The ABC and SBS receive a total of $1.4 billion a year from the government.

The review’s findings will feed into discussions about ABC funding.

Fairfax Media reported at the weekend that the government may impose an efficiency dividend on the ABC.

Tony Abbott promised before the election “no cuts” to either of the broadcasters.

Labor communications spokesman Jason Clare said: “This is an issue of trust. If Tony Abbott cuts the ABC’s budget it will mean he has lied to the Australian people and it will show you can’t trust him.”

Glenys Stradijot, from ABC Friends, said if Abbott did not promptly deny reports of planned cuts “he risks being branded a liar”.

In January Turnbull appeared to leave the way open for something like an efficiency dividend. “We’ve always said there’s no plan to slash the ABC or SBS or anything like that, but if there are across-the-board cuts and savings … you’d expect the ABC to be part of that,” he told the ABC’s 7.30.

Treasurer Joe Hockey today again emphasised that the budget cuts would fall broadly. “Every Australian is going to be asked to contribute to the budget repair, including politicians.”

The ABC is expected to lose its Australia Network contract, worth more than $220 million over a decade. This function is likely to be absorbed into the Foreign Affairs department rather than being given to a commercial network such as Sky, which fought hard for it under Labor.

The review of efficiency was charged with looking at the breakdown of ABC and SBS costs and whether whether charter responsibilities could be delivered more efficiently.

The government said the study would “focus on the costs of inputs - that is the ‘back of house’ day-to-day operational and financial operations, structures and processes applied to delivering ABC and SBS programs, products and services. It is not a study of the quality of the national broadcasters’ programs, products and services, or the responsibilities set out in their charters but of the efficiency of the delivery of those services to the Australian public.”

The ABC has been under constant attack from some in the government, as well as from its commercial rival News Corporation. But Nationals MPs are cautious about cuts that could affect rural and regional services.

ABC managing director Mark Scott said in a lecture this month that the ABC received additional funding in the last budget and had “invested it wisely, across a range of initiatives such as more specialist journalists to break more news and bring detailed expertise in key reporting rounds.

"We have invested in technology to allow us to bring more stories from around regional and rural Australia to national audiences. Our news websites are being overhauled to ensure we can deliver the best local, national and international news to audience members: tailored to where they live and work.”