Bureaucrats Win! It’s Survival of ‘The Fattest’

With the current round of staff cuts, it certainly looks like the bureaucrats at the ABC have reigned supreme and lived to fight another day.

When it comes to political manoeuvres, compared to them, those of us on the commercial side are just plain amateurs.

Yet again, they’ve walked undaunted over the corpses of highly talented and experienced creative staff and journalists in order to keep their own jobs, and somehow, with the help of lobby groups, they’ve been able to convince a large slice of the naive Australian public, that they’re absolutely right, and, the government is a monster.

It doesn’t matter that they often contribute little to the ABC, other than to be the source of many Australian taxpayers’ perception that the public broadcaster is fat and inefficient.

Well, as it now turns out, in bureaucratic terms, it’s probably going to be even fatter and more inefficient in the future.

So, why do the creatives and other on-air people, like journalists, cop it in the neck each time a funding cut is forced on the ABC to try to bring it to account and make it more efficient for taxpayers.

Firstly, when there are cuts, someone has to decide on who goes and who stays.

That job is given to the bureaucrats.

They’re the administrators and managers of the organisation, and, making these sorts of decisions is their job.

Given the hypothetical situation that you’re handed a loaded gun and told you must shoot yourself or the person next to you, the outcome is pretty much a no-brainer.

If that other person happens to be in Adelaide or Perth and you’re in Sydney, the decision becomes even easier.

It takes a very brave person indeed to include their own name or those in their team, on a list of expendable people.

You’d be saying your job really wasn’t necessary all along, and, who’s ever going to admit that?

Every employee believes they work efficiently, and, this is no more evident than in the public service.

So, let’s get down to the real reason why the ABC always cuts ‘front of house’ rather than in the backroom.

If this modest 5% cut in taxpayer funding was absorbed without any fuss and the backroom fat was cleaned out, then the ABC management would live in constant fear – the fear that more and even deeper cuts may be lurking just around the corner in the not too distant future.

It doesn’t matter if the fears are well founded or not, because, these ABC bureaucrats have been playing the public service game for decades.

They know if they don’t spend every dollar allocated to them, either efficiently or just flushed down the drain, then they’ll lose any unused allocation come the next handout and an extra percentage on top of that.

It’s what happens when you live on a government handout.

There’s no real inducement to operate efficiently, and, government-funded organisations are always going to oppose anyone who wants to bring them to account.

The ABC management’s  public service style thinking says “If the general public doesn’t perceive that the cuts have had a devastating impact on the ability of the ABC to provide them with quality programs, then the Communications Minister will come knocking again”.

In my previous Radio Today article “The ABC of Cuts”, I predicted last week that the bureaucrats would go into survival mode, and, that’s exactly what they did.

These bureaucrats generally don’t care whether the Australian public has quality radio and TV programs, their whole focus is on keeping their jobs and their benefits as long as they possibly can, and, who can blame them?

It does open up the question of whether an external organisation, like a major accounting firm, should be involved to keep the process fair and independent, but, in reality, these groups know a whole lot more about fees than about the real needs of broadcasting.

I believe the vast majority of those at the coalface, who are responsible for providing programs across Australia on the ABC each day, are dedicated and talented people and they’re prepared to go the extra mile.

I also believe that some of them have their own political agendas and they use the publicly-funded ABC as a forum, which is highly inappropriate, but on the whole, it is they and not the bureaucrats, who are providing entertainment and information services to us, the Australian people.

When Australian taxpayers judge the value of the ABC in terms of the dollars spent, the only criteria taxpayers have to make an assessment is what they hear coming out the speakers and what is on the screen.

The bureaucrats believe controlling that output is the only way to induce taxpayers, through the Federal Government, to give them more money, so that they can keep their own jobs and then hire back more creative personnel to keep the listeners and viewers happy.

Cunning and clever, but certainly not efficient!

About The Author: Brad SMART has been a journalist, consultant, author, broadcaster, film director and was the former owner of the Smart Radio Network throughout Queensland. Brad can be contacted on email here.

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