Government spending money IT doesn't have: ABC

By attempting to avoid spending money it doesn't have, the federal government has cornered a digital-era ABC into doing just that, officials associated with the broadcaster have complained.

According to lobby group Friends Of the ABC (FABC) and ABC Producer John Millard, funding cuts implicit in Tuesday's federal Budget will see the ABC pulling funds from its existing company budget in order to meet the demands of the dawning age of digital TV.

The ABC outrage follows complaints from various Australian IT industry groups, including the Internet Industry Association (IIA) and the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), which responded to Tuesday's Budget by criticising the low levels of government funding allocated to IT as too low. In his Budget delivery, Treasurer Costello said the government was "not spending money it doesn't have."

FABC president Penelope Toltz said the Budget effectively left the ABC's digital conversion project with $36 million, less than half the estimated equipment conversion costs.

Other digital conversion costs, such as salaries for extra skilled staff as well as integration costs, would lift the overall digital transition outlay to $194 million, she said, claiming that consulting firm Andersen Consulting agreed with this quote.

"In order to go ahead and fund this . . . re-equipping, they (ABC) are going to have to take funding out of their programming budget," she said.

Millard, who is currently the producer for documentary series Australian Story, said the Minister for Communications, IT and the Arts, Senator Alston, wrote a letter to the ABC last year, outlining plans to put the ABC's Gore Hill production facility up for sale in favour of a cheaper production location.

Millard said profits made through the sale of the ABC's premises would be used to contribute to the broadcaster's digital television conversion expenses.

"The government is asking the ABC to do expensive new things with money it doesn't have," Millard said. Added Toltz: "They are freezing the ABC out of the future."

In a statement issued this week, ABC managing director Jonathon Shier said he was "disappointed" in the level of funding allocated to the broadcaster. He cited the conversion into digital television as one ABC service likely to be seriously affected by low funding.

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