Government review offers secret ABC downsizing plan

The Abbott government's cost-cutting review of the ABC envisages a radical shake-up that would lead to the outsourcing of most television programs, including flagship shows such as Play School and At the Movies, to the private sector and a further centralisation of operations in Sydney.

Fairfax Media has been briefed on the confidential report and can reveal it has estimated the ABC would save a net $70 million by outsourcing all television production to the private sector. On top of $90 million reaped by selling off production facilities, the proposal would save $400,000 each year. Implementation costs would be $20 million.

There is ''significant scope'' for savings by increasing the use of external production studios rather than filming television programs internally, the efficiency review finds.

The ABC increasingly relies on programs purchased from the independent production sector, but still makes in-house some of its most loved programs - including Play School, At the Movies and Spicks and Specks.

The review questions the ABC's decision to build new television production studios at Southbank HQ. The ABC has traditionally had a ''build and own'' culture that is out of step with the modern media, the review says.

The $70 million estimate does not include news and current affairs programs which would remain in-house.

The review's downsized vision for the ABC also includes selling off the broadcaster's fleet of outside broadcasting vans and abandoning the expansion of digital radio services.

A spokesman for Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the review, announced in January, focused on back-office operations and that programming was excluded from its terms of reference.

Any decisions on changing the ABC's levels of internal and external television production would be made by the ABC board and management.

Community and Public Sector Union president Michael Tull said that outsourcing television production would ''sound a death knell for the ABC's distinctive Australian voice''. He said: ''If that in-house capacity goes then Australia can say goodbye to the great dramas and edgy comedies which are such a central part of who we are.''

Sources who have read the draft review say it is more speculative than prescriptive in nature. The review includes estimated savings for various cost-cutting proposals, but does not make firm recommendations on which measures should be adopted.

It is understood ABC managing director Mark Scott is preparing to make major announcements on savings measures and changes to ABC structures around August.

The changes, which flow from the efficiency review and a secret overhaul called ''Project 21'', are expected to involve a dismantling of the ABC's traditional television and radio silos.

The efficiency review also proposes subjecting ABC and SBS spending to greater parliamentary scrutiny and bringing employees' pay and conditions more closely into line with workers in the private sector. Back-office operations - including switchboard services - would be centralised in the ABC's Sydney headquarters. The ABC and SBS would share headquarters for the first time, a move former prime minister Malcolm Fraser has said would lead to the eventual ''death'' of SBS.

The broadcasters would share the same catch-up online viewing service rather than maintain ABC iView and SBS On Demand.

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