ABC finance chief Louise Higgins stands in for Michelle Guthrie at Senate estimates. Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian
Michelle Guthrie was unable to attend Senate estimates on Wednesday night but the ABC managing director’s chief finance officer revealed that the broadcaster had shed 1,012 jobs since 2014.
The ABC finance executive Louise Higgins was left to field questions about whether the $84m budget cut, in the form of an indexation freeze, would lead to even more job losses. Guthrie had a “significant family commitment” and could not attend, Higgins told the committee.
Higgins said it was too early to tell whether employees or programs would be lost.
A total of 939 employees or 829 full-time-equivalent have been made redundant in four years, including 205 as a result of the closure of the ABC’s retail shops and a further 73 vacant positions were closed.
The ABC has been shedding staff since the Coalition cut $254m from the ABC budget in 2014. Guthrie, who has been in the position for just over two years, has imposed several restructures which have led to hundreds of staff being made redundant. A further 22 journalists will be made redundant this month.
The Liberal senator Eric Abetz criticised the ABC’s coverage of Israel and canvassed the pay of the occasional presenter Yassmin Abdel-Magied, who received $3,500 for six, six-minute films on hijab fashion.
Earlier in the day estimates heard that the communications minister, Mitch Fifield, regularly complains about ABC content, at the rate of about one complaint a month.
At the hearing Fifield said he wasn’t the only politician to complain about the ABC. “I’m sure prime minister Paul Keating would have complained to the ABC on occasion,” he said.
The latest complaint Fifield lodged was about a TV report by the economics reporter Emma Alberici on innovation, which was also the subject of a complaint by the prime minister.
The ABC said it had investigated the complaints and dismissed all but one of Malcolm Turnbull’s points about the Alberici innovation story, and found that her report was “accurate and newsworthy”.
“Apart from one clarification, which was promptly acknowledged – that Dr Roy Green is not currently an adviser to the government – all aspects of the complaint were rejected,” the ABC said.
Fifield also complained about changing the date for Triple J’s Hottest 100, Alberici’s corporate tax articles, a Tonightly comedy sketch and another comedy sketch which was published on Facebook but not aired not he ABC.
Higgins revealed that since 2014 the ABC had closed 20 posts in Tasmania alone, including editorial and retail positions.
“Thirty years ago, the ABC had five platforms and 6,000 employees,” she said. “Today, by contrast, we have six times the platforms but just two-thirds the staff and half the real funding per capita.
“This is not a complaint so much as a statement of reality. A further reality is that our productivity journey must continue, not just because we are stewards of public resources, but also because we face two sets of rising costs.
“First, like our commercial peers here and abroad, the ABC faces production costs that are escalating faster than inflation, driven by the giant content budgets of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google.
“Second, we must maintain traditional broadcast services for our large and loyal audiences, at the same time as modernising our technology platforms so that digital audiences can access ABC content wherever, however and whenever they want it.”
The ABC will return to Senate estimates on Thursday morning.