The ABC is grappling with a funding freeze projected to shave up to $84 million off its annual budget and is set to present a five-year strategic plan for the broadcaster later this month.
As treasurer in the Hawke government alongside then-telecommunications minister Michael Duffy, Mr Keating said he spent “an inordinate amount of time looking at sites in the Sydney central business district, where the multiplicity of ABC studios and offices might be consolidated into one major facility”.
“That facility was and is the current Ultimo offices,” he said.
He said at the time, the ABC needed to better collate and present content and needed to do this with “cross-platform accommodation”.
“The decision to relocate television, radio and news offices, including administration, to Ultimo saw the closure of facilities as far away as Artarmon and Elizabeth and William Streets in Sydney and the cross-pollination of news and content between television and radio in each of their forms, across a day, dramatically improving the comprehension and breadth of particular events and news stories,” he said.
He followed the same policy in Melbourne and established the Southbank offices, he said. The ABC Southbank centre was redeveloped in 2017 to bring Melbourne-based employees to one site.
“These two centres, Ultimo in Sydney and Southbank in Melbourne, stand as sentinels to the notion that in a free and open political society, unvarnished information is central to the nation’s lifeblood,” he said, adding that centralising these locations was in part to “protect” the broadcaster from political attacks.
“Communications Minister Paul Fletcher’s pressure upon the organisation to explore the sale of its Sydney and Melbourne premises is simply the Liberal and National parties coming to the conclusion that these major aggregations of staff and functions stand in the way of the preference and bias they believe is owed them or which they can, otherwise procure,” he said.
“Australians who value the plurality of our society and the importance of the ABC to its integrity, should resist and make known their contempt for Minister Fletcher’s and the government’s pressure on the organisation.”
However, Institute of Public Affairs director of policy Gideon Rozner “commended” Mr Fletcher for making the recommendation. The think-tank has regularly called for the privatisation of the ABC.
“One of the main arguments the ABC uses in favour of state ownership is its importance to … regional Australia,” he said. “If that is the case, then perhaps the ABC should set up shop there instead of Ultimo.”