Mr Fletcher said consolidation of the ABC’s capital city property portfolio was an opportunity to move to purpose-built facilities and secure the corporation’s long-term future. “I would strongly encourage you [to] include a detailed property asset strategy as part of your strategic plan,” he said in the letter.
He noted Nine Entertainment Co’s decision to sell its premises in Willoughby on Sydney’s lower North Shore and lease offices in North Sydney, and Seven West Media’s recent consolidation of operations to a main facility in Eveleigh, with some news resources at Martin Place.
“Media companies across the broader Australian media sector are responding to broadcast infrastructure, outsourced and shared services, better and more efficient utilisation of real property (including decentralisation initiatives), and the implementation of agile work practices in purpose-built facilities to boost the productivity of the modern workforce,” the letter says.
Nine is looking to cut $100 million from its cost base and Seven has reduced costs by $20 million in the past six months.
Mr Fletcher did not refer to specific property assets in the letter, but government sources who declined to be identified said the Ultimo office in particular was under-utilised. It was conservatively valued at about $330 million but would probably be worth more if sold to a property developer. This could allow the ABC to consider a more affordable location such as Parramatta in Greater Sydney for its headquarters, the sources said.
Mr Anderson has previously flagged a review of the ABC’s property portfolio but has also said a sale of Ultimo would not represent “ongoing” savings.
Government sources said the Brisbane and Melbourne offices were also under-used and there was still scope for the ABC and SBS to be brought under one roof – a proposal that has been regularly discussed since a 2014 review of the public broadcasters.
Mr Fletcher also raised concerns about the economics of regional media markets, which he said had been worsened by the recent bushfires.
He said he was “proud” of the vital role the ABC played during the bushfire crisis and the government would take the costs of its coverage into consideration if it provided a detailed breakdown.
“I would encourage the ABC to consider how its own operations are responding to the need to maintain public interest journalism for a healthy Australian democracy,” he said in the letter.
Jennifer Duke is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra.