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Political relocation calls are ‘massive waste of taxpayers’ money’: SBS boss

Moving SBS out west from the Sydney North Shore suburb of Artarmon would be “a massive waste of taxpayers’ money”, argued the Special Broadcasting Service’s managing director Michael Ebeid on Wednesday.

Appearing at Budget Estimates, Ebeid responded to calls from New South Wales Premier Mike Baird and the mayors of Liverpool and Blacktown to move SBS to the multicultural west.

Earlier this week, Baird said he was “strongly” supportive of relocating SBS: “I think it’s a great idea; indeed, it’s logical,” he argued.

“If you look at where western Sydney is moving, where Liverpool is moving, the opportunity in terms of future jobs … I mean, SBS could be a pivotal part in terms of technology.”

But the SBS boss told the Environment and Communications Committee relocating would be “detrimental” to the broadcaster.

“I think it would be a massive waste of taxpayers’ money to spend tens of millions of dollars refurbishing, re-fitting out our TV and radio studio complex,” he said.

Moving would take SBS further away from many of the organisations with which it does business, Ebeid argued.

“We don’t have the money to do any of that whatsoever. I would also ask the question: for what purpose would the organisation move out to any other location when a lot of our partners, suppliers, other media companies we work with are all in our vicinity?

“If we were to move to, for example, Liverpool, we would lose a lot of productivity and efficiency in terms of people going backwards and forwards, flying in and out, being further away from the airport, et cetera.

“I actually think it would be detrimental for the organisation. It’s not about where we’re located, we’re a national broadcaster that covers stories right around the country and our workforce is incredibly diverse and live in all parts of Sydney.”

Ebeid said Liverpool Mayor Ned Mannoun’s argument that the Artarmon studios could be sold for $60 million and the network moved to Liverpool for $12 million did not take into account many of the costs of relocation.

“Purpose built TV studios that cost tens of millions of dollars to fit out, radio studios — we have three radio networks broadcasting in 70 languages — there’s a lot of infrastructure that we have in Artarmon.

“What is the benefit of replicating that to the taxpayer?”

He was also critical of the campaign being conducted by the mayors.

“I’m flattered there are so many mayors who would like us in their backyard. It’s lovely.

“I’ve not had any approaches from any mayor from any area to offer any financial assistance or even have a conversation. I have noted with amusement that some of these mayors are just talking to the media about it.”

Ebeid added that past experience had taught him that relocating offices led to high levels of staff turnover, a problem experienced by many public sector bodies, usually made to move for political reasons.

“I remember being involved when I was working at Optus ten years ago, when Optus moved from North Sydney to North Ryde,” he said, unprompted. The distance between North Sydney and North Ryde is much shorter than that between Artarmon and Liverpool or Blacktown — only around 10km.

“I recall, if I’m not mistaken, they lost around 15-20% of their workforce, just from going from North Sydney to North Ryde.

“It’s a far bigger discussion and has far more reaching consequences for the organisation than just a political headline of what’s good for a local mayor.”

Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has also been criticised recently for suggesting several agriculture-related public sector bodies could be moved from Canberra to locations as near as Wagga Wagga and Albury and as far as Toowomba or Hobart. Department of Agriculture staff estimated on Monday that three-quarters of staff did not want to relocate.

Author Bio

David Donaldson

David Donaldson is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Melbourne. He's previously written for The Guardian and Crikey and holds a masters in international relations.