ABC vs Sky News for $220m deal to beam Oz TV into Asia

Conroy trumps Rudd as decision-maker

Controversy has hit the tender process for a Au$220m 10-year contract to broadcast Australian television into Asia via the Australia Network.

Australia's national broadcaster, ABC and Sky News are facing off for the tender, which was issued late last year by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Last week, however, the government announced that it would extend the ABC's existing contract for six months in a bid to seek "additional information" from the bidders. Significantly it has emerged that the decision-making process has shifted away from the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop has asked the government to explain why a service aimed at lifting Australia's international profile was being decided by the communications minister instead of the foreign minister.

"Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd appears to have been overruled by the prime minister in yet another example of the dysfunctional relationship at the heart of this government," Bishop said.

Bishop also added that Conroy could also be faced with a potential conflict of interest as he has responsibility for the ABC.

Tenderers have been asked to submit amended bids to specifically address how their operation of the Australia Network service would meet Australia's national interests.

The current contract with the ABC expires on 8 August 2011. ®

"The government will exercise its option under the existing contract to extend the service operated by the ABC for six months until 8 February 2012. The amended Australia Network Request for Tender will be released shortly and a decision on Preferred Tenderer is expected to be taken by September 2011," the joint government statement said.

The Australia Network has been operational since 1993 and currently broadcasts a mix of current affairs, sport, entertainment and children's programming to over 44 countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region. "The tender process and the shift toward a longer term contract was intended to provide greater certainty to the successful tender party and to ensure the government receives the best value in return for its investment." ®

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