With Treasurer Joe Hockey sharpening the blade for cuts to the ABC funding, the tsars at Ultimo may be tempted to dust off a successful late 1980s campaign to save their $1.03-billion allowance.

The phrase "only eight cents a day" was coined in 1987 by ABC managing director David Hill amid political attacks from the Hawke-Keating government and a slight loss of funding in the 1987-88 budget.

But when the 8 cents of 1987 is adjusted for inflation, it becomes 18 cents in today's money, which is more expensive than current 12 cents a day costing - a figure reached by using the same calculations Hill used 27 years ago.

Professor of journalism at QUT Brian McNair said a revitalised ''eight cents a day'' campaign would be "one of the strongest arguments the ABC could make" given the broadcaster is now doing more with less.

"It’s entirely legitimate for the ABC to say ‘hang on a minute here, let’s have a look at what we produce with our budget and compare that with what other commercial outlets and public broadcasters do'," he said.

One senior ABC spokesman said "25 years ago the ABC had over 6000 staff, one television channel, local radio and national radio".

"Now, with 4000 staff, it produces four TV channels, a host of digital and analog radio stations, a catch-up TV service, a massive online service and a host of innovative apps," he said.

Mr McNair said the strength of the campaign is that it is an economically rational argument as opposed to an ideological claim.

"It’s an argument that doesn’t say ‘we’re the ABC and we deserve special treatment, but instead for this amount of money we’ve been providing you with this much'."

But Centre for Advancing Journalism senior research fellow Dennis Muller said the return of a Hillesque campaign would be unlikely to ever get past Ultimo management.

"I don’t think that's Mark’s Scott’s style," he said. "David Hill was a pugnacious and quasi-political operator and Mark Scott isn’t. He’s more of a negotiator, a consensus builder, a subtle operator.

"Given the current political climate, he would probably see that as an unnecessary risk."

When asked whether a return to the 'cents per day' campaign could save the national broadcaster, the ABC spokesman said "history has shown that campaigning on its own is not enough to protect the ABC".

"The best protection comes from living up to the charter responsibilities and demonstrating to the public the value of an innovative, audience-focused public broadcaster," he said.

Government funding for the ABC exceeded $1 billion for the first time when Wayne Swan delivered his final budget in 2013-14.

And while the national Commission of Audit refrained from recommending direct cuts to ABC funding, it did call for the defunding of the Australia Network.

ANU Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy director Dr Susan Harris-Rimmer said while the network could be better managed, it would be "incredibly sad to lose an investment in public diplomacy without exploring its true potential".

"To me, the huge value of the Australia Network is the potential for public diplomacy," she said. "Most of the top 20 powers invest in public broadcasting to project their soft power - with the BBC being the prime example."