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ENVIRONMENT, COMMUNICATIONS, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND THE ARTS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
(Senate-Thursday, 13 April 2006)
HENSCHKE, Mr Ian Martin
GARRETT, Ms Kirsten
KOVAL, Ms Ramona
CHAIR (Senator Eggleston)
DEMPSTER, Mr Quentin Earl
CASSIDY, Mr Darce
GREENWELL, Ms Jill
THOMSON, Mr Graeme
WARREN, Mr Christopher
BUETTEL, Mr Rohan
- Senator CONROY
Content WindowENVIRONMENT, COMMUNICATIONS, INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AND THE ARTS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE - 13/04/2006 - Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment Bill 2006
CHAIR —I welcome the Friends of the ABC from the ACT and region and the Friends of the ABC from South Australia, Mr Darce Cassidy and Ms Jill Greenwell. You probably heard the opening statement which I read at the beginning of proceedings. I will add that the committee has received your submission, Ms Greenwell, as submission 15 and your submission, Mr Cassidy, as submission 27. Do you wish to make any amendments or alterations to your respective submissions?
Ms Greenwell —I do not.
Mr Cassidy —No, I do not.
CHAIR —Do either of you wish to make an opening statement?
Ms Greenwell —Yes. I will start, and Mr Cassidy will follow. Thank you very much for the opportunity for the Friends of the ABC to be witnesses. I would like to address the question of conflict of interest because of the importance attached to it in both the explanatory memorandum and the second reading speech. I would like to make four points. Firstly, the staff elected director is not on the board as a union delegate. He or she does not put the industrial interests of staff to the board. In fact, the managing director does. So there is no conflict of interest.
My second point is that it is because of the distinctive legislated functions of this particular corporation that a staff director is essential. What distinguishes the ABC from its commercial counterparts, and what the board must ensure, is the quality and range of its programming. The commercial networks must deliver audiences to advertisers. They are not independent of the imperative of financial success.
There is a huge difference in producing programs when the emphasis is on the program rather than on the size of the audience. New programs can be given time to take off, documentaries can be researched thoroughly and interviews can set the pace for community discussion. These are just a few examples of what is not just possible but required by the public broadcaster. So I would submit that ABC staff have a vested interest in maintaining this public broadcaster ethos and that their nominated director brings to the board a perspective essential to the board’s duty to see that the distinctive functions of the corporation are carried out.
My third point is that there are other agencies, including Australian government institutions, which have staff elected directors. Importantly, what those agencies have in common with the ABC is that their product too is intellectual property, dependent on the creative energy of their staff. The Australian Film, Television and Radio School is one example. The Australian National University, in the ACT, is another. In these instances, it is also not for industrial reasons but in the interests of the overall objectives of the institution that staff elected directors,and students to some cases, participate in the top policy-making body. In the private sector, also, it is not unheard of to have a staff elected director on the board. One example in Canberra is the Canberra Girls Grammar School, which has a staff elected director on the board.
My fourth point is related to the reliance in both the explanatory memorandum and the second reading speech upon the reference in the Uhrig review to representational appointments. I would contend that this reliance is misplaced. In the case of the public sector, Uhrig spelt out that by ‘representational appointments’ he meant those ‘where a departmental staff member is appointed on the basis of representing the government’s interests or having a ‘quasi’ supervision approach’.
So that is something like having the head of Treasury on the board of the Reserve Bank. It is nothing to do with the sort of role of a stakeholder representative, as the staff elected director is, on the board. Finally, there is no connection at all between the words ‘representational’ and ‘election’. The two words sound synonymous, but Uhrig’s use of the term ‘representational’ is not at all the same as ‘by means of election’.
CHAIR —Thank you, Ms Greenwell. Mr Cassidy, would you like to make an opening statement?
Mr Cassidy —Thank you. My colleague has covered the basis of both our submissions, I think, but I would like to comment briefly on an issue that arose earlier in this hearing, which relates to SBS and whether there should be a staff elected member on that board. I have some experience because I have worked for SBS, and I also have significant experience in the area of ethnic broadcasting in my role, until recently, as executive director of the National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcasters Council.
Within ethnic communities generally there has been a great deal of concern in recent times about the direction of the SBS, and the direction of SBS since it took up advertising. These issues have been expressed by the chairman of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia. They have been expressed by former directors of SBS, including Mr George Zangalis, who was for a long time an SBS director. As we have seen from the evidence given by the staff elected directors, one of the main contributions to the independence of the ABC has been to protect its independence and its integrity from being distorted by reliance on advertising and by commercial influence. I would suggest that, had we had a similar situation in SBS, we might well have avoided some of the pitfalls that have befallen the SBS since it started to take advertising.
Specifically, what has happened since advertising began on SBS is that programs in languages other than English have been moved out of prime time. The advertising, which originally began on SBS as being very discreet and polite, has become more intrusive and raucous. In fact, recently this year the Financial Review quoted the SBS marketing manager as saying, ‘There was a time when we wouldn’t have in-your-face advertising, but the commercial reality is that we now have to have it.’ Any close inspection of the SBS will see the increasingly intrusive amount of advertising, including the raucous nature of the advertising.
Senator RONALDSON —Implicit in this is your assumption that a staff elected director would have changed the outcome. That is an opinion.
CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, I think you can come back to that as a question. Mr Cassidy is making an opening statement.
Mr Cassidy —It is an opinion but it is based on the performance and the history of the actions of the staff elected director in the ABC. We all heard evidence earlier as to the actions that several of the directors have taken to minimise commercial influence. I suggest that if we had had a staff elected director on the SBS they would be very likely to have acted in a similar way to the representatives on the ABC.
Senator WORTLEY —Have there been times when the person in the staff elected position, because of their broadcasting knowledge, made significant information available to other board members that they may have otherwise missed because they did not know the questions that they should be asking? I refer you to your submission with regard to some of those.
Mr Cassidy —Yes. There is one particular issue where I think this stands out. This was the decision as to where in Melbourne the headquarters of the ABC should be. The then management of the ABC had proposed to put the ABC headquarters at Burwood East, many miles from the centre of Melbourne. That was an occasion where the staff dictated that that was where they wanted to go to because many of them lived in that area and it was more convenient. It was the view of the then staff elected director, Tom Molomby, that that was inappropriate in the interests of the corporation as a whole because, if you are to be an effective broadcaster, you must be accessible to the public and to the kinds of people that you are likely to interview, and Burwood East was not accessible.
It was largely because of this practical understanding of the realities of broadcasting that he was instrumental in persuading the board to overrule the management proposal to build at Burwood East and move the building into the city. I suspect that, had it not been for that particular knowledge, the board would not have been equipped, as boards must be, to critically evaluate the management proposal. It is very important as a matter of governance that the board stand separate from the management and critically review management proposals. If you do not have the expertise and the knowledge on a board to be able to do that, a board is not able to function effectively.
Senator WORTLEY —In this case the person who had the knowledge and expertise was the staff elected director.
Mr Cassidy —Yes. I would like to quote from Senator Alston, when he wrote in the 1995 Senate review of the—
Senator CONROY —It is a disreputable source, but go ahead.
Mr Cassidy —In the report that he wrote he said:
The ... ABC is required to make decisions with long-term implications in a time of overwhelmingly rapid transformation of broadcasting technology. The Board’s task may have been made more difficult by the fact that many of its members have little specialist knowledge of either the broadcasting industry or the new technologies. Without such expertise, it is inevitable that a part-time board will be essentially reactive to senior management suggestions and initiatives ...
I suggest that the action of Mr Molomby in this case and the action of other staff elected directors in the other case has been a valuable addition to the board in giving at least an element of that expertise among the board members.
Senator WORTLEY —In your submission you also refer to the track record of staff elected directors. Can you elaborate on that? You have given that example. Are there other examples that you can give us?
Mr Cassidy —Yes. There can be no clearer threat to the independence of a board or an organisation than a foreign government attempting to tell a board or a broadcasting organisation what to broadcast or not what to broadcast. This of course relates to the attempt by the government of Papua New Guinea to intimidate the ABC board into censoring an interview that had been done in New Guinea by a Four Corners reporter, Allan Hogan. The senior staff at the ABC at the time wanted to give in. They wanted to suppress this particular interview because they feared that their correspondent in Port Moresby would be expelled if they broadcast it. The proposal by the management was in effect to betray the independence of the ABC.
Tom Molomby, the staff elected member, was critical in the decision to overrule the management and to uphold the independence of the ABC. That board decision to overturn the management was carried by a majority of one. It was carried against the diehard opposition of some ABC staff, including the then managing director, who threatened to resign if the management proposal was overturned, and including threats from other senior managers at the ABC. The board, by a majority of four to three, voted to uphold the independence of the ABC. Had Molomby not been there, that board vote would have been tied.
Senator WORTLEY —Mr Cassidy, in addition to your position with Friends of the ABC, I understand that you come to this meeting with some knowledge of the ABC other than just from that position. Could you expand on that?
Mr Cassidy —I worked for the ABC for 33 years. My last position was as managing director’s representative for South Australia—in colloquial terms, a state manager.
Senator RONALDSON —The Uhrig report did not exclude the ABC or SEDs from its deliberations, did it?
Mr Cassidy —The Uhrig report did not consider the ABC, but I think my colleague can answer.
Senator RONALDSON —It did not exclude it, did it?
Ms Greenwell —It did not include it.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —That does not mean you can jump to that conclusion.
Ms Greenwell —The reason that the Uhrig review was set up was particularly to look at the supervisory and regulatory or service-providing corporations—I think at the time there were about 160. It was particularly to look at those. It was in the wake of the HIH collapse, it was looking at APRA, for example, and it was also after complaints that the Taxation Office had been favouring big business. So it was looking particularly at the regulatory and the service-providing corporations, as distinct from the ABC, which must be one of the oldest federal statutory bodies which is not quite sui generis but is in the same category, let’s say, as the Australian National University which is creating a product through its human resources. It is not regulating and it is not providing a service.
Mr Cassidy —If I could add to that, Mr Uhrig wrote in his review:
The review took a practical rather than theoretical approach … The core of the review and its conclusions, however, stem from the outcome of consultations with key participants …
In other words, Uhrig relies on the practical discussion with the participants in his review. He did not consult the ABC. He did not receive any submissions from the ABC. Nor did he consult with or consider any of the other government authorities which have staff elected members on their boards or members representing other groups of stakeholders. Therefore, Uhrig’s conclusions could not have applied to the ABC or to those other organisations because he did not investigate them.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Yes, I know, but I think that your quotes from Uhrig have been very selective, Mr Cassidy—and misleading, I must say. It is true that, whilst Uhrig did not specifically mention staff elected directors when he talked about the problems with representative directors, he did not specifically exclude the staff elected director. I think you are really drawing a long bow to jump to that conclusion, as you and others have done in the submissions. You are being very particular here, but I think you were present when we were talking about other bodies. We do have SBS. We have New Zealand TV. These are similar bodies. I ask you the same question: why should the ABC be different to other comparable bodies such as SBS and New Zealand TV? What makes this position so special?
Mr Cassidy —I would be delighted to answer that. The particular distinction between SBS and TV New Zealand is that TV New Zealand is pretty well a wholly commercial operation. It is not government funded. In fact, it pays the New Zealand government a dividend. TV New Zealand is virtually indistinguishable. I just came back from some time in New Zealand. It is virtually indistinguishable—
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —But they are public broadcasters. We are trying to compare apples with apples here. You obviously have a lot of experience. We are comparing with apples with apples.
Mr Cassidy —I would say that TV New Zealand is not a public broadcaster; it is a commercial broadcaster that happens to be owned by the government in much the same way that Telstra is, in the majority, government owned.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —What about SBS then?
Mr Cassidy —SBS is, I would suggest, a hybrid organisation because it does have some public broadcasting attributes—
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Some public broadcasting attributes.
Mr Cassidy —SBS has changed significantly since advertising was introduced. I have referred before to changes in programming, where SBS has begun to desert its core audience of people of ethnic background. There have been complaints from ethnic representatives about SBS deserting its target audience. It has begun to desert its target audience because it knows it will gain more advertising revenue by going to the broader audience, and that is why its band—
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —If you are going to go down the route of complaints, you, as Friends of the ABC, might like to comment on the 40,000 complaints that the ABC gets in any case. I do not particularly want to go down that route, but, if that is the route that you choose to go down, we are very happy to take you down there.
Ms Greenwell —Could I just say something, following on from the comparison with SBS. As a viewer of SBS, it seems like a public broadcaster, with a somewhat different emphasis and certainly a different scope to the ABC. But I think it is wonderful that you should ask: why not have a staff-elected director for SBS? We are here to support the retention of that position on the ABC and, personally, I would be delighted if SBS also had one. I cannot answer why they do not, but I think it is a pity that they do not.
CHAIR —Would it not make more sense to have a consumer representative than a staff representative on these boards?
Ms Greenwell —That thought had occurred to me, because I suppose a stakeholder representative, which you can find in government agencies and in private ones as well, would have its equivalent in a consumer representative. But I would say that, for practical purposes, that would be extremely difficult. How on earth would you elect one? The existence of the ABC Advisory Council is possibly one way around that.
CHAIR —You make a lot of assumptions, as the previously witnesses did, about the role of a staff board member and preserving the ethos of the ABC, but the ABC and the SBS both have charters and are required to provide a certain service. Don’t you think it is a bit pretentious to say that the presence of a single staff person would preserve the ethos of the charter, notwithstanding the fact that there are eight other members of the ABC board who are equally committed, one must presume, to honouring that charter? We are hearing a lot about advertising, for example. That does not necessarily follow in any logical way that I can see.
Ms Greenwell —I will answer your question. I do not think it is presumptuous to say that the staff of the ABC have a direct interest in seeing that the charter of the ABC is carried out.
CHAIR —It is not just a direct interest; it is a predominant, overwhelming interest. That is what we are hearing. They become the guarantor in the face of all the other members of the board who have lost their way in the wilderness.
Ms Greenwell —No, I would not say that the staff director is the only person who will act in the interests of the ABC as a whole, but I can be quite confident that the staff-elected director is the one person who has an overwhelming interest in seeing that the ABC’s public broadcasting standards are maintained. As for the other directors, I do not know and nobody in the public can possibly have any idea because of the way that those members are appointed. But that is a bit separate. I would not claim that the staff-elected director is the sole repository of the meeting of the charter requirements of the ABC.
CHAIR —But you were saying that this is the one person who you can you sure would protect the concept of the public broadcaster’s role. Again, I do not think that necessarily follows. The staff director could have a highly vested interest in some matter which perhaps was contrary to what we see as the role of a public broadcaster.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Your comment obviously implies that the reason you are so confident is that they have been elected by the staff and therefore they owe their obligation first and foremost to the staff. In the end, how can you sit there and say that somebody who has been elected purely to represent the staff—and you were here when Ms Koval gave her evidence about reporting back on behalf of the staff—acts independently and in the best interests of the board of the ABC? Surely their primary interest is to the people who elected them.
Ms Greenwell —No, I do not think that election comes into it at all.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —You mean their sole responsibility is to the board?
Ms Greenwell —Once they are on the board, yes.
—That is your view, is it?
Ms Greenwell —It is not my view; it is a requirement of the CAC Act that they must take on the view of the board as a whole. You asked how I could be sure that staff would act in the interests of the ABC. I am sure because of the distinctive quality of programming which they produce. I gave a couple of examples. Somebody who is presenting documentary programs on the ABC is allowed to finish them without the pressure of submitting a program within a certain time because of sponsors. There are pressures, and they include finances of course, but there is scope. I have heard it said publicly by the producers of documentaries on the ABC that there is a particular quality and it does go to the credibility of the program production, which is possible when you are looking for the quality of the program and you are not delivering audiences to advertisers who are checking off the budget line.
That is one example. Another is those people who are actually required under the editorial policies of the ABC to set the pace for community discussion. People who work in an organisation where that is a requirement as distinct from delivering audiences to the advertisers have a different ethos, and that is why I would depend on them to keep that ethos in mind when broader policy matters like the budget or the editorial policy documents come before the board.
—It gets back to the point, like the evidence that we heard this morning, that basically it is really just the staff elected director and that without them the ABC would not properly function.
Mr Cassidy —No, that is certainly not the position of my organisation. To respond to Senator Eggleston’s question of how we can be sure that the staff elected member will always protect the integrity of the ABC, we cannot always sure. We are not saying that they are the sole defender of the integrity of the corporation; what we are pointing to is the track record of those staff elected directors. From the evidence they have given to various Senate inquiries, it has been clear that they have taken a key role. I have spoken of the roles of Mr Molomby; other witnesses have spoken about the roles of the staff elected director. We can see from their track record that, as a rule, they have done that. Yes, it is theoretically possible that some other staff elected director could be a dud, but the historical evidence is that they have all worked very firmly to protect the integrity of the ABC.
—I want to take you to page 7 of your submission, where an assertion is made:
Without the staff elected director the ABC would have spent seventy-one of its seventy-four years without anyone with broadcasting experience on its board.
Do you agree with that?
Mr Cassidy —Yes.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —The position of the staff elected director has only existed from 1974 to 1975 and from 1983 to 2006. For the other 50 years of its existence, the ABC surely functioned just fine without a staff elected director with broadcasting experience.
Mr Cassidy —I would dispute the fact that the ABC functioned fine in those early years.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —So what you are saying is that only during the years when there was a staff elected—
Senator CONROY —Can you finish the question?
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I am asking him to answer two questions.
Senator CONROY —And he was giving you the answer.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —So what you are saying is that it is only during the period when the staff elected director—
Senator CONROY —He is entitled to finish his answer.
CHAIR —He is entitled to answer, yes. Please proceed, Mr Cassidy.
Mr Cassidy —No, what I was saying was that in the period before there was a staff elected director on the board there were some very serious deficiencies in the ABC. I worked for the ABC for many of those years and I am very aware that on many occasions the board was very remote and very often did not act as an effective critical evaluator of management decisions. When the first staff elected director was elected to the board, his election slogan was: ‘The board only knows what it’s told. Make sure that the person who’s telling the board things’—meaning the new staff elected director—‘knows something about what they’re saying.’ That has been the critical role of the staff elected director: to add to the board’s ability and the board’s duty to critically evaluate management proposals.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —What about those 50 years when there was no staff elected director? That is a pretty bold statement; in fact, I think it is a ridiculous statement to make.
Mr Cassidy —I was simply saying—
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Does that mean that for the years that there was no staff elected director the ABC did not function? That is what you have written.
Mr Cassidy —No, that is not what I wrote at all.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —It is. It says—
Mr Cassidy —I said that the ABC did not function when it did not have a staff elected director?
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —You said that without the staff elected director the ABC would have spent 71 of its 74 years without anyone without broadcasting experience on the board.
Mr Cassidy —That is right. So I was not saying the board was not functioning.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —So what you mean—
Mr Cassidy —Can I finish, please? I said that without the staff elected director there would only have been three years—during the appointment of Robert Raymond—when the ABC would otherwise have had someone with broadcasting experience on the board. I did not say the ABC did not function; I did not say it was a hopeless mess, but what I am suggesting is that the ABC’s governance has been improved by having the experience and contribution of the people who have been there.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Then you made a comment that it is really only a staff elected director who can bring forward the points of view of the staff. Is that the effect of what you just said?
Mr Cassidy —No. It is not only that. In fact, it is the duty and the role of the managing director—as the current acting managing director, Murray Green, has pointed out in his statement—to do that. Indeed, many of the other board members will know staff and be aware of the views of staff members. Certainly the chairman spends a lot of time in the ABC and mixes with the staff. From time to time, other board members do the same, as is appropriate. So it is not exclusively the staff elected director. But the do bring a special point of view.
Senator SIEWERT —I think you were here when I raised the issue that Senator Minchin in his second reading speech raised about tensions between whether the person is an elected or representative member. What is your understanding of these tensions? Do you think they are real or perceived? I do not know how much close contact you have with the staff of the ABC anymore. Do you think they view that position as elected or representative?
Mr Cassidy —My experience—and I have known all of the staff elected directors personally—is that they have always seen their position as being a director of the organisation who owes their responsibility to the organisation. However, as Mr Henschke testified, there are those in the staff who think perhaps that the staff elected director is meant to be there to represent them, and they will sometimes go to the staff elected director and seek to put pressure on them.
I think it is also a common public perception that members who are appointed by the government are there to do the government’s bidding. There are plenty of examples of members appointed by the government of the day who have shown their independence, but that does not alter the fact that there may be people in government who expect them to follow their policy and that there is a widespread perception of that among the public and indeed among politicians. Every party represented in the parliament, as I indicated in my submission, has accused their opponents of stacking the ABC board.
Senator RONALDSON —Is there no more or less a perception that the staff elected director might be obligated to put forward the views of staff?
Senator CONROY —I though we had put that to bed.
Mr Cassidy —I think there is a perception in both cases. But just as there examples of government appointed directors—
Senator CONROY —Doing the bidding of government. Good God!
Mr Cassidy —doing the bidding of government, there are examples of them refusing to do the bidding of government. In fact, Professor Inglis—
Senator CONROY —Poor Donald!
Senator RONALDSON —Which of the current board are not independent?
Mr Cassidy —To my knowledge, they are all independent. I really do not know the details, so I would not want to suggest that any member of the current board has not acted properly.
Senator SIEWERT —I think you are trying to make a point about perception.
Mr Cassidy —It was a point of perception. In fact, the point I was trying to make is that, despite the fact that there is often a perception that government appointed board members are government stooges, there is evidence of numerous occasions on which they have clearly shown that they have acted independently. A particular occasion quoted by Professor Inglis is when the board appointed by the Menzies government—I cannot remember the details, but I am sure Professor Inglis could help us—clearly acted in a way that was independent of the government and against the wishes of the government. So, although there is that widespread perception, there is also evidence that government appointed members and staff elected members have attempted to act independently—as is their duty.
Senator RONALDSON —Absolutely.
Senator SIEWERT —You have touched on this in your submission and just now, but can you articulate why you think the ABC, as a public broadcaster, is different from the other commercial forms of broadcasting. Why do you think this position is so important in that context?
Mr Cassidy —If we look at examples of staff elected people on boards, it is common in cultural institutions. It is the case in the ABC, the Australian National University and the film and television school. In fact, it is normally the case in universities. I think the reason why in the Australian tradition and indeed in the British tradition generally there has been a tendency for membership of boards of cultural institutions is that they are very much part of passing on the culture and opinion formation. It would not be appropriate for the government to directly decide what is taught in universities or what is broadcast on the ABC. That is why there has historically been a tendency to have, in addition to government members, other people and a diversity of views on the boards of these cultural institutions. It is an important part of our democracy.
Senator RONALDSON —Do you think the current board is committed to maintaining the ABC’s independence from government and other areas?
Mr Cassidy —I have seen no evidence to the contrary.
Senator RONALDSON —So we can assume that they are?
Mr Cassidy —We assume that they are because there is no evidence to the contrary.
Senator RONALDSON —I presume you believe Friends of the ABC campaign manager Glennys Stradijot is wrong when she says on the ABC board that the public has only the staff-elected director committed to maintaining ABC’s independence from government and commercial influence.
Mr Cassidy —Yes, I think she is quite wrong in that statement.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I want to take you back to the rationale of setting up the original ABC Act. Having read your submission, I want you to go back to the original ABC Act. It really does not specify a role for the staff-appointed director; it simply sets out that there shall be a staff-elected director. Would you agree? I am not sure if you were here when we talked about the second reading speech of the original legislation, it says:
In other respects the staff elected director will have the same powers and functions as the other non-executive directors.
Do you agree that the act does not set that out, other than the establishment of the legislation? When your submission infers some form of intimate inside knowledge or some specific role outside the ambit, I think surely you are wrong, because it is not the ambit of what the legislation says.
Mr Cassidy —You are quite right in what the act says. My colleague will comment further.
Ms Greenwell —This rather importantly points out that the staff-elected director has no responsibility to the board and to the corporation distinctive in any legislative or protocol form from other directors. In fact, he is not there to represent a staff view on things which have an impact on staff.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —But how does that sit with your earlier assertions that that is really the only person that you can rely upon as taking forward words to the effect of the interests of the staff? The two comments do not sit. I think there is an inconsistency in your approach.
Ms Greenwell —With respect, I think that they do. As a matter of good governance—and the Uhrig review mentioned it—you need a broad range of expertise and wisdom on the board. Having somebody from the staff committed to the charter obligations of the ABC enhances the ability of the board to carry out its job.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I take you to this comment. I do not know if you were here when Ms Koval gave this evidence or when we made reference to her statement and the assertion she made. She said:
This Report contains a summary of the representations I made as Director on your behalf at the most recent meetings of the ABC Board.
Under questioning from Senator Ronaldson, it is very clear that her position on the ABC board is on behalf of the staff. How does this sit with your situation?
Ms Greenwell —I am not going to comment.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Well I am asking you to comment. You are the Friends of the ABC. You have come to give evidence here and have commented on a whole range of issues. In fairness to this committee, I think you should comment on that.
Ms Greenwell —Yes, but I am not Ramona Koval, so I am not going to speak for her. What I will say for Friends of the ABC is that we expect that all directors conform to rules of confidentiality.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —So you would say that, when she makes a comment that she is acting on behalf of staff, that is wrong and that that is not your interpretation of what she as the staff-appointed director should be doing?
Ms Greenwell —She did not say that to me. I have not seen all of the statement, and I am not going to comment.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I will read this to you. This is in her submission. She states:
This Report contains a summary of the representations I made as Director on your behalf at the most recent meetings of the ABC Board.
It is pretty simple English. She is going to the board on behalf of staff. Do you agree that that is a proper role for a staff-elected director of the ABC?
Ms Greenwell —I think that she is there to put the staff perspective on the things which the board is considering.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Does that mean that you agree that she is not there on behalf of the staff and that she should be there as a board director and not on behalf of the staff?
Ms Greenwell —I think that perhaps we are arguing here about what is putting the point of view or perspective of the staff as distinct from what is speaking on behalf of them.
Senator RONALDSON —I specifically asked this question before I asked the last question of Ms Koval. I asked her whether these were staff related matters or whether they were matters outside the staff. She said they were in the broader aspect, but not just staff related. As my colleague said, when she is referring to matters she raised on their behalf, it was not staff related matters or just matters that had been raised with her by staff; it was well outside that. What is your response now to the question from my colleague? Should those comments be made, and is the representation of her doing this on behalf of the staff appropriate or inappropriate?
Ms Greenwell —I think it is appropriate for her to report back on a wide range of matters and for her to report on those things where she put a staff perspective.
Senator RONALDSON —But she made representations on their behalf in relation to non-staff related matters. She made representations on their behalf outside strict staff matters.
Ms Greenwell —I did not think that the word was that she made representations and I feel very uncomfortable here—
Senator RONALDSON —You have just had the quote. Do you want me to read it to you again?
Ms Greenwell —I feel very uncomfortable here about answering—
Senator RONALDSON —Of course you do!
Ms Greenwell —I am sorry, Senator. What I am uncomfortable about is speaking for Ramona Koval.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —We are not asking you to speak for Ramona Koval.
Ms Greenwell —I feel as though you are, I am sorry.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —We are asking you to comment or agree or disagree.
Mr Cassidy —I wonder if I could comment on this.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —No, we want Ms Greenwell to answer. You have come here; you are making comments on a whole lot of other issues. You answer Senator Ronaldson’s question.
Ms Greenwell —I feel as if you are making me speak on Ramona Koval’s behalf, and I cannot do that.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Senator Ronaldson will no doubt repeat it for you. Is it worth it?
CHAIR —No. The witness has said they are not going to answer, so we will leave it.
Senator WORTLEY —In your view, with the removal of the staff-elected director position, what would be the effect on the board, the impact on the ABC and the ramification for the public? I do not mind who answers this one.
Mr Cassidy —I will answer briefly. I would like to refer to something that is in the submission of the Friends of the ABC South Australia. We do not believe that it is the role of the person elected by the staff to speak on behalf of the staff or to represent the staff. They are there as a director of the board with exactly the same roles and duties as all the other directors. They may bring a special insight as a result of their professional experience, but they are not there as representatives or speaking on behalf of staff.
Turning to the senator’s question about what we would miss if we did not have a staff-elected director, there is an issue of expertise or experience, which a number of people have spoken about so I will not say any more about that. The other vital part of their role is that they are the only person there whose appointment is not in the gift of the government of the day. That is an important guarantee of diversity. I would like to quote from Professor Meredith Edwards, who is a director of the Institute for Governance and Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Canberra. She, together with Professor Bartos, has been involved in a detailed ARC funded study of corporate governance. She has some relevant comments about this in an article she wrote recently. She says:
What inhibits god governance in the public sector is the perception that directors [who are appointed by the minister] are doing what the minister wants rather than what is good governance.
She goes on to quote Henry Bosch, past head of the National Companies and Securities Commission, who has been a member of 10 or so Public Service boards. He says:
The quality of directors on government boards is almost universally lower than that is the case on equivalent private sector boards. And that is because I think ministers get involved in the selection.
Professor Edwards goes on to comment:
Of concern is a serious lack of transparency and accountability and hence integrity in the process—
that is, the process of appointments to boards. The appointment of the board members by the minister is particularly opaque, but the appointment of the staff-elected director is particularly transparent.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I do not know if you have seen a statement by Mr McDonald dated 24 March 2006. He makes this comment:
Staff issues will not be neglected in the absence of a staff-elected director. The interests of staff and our audiences will continue to be among the main concerns of the ABC Board.
The independence of the ABC is secured by the legislation which will continue to guide the Board in the discharge of its duties.
Do you agree with that comment by Mr McDonald?
Mr Cassidy —Yes, I do. It has always been the case that staff matters are represented through the managing director, as the current acting managing director has confirmed. The concerns that we have—and indeed which a previous Senate inquiry had—relate to the method of appointment of the other members of the board and the very issues raised by the study of corporate governance that Professor Meredith Edwards is currently engaged in.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Yes. I am not sure if you were here for the evidence this morning. Her boss said Professor Edwards works at the National Institute for Governance. You would be aware that the institute made a submission to this inquiry. Have you had the opportunity to read it?
Mr Cassidy —The institute did not. Professor Bartos did, and he is not her boss. As I understand it, they are colleagues.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I see.
CHAIR —I believe there is no submission. It is from Professor Bartos, not from the institute.
Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —No. You made a comment that this is the only director on the board who is not there by gift of government. The managing director is elected by the board.
Mr Cassidy —Correct. I apologise for that omission.
CHAIR —That is the end of this segment, so I thank you for appearing. It has been very useful evidence.