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Monday, 22 November 2010
Page: 3227

Mr BANDT (6:14 PM) —The measures in the National Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 are consistent with Australian Greens policy and I rise to support the bill in principle. In making a short contribution to this debate, I want to focus briefly on the appointment mechanisms for the ABC board. It is critical to a healthy democracy that the national broadcaster is truly independent and free to report on issues that cause discomfort to the incumbent government and other powerful interests. Without access to reliable and unbiased information, the public cannot participate in the public political debate effectively. With that principle in mind, I commend the government for putting an end to the practice of stacking the ABC board with directors who have party political interests or who have clear and overt ideological bias.

In his submission to the Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts References Committee in 2001, Quentin Dempster, a former staff-elected director of the ABC, highlighted the problems with the way that the ABC board had been appointed. He wrote that:

The history shows that it is almost impossible for incumbent governments to put the ABC’s clear need for non-controversial appointments of directors with a demonstrated commitment to independent public broadcasting ahead of their party political interest to send ‘signals of influence’ by the appointment of directors with links, connections or associations with their own party. Both the Liberal and Labor parties do not seem to be able to restrain themselves from applying political patronage to the task of selecting ABC directors.  To those of us working at the ABC under this pathetic two-party indulgence it has become wearisome, to say the least.

Ten years later, the government could quite easily have used their position to continue this practice, to tilt the ABC board in Labor’s favour, but they have not done so. That they are seeking to move beyond this politicisation of the ABC board is to be applauded.

Speaking on behalf of the Australian Greens, I can indicate that we place so much importance on the government’s moves to ensure that ABC board members are selected on the basis of merit, free from political interference, that we will be moving amendments in the Senate to further strengthen these measures. We will seek to further limit the scope for political appointments to be made by requiring that suitably qualified and non-partisan people, rather than appointees of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, fill positions on the nomination panel responsible for selecting the team that will conduct the merit based selection process for ABC board appointments.

On the question of the staff-elected director, the Greens did not support the position being abolished in the first place and it certainly remains our policy to see it reinstated. I note that the opposition which, when in government, removed the staff position continues to make the argument that a staff-elected board member would act in the interests of staff members before the interests of the organisation. The Greens reject these arguments by noting that staff-elected directors in the past have always fulfilled their duties without giving rise to conflicts of interest. Representing staff is first and foremost a job for the unions, not the staff-elected board member.

The clear benefit of seeing a staff-elected board member returned to the board is the sheer wealth of operational broadcasting experience that he or she brings. The ABC board will only be stronger and wiser because of it and I see no reason for parliament to prevent such experience being returned. I thank the government for introducing this bill.