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Monday, 22 November 2010
Page: 3231

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (6:27 PM) —in reply—I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate on the National Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill 2010. This bill will amend the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 and the Special Broadcasting Service Act 1991 to fulfil two longstanding commitments by the government. These amendments will lead to improved governance and better long-term outcomes for our national broadcasters. We promised in 2007 to end political interference in the ABC by introducing a transparent and democratic board appointment process that is based on merit, and we undertook to deal with SBS appointments in the same way. We also committed to restoring the staff-elected director to the ABC board.

The ABC and SBS are our national broadcasters and they play an important role in the lives of all Australians. It is imperative that they perform their functions in an independent and impartial manner. This bill establishes a statutory merit based selection process for the appointment of non-executive directors to the ABC and SBS boards. Strong boards appointed through this robust and transparent process are in the best interests of the country and of the broadcasters themselves.

The process established by this bill gives Australians the opportunity to apply for appointment to the ABC or SBS boards, and all applications will be considered on their merits by an independent nomination panel which will then recommend the best candidates to the minister. In addition, the reintroduction of the staff-elected director to the ABC board will increase the quality of the advice to the board and deliver positive benefits to the ABC and to its audience.

It is well known that the lack of due process has in the past resulted in appointments to the ABC and SBS boards that were primarily motivated by political concerns rather than the best interests of the national broadcasters and the Australian public. There is widespread concern in the community that such political appointments have diminished the level of expertise on both boards and have weakened the ability of those boards to perform their duties.

The role of the national broadcasters in shaping and influencing public opinion and in nurturing our national identity is significant. It is essential, therefore, to ensure that the boards of the national broadcasters fulfil their statutory charters in a manner that is impartial and independent from the government of the day. To this end, the new statutory appointment process will ensure that appointments to the boards are made on merit and result in board members with the necessary skills and abilities to contribute to the effective operation of these important cultural institutions.

A merit based selection process takes the politics out of the appointment process and puts the focus where it should be. These amendments formalise the new merit based appointment process in both the ABC and SBS acts. The legislation is also drafted to ensure that the independent nomination panel conducts its selection process at arm’s length from the government of the day.

The second change to be implemented by this bill is the reinstatement of a staff-elected director on the ABC board. The previous government abolished this position on the spurious ground that election to the board by ABC staff somehow created a conflict with the statutory duties of the staff-elected director to act in good faith and in the best interests of the ABC. Labor do not believe there is any conflict of interest in the position of a staff-elected director and we made a commitment in the 2007 election to restore the position on the ABC board.

The staff-elected director plays an important role in enhancing the ABC’s independence by providing the board with a unique and important insight into ABC operations. The staff-elected director brings particular expertise to the board but is not elected for the purpose of representing ABC staff. This is comparable to the other directors, who likewise do not represent the communities in which they work.

I commend the bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Georganas)—The question is that the bill be now read a second time. There being more than one voice calling for a division, in accordance with standing order 133(b) the division is deferred until after 8pm.

Debate adjourned.