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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3537

Senator COATES —by leave-I wish to respond to an article in today's Sydney Daily Telegraph written by John Ellicott, reporting reaction by Ms Geraldine Doogue and her agent to the report I tabled on Wednesday about Australian Broadcasting Corporation employment contracts and their confidentiality. I was amused at being accused of using the report to get my name in the newspaper, in view of the fact that there was only one newspaper I saw which bothered to report the matter in the first place, and that was not the Telegraph but the Age.

First, I make it absolutely clear that the Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations made no criticism of Geraldine Doogue whatsoever. I acknowledge that it is unfortunate from her point of view that our inquiry into the ABC necessitated some of the details of her contract being revealed. However, I point out that, at my insistence, the Committee continued to protect her by not insisting-as we could have-that the ABC reveal the size of her fee. There was no `arrangement' about this, as suggested in the article, merely an acknowledgment by the Committee that the principle of the ABC's accountability to parliament was more important than that particular detail. The ABC agreed that it would provide any information the Committee required.

Ms Doogue is quoted as being affronted to have her personal affairs `dragged out to become a public curiosity'. I just point out that it was a statutory authority's affairs that were being examined and, when someone works for a statutory authority, information should be available to the Parliament when requested, whether the person is paid under the terms of a Remuneration Tribunal determination or an industrial award, or is a contractor. There must be accountability for the expenditure of public money. She chose to set up a company and to have an agent negotiate on her behalf; but that does not mean as a consequence that her contractual outcome should be treated any differently from that of the people the ABC paid on a more regular basis.

As to the assertion that payment of large amounts in advance is normal, it is not relevant that such a practice is common in commercial broadcasting companies. We are talking about a public authority which, according to the ABC's evidence, had had no precedent for an up-front payment clause except a previous contract also involving Ms Doogue. If Mr Erskine, the agent, who is quoted as saying the ABC often pays `in large chunks of money', has any information which contradicts the ABC's sworn evidence, I would very much like to be made aware of it.

Finally, I deal with Ms Doogue's claim of political grandstanding on this matter. I remind her that this was not a reference which the Committee sought. In fact, I tried to resist it, because I objected to an Opposition senator using the Estimates Committee to push for juicy bits of information without apparent justification. We have still kept secret the actual sum but, having discovered the ABC acting in an irresponsible manner, the Committee would have been irresponsible itself to have ignored it. I was unwilling to be part of the baying at The National that was rampant at the time of the reference, and I have admiration for Geraldine Doogue's professional abilities. I repeat that the Committee was critical of the ABC, not of her.