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Wednesday, 22 June 1994
Page: 1872

Senator ALSTON —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minster for Communications and the Arts. I refer to a report in today's Adelaide Advertiser concerning community outrage at the appointment of Mr John Bannon to the ABC board, which states:

It is understood Mr Bannon was headhunted for the position by the communications minister, Mr Lee.

Is this understanding correct, and did Mr Lee also headhunt as another prospective ABC board member Ms Wendy Silver? Apart from working as a ministerial adviser to the Burke Labor government and campaigning actively for the ALP at the last Western Australian state election, what relevant qualifications, skills and commercial experience would Ms Silver bring to this important position?

Senator McMULLAN —It is a source of great concern, I think, to all reasonable Australians that the price people have to pay for accepting an appointment from the government is to have their character assassinated by the character assassins opposite. I suppose the only redeeming feature is that as character assassins they are so bad. When a series of appointments to the Special Broadcasting Service and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that have been put to the Governor-General are announced, those opposite will see that people from a range of political persuasions have been appointed to those boards, as should be the case. There will be Labor supporters, one well-known. I do not know Ms Silver's political affiliations, nor am I concerned. I do know she has a significant career of community activity and is well respected in Western Australia and is highly regarded as a very good appointment.

  I think citizens are entitled to respect when they accept a public position like this. Some of them are not Labor supporters; some of them are. They are all entitled to be appointed without having their backgrounds and characters besmirched by people of such low standing as those who are attacking them. It is, I suppose, a significant compliment to them that they do draw such a vigorous response because it indicates a concern that they will continue to do the excellent job that their predecessors have done on the board of the ABC, who were also appointed by Labor governments and who have done a good job on that board. We thank them for their contribution, as we appreciate the forthcoming contribution of those who are about to be appointed, some of distinct political origin from both sides of the fence. That is legitimate. They are both entitled to be there. People who have political views are perfectly entitled to be appointed—including those who have conservative political views—as are those who have no known political affiliations at all.

   In the period that I have been a minister I have been responsible for the appointment of high profile Liberals, I have been responsible for the appointment of people whom I knew to be Labor supporters and I have been responsible for the appointment of the majority of people whose political affiliations I was not aware of. I think that is the case with most ministers. Ms Silver, Mr Bannon and the others whose appointments will be announced when the Governor-General assesses it will be regarded by the community as representing a balanced set of proposals. Some of them the opposition will not choose to raise questions about because their political affiliations will not suit the opposition's prejudices before it starts.

  We have a reputation for appointing people from all political areas and we will refuse to be cowed into saying that being a Labor supporter debars one from nomination; it does not, it should not and it will not.

Senator ALSTON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note with interest that the minister regards calling someone an ALP activist constitutes character assassination. Could the minister confirm that, at the very time the ABC is desperately in need of board members with significant commercial expertise and business acumen to guide it through the unchartered waters of international satellite and domestic pay television, once the latest appointments have been confirmed we will be looking at an ABC board dominated by an ex-Labor Premier, an ex-Labor pollster, an ex-Labor ministerial staffer and two former trade union officials. In other words, now that Mr Michael Terlet, a respected South Australian businessman, has not had his term renewed, the ABC board is effectively devoid of any commercial expertise. Is not this deliberate politicisation of the ABC board simply a disaster waiting to happen?

Senator Schacht —I suppose you lot are going to nominate John Elliott.

Senator McMULLAN —I do not know whether a person who runs one of the more successful private sector operations in Australia, who has not gone broke, who was never president of the Liberal Party and who is still entitled to be appointed, should be cast in that light. Certainly, at least one of the members of the board of whom I am aware is a very successful Australian business person and has been for a long time. Ms Silver, I am told, is also a director of a major organisation in Western Australia, which involves significant management organisation and funds management. She is chairman of a major public sector authority under the auspices of the current Liberal state government in Western Australia. I think she is entitled to be judged on the performance which we expect her to make. The board has done well until now. It has had a good set of Labor government appointees for the last 10 years and the opposition's problem is it is likely to have the same for the next 10.