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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7281


Senator HUTCHINS (2:30 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Alston. Will the minister take this opportunity to rule out any possibility of Peter Reith being appointed to the board of the ABC?


Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —That raises some very interesting possibilities. I am being asked to rule certain people out for the ABC board. I suppose I could rule out appointing a South Australian premier. I could probably rule out the appointment of a former ALP pollster. I could also probably guarantee that there will not be—


Senator Sherry —Mr Howard ruled out Daryl Williams going to the High Court, at the weekend.


Senator ALSTON —That is a good non sequitur.

Opposition senators interjecting


Senator ALSTON —I am busy ruling people out right now. I am saying that we will not have any former ALP South Australian premiers on the ABC board. I can give you that commitment. We will rule that out. We certainly will not be having a managing director who secretly belonged to the ALP throughout his tenure and who never came clean until after the event. I can also rule out having a majority of unionists on the board—card-carrying ALP supporters, no doubt. So I think there is quite a few one can rule out if one is serious about these things. I would not rule out someone like Gary Johns—a sensible, middle-of-the-road sort of operator. I would have thought you would have been in favour of someone like that. It is probably premature to get into this business. But I hope that has been helpful, because we do have to draw the line somewhere, as you know. There are some good people around. In fact, I always thought John Bannon did quite a good job—after the event: I do not think we could have actually come to appointing him in the first instance. There are enough very bad examples from the Labor years for us to have learned a very serious lesson, and we certainly will not be going down that track.


Senator HUTCHINS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. As the minister has not ruled out Mr Reith, how can the Howard government possibly justify appointing to the board of our national broadcaster someone who has been found by the Senate Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident to have `deceived the Australian people during the 2001 Federal Election campaign concerning the state of the evidence for the claim that children had been thrown overboard from SIEV4'?


Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I think we had better refer Senator Hutchins's fitness to remain in the Senate to one of the legislative committees on which we have the numbers, and we will give you a good hearing. All right? The idea of somehow taking the view of a committee on which the government does not have the numbers as a benchmark for deciding to appoint people to the ABC board is pretty breathtaking stuff, I have got to say. I hope that your policy formulation work will take you a bit further than that. We do not actually think it is a very good idea to take findings of select committees of the Senate on which Labor has the majority and use them as a benchmark for determining appointments, because you would end up with 100 per cent unionists on the ABC. We just will not wear it.