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Thursday, 15 November 2018
Page: 8438

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (18:49): I rise to speak to put on the record remarks with regard to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Amendment (Appointment of Directors) Bill 2018, a private members bill brought by Senator Storer. Recent reports of political interference at the ABC have caught the Liberal government red-handed and thrown their record on the politicisation of the ABC board appointments into sharp relief. In addition to financial and ideological attacks on the ABC, the Liberals have shown flagrant disregard for the principle that the ABC board appointments should be merit based and at arm's length from government.

In government, Labor instituted the nomination panel process to safeguard the independence and integrity of the ABC and it governance, yet the Liberals have shamelessly ignored panel recommendations and processes to politicise the public broadcaster. Labor will consider proposals to strengthen the process for board appointments and safeguard against further attempts at politicisation.

The bill that is before us now is one such proposal. In his contribution this evening, Senator Storer noted the opportunity to use the current bill to provide direction and focus to the Senate inquiry into political interference at the ABC. Labor supports the senator's sentiment, as governance options to strengthen independence are critical to getting this right. We acknowledge Senator Storer's considered approach to this very important issue for all Australians. Labor, along with many in the parliament, including Senator Storer, know that we need to work to restore good governance and trust at the ABC. That's why Labor leader Bill Shorten has written to Mr Morrison, requesting to meet and to discuss proposals for reform, and to affirm that Labor expects to be genuinely consulted on all future ABC board appointments, including the new ABC chair. Unfortunately, as we have seen too often already from this new Prime Minister, Prime Minister Morrison has already dismissed that request out of hand.

ABC alumni have called for a thorough, bipartisan parliamentary inquiry before any new appointments are made to the board to assess how well the current appointment system is working and whether changes are required. Minister Fifield has shown that he simply can't be trusted to respect the spirit of the law in the ABC Act or to follow the nomination panel process. It's clear: he will stop at nothing to damage the ABC with budget cuts and meddlesome bills, inquiries and complaints. Labor has no confidence in this conflicted minister, and Prime Minister Morrison must move him out of the communications portfolio without delay. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.