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Tuesday, 21 June 1994
Page: 1792

Senator CHAPMAN (10.55 a.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Trade (Senator McMullan), to a question asked by Senator Chapman this day, relating to a proposed appointment to the board of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

In answering—or should I say failing to answer—that question Senator McMullan refused to confirm whether Mr Bannon had been appointed to the ABC board. The Minister for Trade (Senator McMullan) who represents the Minister for Communications and the Arts (Mr Lee) in this place is either incompetently ill-informed or is deliberately dissembling to avoid this important and controversial issue.

  He said in his answer that we will have to wait to see what appointments have been made to the ABC board. We do not have to wait at all because this morning Mr Bannon has publicly confirmed, of all places, on ABC radio that he has been appointed to the board of the ABC. We might ask in relation to that appointment: what possible credentials does Mr Bannon bring to the board of the ABC apart from his longstanding political ties to the Labor Party?

Senator Abetz —Business experience.

Senator CHAPMAN —Senator Abetz interjects, `Business experience.' That was what I was coming to. As I indicated in my question, we found a complete lack of competent business experience on the part of Mr Bannon. He was found to be heavily involved in the financial disgrace—the $3 billion loss by the State Bank in South Australia—which has bankrupted South Australia, put our economy behind the eight ball, and has now created the need for the present new state Liberal government to try to retrieve that situation and put South Australia back on the road to prosperity.

  Apart from that demonstrated incompetence with regard to matters financial, it is entirely inappropriate that a person with that track record is appointed to the board of the ABC at a time when there is massive controversy surrounding the commercial activities of the ABC, particularly with regard to Australian Television International and the ABC's proposed venture into pay television. Mr Bannon is obviously oblivious to commercial realities in relation to management.

Senator Panizza —He has proved that.

Senator CHAPMAN —He has proved that, as Senator Panizza rightly interjects, because of his failure to adequately control the affairs of the State Bank when he was Premier—a failure which has been clearly identified by the royal commission into the State Bank. So he brings absolutely nothing of benefit to the board of the ABC. He failed to exercise adequate responsibility as Premier in relation to that State Bank and equally he will fail in similar matters with regard to the ABC board.

  A major responsibility of the board of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is to look at its financial situation to ensure that the ABC is prudently managed with regard to its financial matters. Quite clearly, John Bannon does not have anything to offer the board in this regard and his appointment on that basis is entirely inappropriate. It is purely a political appointment. That brings into question the capacity of the ABC to remain politically impartial when it has appointed to its board a person who is so clearly identified with the Labor Party.

Senator Kemp —Rod Cameron is on the board, too.

Senator CHAPMAN —As Senator Kemp says, Mr Cameron is also there. Periodically in the past we have had former politicians appointed to the board. I recall that Neville Bonner was appointed. But we certainly have not previously had someone of the political profile of Mr Bannon, a former state Labor premier and a former national president of the Labor Party, appointed to the board of the ABC. He now has a prestigious position as a member of the ABC board, and that clearly compromises the ABC's impartiality with regard to political matters.

  There are two clear reasons why this appointment should not proceed. The first is the demonstrated incompetence of Mr Bannon with regard to matters financial, which is obvious from the report of the State Bank royal commission and his responsibility in that issue. The second is the political bias with which the ABC will now be charged as a result of having someone of Mr Bannon's ilk on its board. Quite clearly, the government ought to reconsider this matter. I wonder—as I ventured in my supplementary question—whether either Mr Armstrong or Mr David Hill was consulted with regard to this appointment and what might be their views on it. Certainly the government ought not to proceed with this appointment, because it is entirely unacceptable.