Senate debates

Wednesday, 20 June 2012


National Broadcasting Legislation Amendment Bill 2010; Second Reading

5:00 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray Darling Basin) Share this | Hansard source

Indeed he was an outstanding ABC director, Senator Kroger—an appropriate time to enter the chamber. But Mr Kroger has never been a senior political staffer and therefore would not be knocked out by the definitions in the original legislation. That just goes to show you how ridiculous it is to try to do these things through legislation. That is the reason we have to trust the processes applied by ministers of the day and have to trust that they will exercise appropriate judgment in making these types of appointments. They will not always get it right, but they will always be open to public criticism when they get it wrong.

Senator Conroy made reference to Christmas card lists in trying to define the Howard government's approach to appointments. That shows us that his motivations in bringing this legislation forward are political. He made his political points along the way, attacking the Howard government appointments. I note that it is the ABC Board, entirely appointed by the Howard government, that appointed the current managing director, Mr Mark Scott. He is widely recognised as doing a very good job. Senator Conroy seems to have significant faith in him. The appointment of Mr Kroger and others by the Howard government was clearly not so bad after all. It led to the appointment of a very sound managing director in Mark Scott. It just goes to show that this legislation is purely politically motivated.

It is the last part of the legislation, the third component—the staff elected director—that is perhaps more politically motivated than all the others. It is about the Labor Party's need, as always, to appease the unions. In this case, no doubt, it is the MEAA. In June 2004, then ABC chairman Maurice Newman cited a gross breach of boardroom confidentiality and the refusal by the then staff elected director to adhere to the board's governance protocols. It was a serious concern. It left open the potential for further leaking of boardroom deliberations and papers. Mr Newman resigned. His resignation letter stated, in part:

You may be aware of the recent gross breach of boardroom confidentiality on the issue of independent monitoring of ABC broadcasts. This, and the inability to secure the agreement of the staff elected director to the board's governance protocols, leaves open the potential for further leaking of boardroom deliberations and papers should they be judged to be of concern.

Mr Newman was ultimately appointed ABC chairman, as this issue was eventually resolved. It was resolved because the staff elected director position was wisely removed from the ABC board.

It does not happen in any other organisation of this kind. Why on earth should it happen in the ABC? That is a fairly simple proposition. Why would you have the staff of the organisation electing one of their own to sit around the boardroom table, therefore potentially compromising either that person's position within the organisation or the confidentiality and approach of the board's deliberations?

The board has functioned perfectly well without a staff elected director since the position was removed, and indeed former ABC chair Donald McDonald, in evidence to the Senate inquiry into this legislation, highlighted some of the pressures that could be faced by a staff elected director. He said:

They would be bombarded with emails from staff members about issues. I think the most burdensome part of it was that, in the arrangements then—and at least these provisions are an improvement, if they are passed—their term was for two years only and they could stand for another two years. But it meant that if they wanted to do another term they were in a position of campaigning or passively campaigning for a chunk of that time. So they had to deal with all these pressures, all these inquiries and all these bombardments.

There is no justifiable need to have the ABC staff elected director position put back in. There has been no demonstrable argument as to why the ABC is worse off because of it. Anybody who thinks rationally about it would know that it is inappropriate, in many cases, to have somebody representing the staff sitting in the boardroom while difficult decisions are made.

On all three flanks this legislation fails. It is unnecessary to have the staff elected director. It is unnecessary and foolish to go through this so-called merits based appointment process and it is overly expensive to do. It is ridiculous to define out certain categories of people from serving on these boards. In the end, you will simply create a ridiculous inequity where some very worthwhile people will be excluded. This legislation has come to this chamber to debate in a shameful way with a guillotine, but it is unwarranted legislation and really does not deserve the time of day of this chamber.


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