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Rudd vows bipartisan board for the ABC

THE ABC chairman would be chosen with the approval of the opposition leader and its board members selected by an independent panel, under a Labor plan to boost public confidence in the national broadcaster.

In the ALP's first significant media policy announcement ahead of the federal election, Kevin Rudd promised to adopt a British system under which an independent group of experts would recommend candidates for major appointments to public bodies.

The chairmanship would be "held by a person nominated by the prime minister and endorsed by the leader of the opposition", Mr Rudd told The Australian. "This represents a significant departure from past practice."

He said he was determined to block "frontline cultural warriors" from taking up senior appointments at the ABC. But the Opposition Leader admitted previous Labor governments had not been "Mother Teresa" when it came to stacking the ABC board with political appointments.

With the ABC receiving about $800 million in public funding this year, Mr Rudd said the time had come for a new appointments process "because there has been too much of a culture in the past, from which ever side of politics wins the election, to import its own people into these sorts of positions".

"I believe the ABC is too important and too central an institution in Australian life for that to continue into the future," he said.

The Opposition Leader's pledge to depoliticise one of Australia's most revered - and controversial - public institutions comes just days after Labor promised to embrace a new selection process for the independent industrial umpire. But Mr Rudd is not expected to turf out the present ABC chairman, Maurice Newman, or other members of the board if Labor wins this year's election.

This will leave controversial Coalition appointments - such as historian Keith Windschuttle and columnist Janet Albrechtsen - in place through the first term of a Rudd government.

"I make this proposal without casting any reflection whatsoever on Maurice Newman, the current chairman," he said.

Mr Newman was appointed for a five-year term from January 1 this year, replacing another long-term friend of John Howard, Donald McDonald.

The Opposition Leader's pledge to axe political appointments will be popular with voters, who have criticised both major parties for stacking the board with political sympathisers.

Previous Labor governments have made sure the ABC board reflected its political bias.

High-profile appointments have included former NSW railways chief David Hill, former South Australian premier John Bannon and one-time Labor pollster Rod Cameron.

Declaring himself a "life-long and passionate supporter" of the ABC, Mr Rudd said it was "too important a part of our national life to be captured in any way by either side of politics".

"Whether it is perceptions of political bias to the Left or Right, I don't want to see the ABC in the future subject to those accusations," he said.

Relations with the Howard Government sank in 2003 when the then communications minister, Richard Alston, accused the ABC of "anti-American bias" over the broadcaster's coverage of the US-led attack on Iraq.

Many Liberal MPs believe the ABC retains a deep-seated bias against the Coalition, but Mr Rudd said he was not interested in trying to stack the broadcaster with Left-leaning sympathisers.

"This is not an attempt to engage in Mr Howard's so-called culture wars," Mr Rudd told The Australian, during an interview on the six-month anniversary of being elected Opposition Leader.

Instead, Mr Rudd said Labor was determined to place the ABC "above and beyond the reach of frontline culture warriors".

Mr Rudd said his independent panel would ensure that board members could be chosen "at arm's length from the communications minister".

The minister would then be required to draw the final appointments from those nominated by the independent panel. The minister could reject the nominated board members but would be required to explain why to parliament.

"Let's not pretend that previous Labor governments have been like Mother Theresa on these subjects," Mr Rudd said.

"I have seen some problems in the past under previous Labor governments and conservative governments. I think it is time to put this practice behind us for the future of this core cultural, intellectual and public information institution."

The announcement came as the Prime Minister played down the latest Galaxy poll, which suggested that he had turned around Mr Rudd's supremacy in recent weeks. The poll had Labor ahead by 53per cent to 47 per cent in two-party-preferred terms.

It was much tighter than the latest Newspoll, published in The Australian last week, which had Labor ahead by 60 per cent to 40per cent.

Liberal MPs, who also closed ranks behind Mr Howard yesterday amid continued leadership rumblings, have been anticipating a shift in the polls in the wake of a popular budget and revelations that Mr Rudd's wife, Therese Rein, had underpaid 58 of her employees last year and employed her staff on contracts.

"We have a big fight ahead of us even if you took that poll as a proper measurement of public opinion and the poll does have a good track record," the Prime Minister said.

"We still have a long way to go - we are still clearly behind."

Mr Howard and other senior ministers have set an election template by attacking the inexperience of Mr Rudd and claiming that Labor's climate change policies would create a "Garrett recession" - a reference to Labor environment spokesman Peter Garrett.

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How easy is it to stack the board of ABC with ideolgically compatible individuals. Rudd saw fit to recruit several ABC staff to his cabinet, that must say something about ideological compatibility. If ABC remains a recruiting ground for Labor we can expect the same entrenched ideolgical bias as we get from the BBC.

Posted by Franita on 2007-06-04 22:52:25 GMT

Rudd proposes to adopt a British system...does the British system produce a less biased BBC than our ABC? I don't think so.

Posted by Ronit on 2007-06-04 22:38:46 GMT