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ABC Parliamentary debate

Senator RONALDSON (Victoria) (4.51 pm)—I will just make an initial remark on some of the comments from the other side: again we are seeing an example of the Australian Labor Party bowing to their political masters. But I am not going to spend the next eight minutes confirming what is an obvious fact. I read with interest today the editorial from the Age. It said, talking about the ABC: It must be free to scrutinise critically government and civil society. It must be able to produce drama that expresses Australian life and should be able to cater for a broader range of interests than is covered by commercial networks.

Those are sentiments that I do not disagree with, but the words that I think should be in that editorial are ‘objectivity’ and ‘without bias’. I noted with some interest comments from Senator Conroy in relation to people’s views of the ABC. I thought I would quickly advise the Senate of the obvious bias that is involved in the ABC—a matter that I have raised at Senate estimates before. It is clearly an ingrained and systemic problem at the ABC. Exemplifying this are the views of a former ABC TV Four Corners producer who, in a letter to the Age newspaper recently, wrote:

It is necessary and essential for the ABC to always be left of centre—whichever government is in power. Those are undoubtedly views held by those within the ABC.

But I thought it would be of more interest, in the limited time available to me, to talk about a recent publication of the Melbourne University Press which included an independent study by the RMIT, Roy Morgan and the Reader on how journalists view the Australian media in terms of bias. In answer to the question ‘Which media outlet is the most biased?’ 25 per cent nominated the ABC. Twenty-five per cent of Australian journalists think that the ABC is the most biased media outlet in Australia, and, as a whole, Australian journalists rate the ABC as the second most biased media outlet. The real issue today is about corporate governance and whether the Australian Labor Party is prepared to admit that the ABC should accept, as every other organisation and company throughout this country has accepted—quite rightly in my view and, I assume, in that of the Australian Labor Party—that good corporate governance underpins any organisation, whether it be a state owned organisation such as the ABC or whether it be a publicly listed or private company. Under this government, this country has insisted that we as a nation have appropriate corporate governance requirements, and a lot of this has come through the CLERP legislation. In fact we are now emphatic about it and, in my view, quite rightly so. It is not good corporate governance to argue that you should have a director on the ABC board who is representing sectional interests only. It is not appropriate and, under legislation passed by both chambers, that has been confirmed. I am sure that one of my colleagues referred to the Uhrig review of 2003, which dealt with the corporate governance of statutory authorities and office holders and concluded:

… representational appointments can fail to produce … objective views. There is the potential for these appointments to be primarily concerned with the interests of those they represent, rather than the success of the entity they are responsible for governing.

Regrettably there is no greater example of that than one of the now retiring board members of the ABC who refused to sign a confidentiality agreement. Under the laws of this land, that particular board member actually had no choice about whether they maintained the confidentiality of the board. That was not an option. They were required to. What had happened was that this particular board member—who, quite frankly, I think had probably exposed herself to other matters—went out and breached board confidentiality, acknowledged the fact and refused point blank to tell that board that she would in the future maintain that confidentiality. That is what corporate governance surely is about. Presumably—I do not know; I was not in the Senate at that stage—all the corporate governance legislation and the CLERP legislation under which some of it falls was supported by the Australian Labor Party. Are they turning around and telling us today that it is appropriate everywhere else except the ABC—that the ABC is quarantined from good corporate governance? That seriously cannot be the argument, but that is what it is. In a passionate desire to again support those who support them financially, they are prepared to throw out any requirements for good corporate governance, to support the ABC unions.

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