Kirstin Ferguson nominated as ABC’s acting chairperson

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will nominate existing ABC board member Kirstin Ferguson to be acting chairperson of the national broadcaster in the wake of its leadership crisis.

Ferguson (Source: LinkedIn)

According to the ABC, Morrison will take his pick to the governor general today for approval. 

Ferguson joined the ABC board in 2015 and is a non-executive director and remuneration and people committee chair. She also sits on a number of other boards as a non-executive director including the Layne Beachley Aim for the Stars Foundation, Hyne Timber, EML and SCA Property Group.

Justin Milne resigned as chairman yesterday after mounting internal and external pressures.

Milne’s tenure at the helm of the ABC board was due to continue until 2022, however the position became untenable when it emerged he had pressured recently sacked managing director Michelle Guthrie to “get rid” of prominent journalist Emma Alberici, questions were raised about political interference at the ABC and staff passed unanimous motions demanding he stand aside.

Speaking to the ABC, Milne said the board had requested he stand aside while the investigation into the various allegations against him was conducted, but he concluded resigning was the better option.

“Clearly there is a lot of pressure on the organisation, and as always, my interests, my aims, is to look after the aims of the corporation,” he said. “It’s clearly not a good thing for everybody to be trying to do their job with this kind of firestorm going on.

“I wanted to provide a release valve,” he told Leigh Sales.

He said there was absolutely no interference in the independence of the ABC, despite the allegations levied against him.

“Nobody from the government has ever rung me and told me what to do in relation to the ABC,” he claimed. “Nobody ever told me to hire anybody, fire anybody, or anything else. They absolutely didn’t.”

ABC’s leadership crisis 

Michelle Guthrie was let go on Monday after mounting tensions between her and the ABC board. The ABC’s board selects the managing director, while the governor general of Australia appoints the board and chairman at the recommendation of the government.

The ABC board is meant to operate as an independent body and is responsible for the ABC’s operations.

As the ABC itself explains: “The duty of the board is to ensure that the functions of the Corporation are performed efficiently with maximum benefit to the people of Australia, and to maintain the independence and integrity of the Corporation. The board is also responsible for ensuring that the gathering and presentation of news and information is accurate and impartial, according to recognised standards of journalism, and that the ABC complies with legislative and legal requirements.”

However, in recent days questions have been asked about both the government and Milne’s involvement in the ABC’s operations.

Guthrie was abruptly sacked on Monday and has expressed she is looking into her legal options. Milne has thus far refused to be drawn on-the-record about Guthrie’s failings, other than pointing to her leadership style.

Following Guthrie’s departure, emails from Milne were leaked to The Sydney Morning Herald which suggested Guthrie “get rid of” Alberici following complaints from the then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about inaccuracies in her reporting of proposed company tax cuts. Milne was appointed by Turnbull and the pair are long-term friends.

Accusations of Milne interfering in the Triple J’s Hottest 100 broadcast date, for fear of then Prime Minister Turnbull’s reaction, and ordering the sacking of other ABC staffers also subsequently emerged.

In light of the revelations of interference, ABC staff held meetings across the country, with Melbourne staff declaring Milne should stand aside while an independent enquiry takes place. Brisbane staff went further and called for Milne’s immediate resignation.

Minister Fifield came out stressing he had not interfered in the ABC and said he would be leaving the broadcaster to run its own race.

“The operations of the ABC are entirely matters for the board and management of the ABC, which, by law, the Minister does not have a role in,” he said.

“Questions about the ABC’s board and management are matters for the ABC.”

Within hours, however, Fifield conceded the claims about political interference needed to be investigated, and announced an inquiry.

Late Wednesday afternoon Milne was insisting he was not going to resign, however after a board meeting yesterday morning, he revised his position.

An update from Mitch Fifield’s office at 12:46: 

The governor-general has accepted the government’s recommendation to appoint Dr Kirstin Ferguson as deputy chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) until November 2020.

Dr Ferguson’s appointment means she assumes the role of acting chair of the ABC until a Chair is formally appointed.

Dr Ferguson will commence her role from today.


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