MEDIA RELEASE - FIFIELD’S WHITEWASH - 15 OCTOBER 2018

As predicted, the Departmental Inquiry into the ABC ordered by the Minister for Communications is nothing more than a whitewash designed to cover up the Government’s involvement in the recent political interference scandal.

Today Senator Fifield tabled a statement and the report of his Clayton’s inquiry in Parliament, which shows why a public Senate inquiry is needed and why he should stand down as Minister for Communications.
 
Minister Fifield’s statement demonstrates why he cannot be trusted with the ABC:

  • He denies that the Government has sought to undermine ABC independence, despite the apparent impact of the Government’s multi-pronged attack on the ABC;
  • He maintains that the ABC is well-resourced, despite the fact the Government’s latest budget cuts challenge ABC Charter delivery;
  • He justifies his disregard for the independent Nomination Panel process for Board appointments as standard practice, despite the fact this goes against the spirit and intent of the law;
  • He fails to address his involvement in the meeting that prompted former ABC Chairman, Justin Milne, to seek the sacking of an ABC journalist, despite saying he wants to be very clear and transparent about recent matters; and
  • He clings to the notion that only direct requests or suggestions to terminate the employment of a journalist or ABC staff member are relevant, despite the weight of evidence indicating Government pressure on the ABC.

With all due respect to the Secretary of the Department, who was placed in an invidious position by the Minister, the inquiry report begs more questions than answers:

  • It was unable to ascertain all the facts, given lack of powers to compel parties or documents;
  • It leaves key questions unanswered; and
  • It points to an insidious level of government pressure, with both the former Chair and Managing Director expressing the view that there was no doubt about the Government being very concerned, and “that these concerns would affect the ABC’s standing, relationships and support within Government, including for future investment and funding support” (Page 8 of Inquiry into allegations relating to the ABC, Report to the Minister from the Secretary of the Department of Communications and the Arts ,11 October 2018).

Furthermore, in Question Time today, the Minister dodged Labor questioning on whether the Secretary asked the Minister about the Minister’s role in the allegations of political interference in the ABC, and sought to avoid answering what it was he and Malcolm Turnbull said in the meeting with Justin Milne that left Mr Milne with the clear impression that the ABC’s funding would be affected unless an ABC journalist was sacked.
 
With the first coat of Fifield’s whitewash down, now his narrow internal inquiry is complete, the Minister is now prepping the second coat, with his request that the ABC Board provide assurance that the Board has upheld its duty to maintain the independence and integrity of the ABC.
 
It is Labor’s strong view that recent allegations of political interference at the ABC cannot be ignored.
 
The ABC is a foundation of our democracy and a public inquiry is needed to hold the Government and responsible Minister to account
 
Labor will give notice to refer this matter to the Senate for public inquiry and report.