Recent reports of political interference at the ABC have caught the Liberals red-handed, and thrown their record on the politicisation of ABC Board appointments into sharp relief.
In addition to financial and ideological attacks on the ABC, the Liberals have shown flagrant disregard for the principle that ABC Board nominations and appointments be merit-based and arms-length from government.
Labor instituted the Nomination Panel process to safeguard the independence and integrity of the ABC, and its governance, yet the Liberals have shamelessly ignored panel recommendations to politicise the public broadcaster.
Under Labor questioning at Senate Estimates the Minister for Communications, Senator Mitch Fifield, confirmed that it was his idea to appoint Minerals Council Chair Dr Vanessa Guthrie despite the fact she had not been nominated by the Panel:
Senator DASTYARI: Was it your idea to appoint Dr Vanessa Guthrie or was it the Prime Minister's?
Senator Fifield: It was mine. It was my recommendation to the internal processes of government.
Senator DASTYARI: Are you aware of the independent nomination panel process being ignored before?
Senator Fifield: Yes, I am. Sorry, I will not say 'ignored'. The panel process is never ignored. It is a legislative requirement that panel process be gone through. Recommendations are made and then it is up to the government to accept some of those recommendations.
Source: Senate Estimates, 28 February 2017.
In contrast, former Labor Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, who introduced the Nomination Panel process, did not know any of the people appointed to the ABC Board while he was Minister.
Labor will consider proposals to strengthen this process and safeguard against further attempts at politicisation.
Labor knows that Australians expect their elected representatives to work together in a bipartisan way to restore good governance and trust at the ABC.
That is why Labor Leader Bill Shorten has written to Scott Morrison requesting to meet and discuss proposals for reform, and to affirm that Labor expects to be genuinely consulted on all future ABC Board appointments, including the new ABC Chair.
Further, ABC Alumni have called for a thorough bi-partisan parliamentary inquiry before any new appointments are made to the Board, to assess how well the current appointment system is working and whether changes are required.
Minister Fifield has shown he can’t be trusted to respect the spirit of the law in the ABC Act or follow the Nomination Panel process. It is clear he will stop at nothing to damage the ABC with budget cuts and meddlesome Bills, inquiries and complaints.
Labor has no confidence in this conflicted Minister and Morrison must move him out of the Communications portfolio without delay.