SUBJECTS: Labor’s call for Senate Inquiry into political interference at the ABC; Medical transfers of children from regional processing locations.
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Now it’s been revealed the Minister in charge of overseeing the ABC knew about the plans to sack the then Managing Director Michelle Guthrie. With her thoughts on this, Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland joins us now from Canberra. Michelle, good morning.
MICHELLE ROWLAND MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Good morning.
TRIOLI: Now that we have the departmental investigation into Michelle Guthrie’s sacking, are you satisfied that the decision was justified?
ROWLAND: Well to be clear Virginia, what this was, was an investigation by the Secretary of the Department of Communications and the Arts into media reports on the 26th of September this year, so he was requested to do that by the Minister and he did that, as he would, in a professional manner and that was released by the Minister yesterday. The key points in this go to the veracity of the media reports that day in relation to, specifically, two ABC journalists Emma Alberici and Andrew Probyn and the Secretary found, in those cases, there were some findings of fact that indeed the reporting of certain emails and conversations had taken place; but in relation to a number of key questions about political interference and those allegations, they are still wanting, and that is why Labor has been calling for a public inquiry to be conducted by the Senate that looks specifically into ABC governance and upholding its independence and integrity.
TRIOLI: Well, let’s just stay on that for a moment then I’ll return to the question which hasn’t been answered yet, the inquiry found no justification for the view that either the then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull or other Government Ministers tried to secure the sacking of those ABC journalists.
ROWLAND: Well we knew that, and we knew that because both the Minister had stated that, and the former Prime Minister had stated that.
TRIOLI: So, so that’s dealt with then?
ROWLAND: That is dealt with but it also specifically says in relation to that, that both Mr Milne and Ms Guthrie had the impression, the clear impression, that there would be certain consequences and that there would be, there was a certain view held by Government in relation to how these matters were being handled. Now, as I said, the Secretary did not make any other specific findings in relation to that other than those observations. But the key point here is that this clearly raises more questions than answers. Indeed the Minister has said that there was no direct request or instruction. The question remains: What sort of covert interference had taken place, because clearly these two people were left in no doubt as to the Government’s view on these matters and the fact that the ABC could be impacted by how this matter was being handled. And these are the questions that need to be explored publicly.
TRIOLI: Let’s deal with the situation as we find it right now. Do you have confidence in the current Board of the ABC?
ROWLAND: I think that these are questions that need to be answered and I don’t think a view can be formed on that without having a full public inquiry.
TRIOLI: I’m just going to jump in there, as the Shadow Communications Minister it must be something that on a daily basis particularly given the circumstance we find ourselves in, you would be focused on, so I’m going to ask that again because I do believe you should have a view on this. Do you have confidence in the current ABC Board?
ROWLAND: I have confidence that the ABC Board is performing its duties. As to whether or not it is performing those duties to the full spirit, and to the letter of the law, that is something that I simply do not know, Virginia. And that is why, I believe, and Labor believes, that there needs to be a full public inquiry into this. I only have access to a certain amount of information, both as a member of the public and as the Shadow Communications Minister and I actually think that it would be wrong of me to form a view not knowing the full set of facts. I would hope that they are acting in a way in which not only myself, but the Australian people can have full confidence, and that’s what I think is the most important here.
TRIOLI: The Minister has acknowledged that he knew beforehand of Ms Guthrie’s looming sacking and he clearly didn’t interfere in that playing out in that decision. Is that reassuring to you that there wasn’t any direct or indirect Ministerial interference in the way that that Board decision played out?
ROWLAND: Well as I said from the outset, the Board can make this decision and it doesn’t need to give reasons for it. So they exercised their judgment and their powers as provided for under the legislation.
TRIOLI: And what sort of person should be selected to be the next MD, do you think?
ROWLAND: Well I think that that person clearly needs to be a champion of the ABC, at a time when the ABC is under political attack in various forms, but also someone who needs to be focused on the morale of the organisation. Having been contacted and having engaged with a number of people representing the ABC, and also just in conversations, I recognise that that’s a very important thing for our most trusted broadcaster.
TRIOLI: Now the Department Secretary who ran this inquiry, Mike Mrdak, apparently didn’t get hold of Michelle Guthrie’s 11 page dossier that she sent to the Board before she was finally sacked, even though that dossier has been widely leaked and reported. Have you seen it?
ROWLAND: No I have not.
TRIOLI: Does it surprise you that he didn’t manage to get hold of it?
ROWLAND: Well, with all respect to the Secretary, he was required to undertake a very discrete task and he did that to the best of his ability, he’s a professional. But again I think that this points to the fact that this inquiry was a whitewash designed by the Minister, to try and say ‘nothing to see here, everybody should move on’. And again it points to the need for a transparent public inquiry into this matter to be conducted by the Senate that goes specifically to issues of independence, integrity and governance, because governance is all about trust.
TRIOLI: Now just finally before I let you go this morning, Michelle Rowland, there are calls from some Liberal backbenchers today for long-term detainee children to be released from Nauru. Do you regret that the Australian Labor Party has played such a key role in detaining adults and children on Nauru for so long, with that 2013 agreement being signed by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd?
ROWLAND: Well, let’s be clear, there were matters during the 2010-2013 Parliament which could have seen a very different result here, including the Malaysia agreement that Labor had proposed. But I think going forward it is very clear that there is strong public sentiment, and there is also strong sentiment across the Parliament, that we need to be guided, as Parliamentarians, by what clinicians are saying, that they should be making decisions in this matter. They should have access to these children and that their welfare should be paramount.
TRIOLI: You’re talking about the AMA and Medicines sans Frontiers as well.
TRIOLI: All right, good to talk to you this morning, thanks so much.