SUBJECTS: Allegations against ABC Chairman Justin Milne; Departure of ABC Managing Director Michelle Guthrie.
JON FAINE: Look earlier this morning, along with calling Mitch Fifield, the Turnbull – sorry Scott Morrison – Government Communications and Media Minister, I also put in a call to the Shadow Communications Minister from the Labor Party and invited each of them to join us this morning. Knowing that Emma Alberici was going to be available for an interview, I invited both the Minister and the Shadow Minister to speak to us. Look I rang Mitch Fifield's phone twice. It rang and then was diverted to voicemail. I've not heard back from the Minister at all. However the Shadow Minister from the Labor Party from Bill Shorten's Opposition has just called in. Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Minister for Communications. Good morning to you Ms Rowland.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Good morning.
FAINE: The revelations this morning, both in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald on the one hand, and then from Emma Alberici afterwards on this program are startling. The allegations, to put it simply, are that the Chairman of the Board of the ABC was calling for her to be sacked, but also had a conflict of interest. What do you make of it and what should happen?
ROWLAND: Well if these reports are true and, in particular I'm talking about the first set of reporting with relation to the email, if these reports are true it is quite an extraordinary circumstance and it does rightly go to the question of whether the independence and integrity of the ABC has been compromised. And there are serious questions that need to be answered in that regard.
FAINE: Have you spoken to anyone at the highest levels of the ABC today?
ROWLAND: I put in a call personally to the Chairman, Justin Milne, and whilst I'm not going to go into the details of the conversation I can say that from Labor's perspective we are not satisfied with the response. And we believe that a more full explanation is required in this instance.
FAINE: An explanation of what exactly?
ROWLAND: I think there should be an explanation of whether or not the requirements of the ABC Act, in relation to the duties of the Board to maintain the independence and integrity of the ABC, whether they have been compromised.
FAINE: In essence, what we have is the Age/Sydney Morning Herald report saying that the Chairman was wanting to endear the ABC to the then Turnbull – it was – Government before Scott Morrison, by getting rid of Emma Alberici. If that is the case, what do you think that means?
ROWLAND: Well again, the question is if that is the case. And I don't know that and they're the questions that we're all asking. But I think it would certainly invite the question as to whether or not this situation is tenable. It would certainly invite a question as to what the Minister knows and what action the Minister is going to be taking.
FAINE: Mr Milne's report says, his statement is "I do not propose to provide a running commentary on the day to day issues." Do you regard answering these questions as being a running commentary?
ROWLAND: I don't think it's a running commentary. I think they are valid questions and I think often the term 'running commentary' is used when one feels that they don't need to provide an explanation. I just make that point, but the other point I will make is: I don't think here we are talking about a day to day set of issues. These are pretty serious allegations that have been raised by reputable journalists in the Fairfax media and I think valid questions are being asked by not only the Australian public, but also by other parts of the media, that need to be answered.
FAINE: Interestingly, there are often columnists, in particular in the Murdoch newspapers, who call on various people, in fact fairly recently including me, to be got rid of because of our bias. If you turn it around, and if indeed at some stage your boss, Mr Shorten, becomes the Prime Minister and you become the Minister, then would it be appropriate or would it not be appropriate for you to appoint someone who then carries out your wishes or asks for people to be sacked in order to please you or appease you or please the government of the day? Would that be appropriate?
ROWLAND: Well, look I think we need to go back to first principles, Jon, and that is that the ABC is a public broadcaster. It's not a state broadcaster and there's a reason why the ABC is the most trusted news organisation in Australia. And that's because it needs to withstand and remain free from political interference and criticism, including if that criticism comes from the government of the day, the Prime Minister of the day, and it should not be allowed to be bullied by any government of any persuasion.
FAINE: I don't normally disclose my private conversations, but I, with a number of people, when it was made known that Michelle Guthrie was being sacked, which I might say astonished me, were wondering was she regarded as needing to be sacked because she was wrecking the joint or because she wasn't wrecking it enough?
ROWLAND: Well, I guess that question can be asked but as I have made plain over the last couple of days, my relationship with Michelle Guthrie was always very professional. We didn't see eye to eye on every policy matter and we made that clear, however, I can appreciate that for other people, including those who work within the ABC, it was clear there was a polarising set of views about Michelle Guthrie. I respect that. But from my perspective I always found her professional to deal with.
FAINE: Thank you for your time this morning. Michelle Rowland, the Shadow Minister for Communications from the Shorten-led Labor Party Opposition in Federal Parliament.