SUBJECTS: Four Corners exposé on ABC; Liberal political interference with the ABC; Selection of Liberal-aligned recruitment firm to help select next ABC Chair.
JON FAINE: We have this morning invited, well, just about everyone. The Board have all decided as a collective group that they will not speak on the back of Four Corners and so our calls to individual members of the Board have been met with polite "no". We've invited the Acting Managing Director to join us and also the Acting Chair, they’ve both said no. We've spoken as best we can to any of the players, all of whom have said no, including Emma Alberici who did speak to us a few weeks ago but doesn't want to speak this morning. I'm not sure quite how it works for her. Hearing people openly discussing how she was effectively being offered up at various points and depending on who you believe, at whose insistence, being offered up as a sacrificial lamb to appease the government.
We've also invited the Minister Mitch Fifield to join us this morning and unfortunately he's not able to join us either. However the Labor Party spot an opportunity. Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Minister from the Labor Opposition Frontbench, Shadow Minister for Communications. Ms Rowland, good morning to you.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Good morning Jon.
FAINE: What did you make of Four Corners last night?
ROWLAND: Last night I think we saw some shocking failures of governance, as well as political pressure and interference when it comes to this government on the ABC. And I think a lot of viewers like myself have gone through a range of reactions to what we saw last night. There would've been despair, there would've been anger, but one thing remains constant: There has clearly been and continues to be a litany of attacks under this Liberal Government, three different Prime Ministers, and whatever you might think of the former Chair and Managing Director, as people or professionals, if nothing else I think last night showed why it's clear we need to get rid of this government for what it's done to the ABC.
FAINE: Surprise surprise that you would turn it into a political issue. Needless to say though, there may be pressure on the ABC but what's the evidence of there being a government led attack?
ROWLAND: Well we had, even last night when you ask yourself what did we learn that was new, we had confirmation that clearly there was, if not direct, then certainly a sense of pressure that was being applied when it comes to funding, when it comes to the treatment of journalists and all the more reason why these matters need to be explored more fully. And yes it is a political issue, Jon. It's a political issue because Mitch Fifield is not a fit Minister for the ABC. If you think about if there was any other Minister of any other agency in this situation they would be moved on. Mitch Fifield’s fingerprints are all over this scandal and the Prime Minister...
FAINE: In what way?
ROWLAND: ...needs to move him out of this portfolio.
FAINE: There's no evidence that I'm aware of of his fingerprints. There's certainly evidence that he was in regular contact with Michelle Guthrie but that could be because he was trying to secure additional funding for instance, through the usual budget allocations. You can't, you don't know what those calls were about unless you were part of them, do you?
ROWLAND: Well look at the litany of complaints, look at the litany of funding cuts that have been made to this organisation. And look at the questions that are still yet to be answered by this government about how could a Chairman have possibly - possibly - be left with any other conclusion than there was something that the government wanted to be done in the organisation. These issues absolutely need to be explored and this Minister has clearly shown that he has absolute contempt for the ABC and, if nothing else, we know how much the public love the ABC, how much it is a trusted institution and this Minister has let the ABC down in every respect.
FAINE: Do you have confidence in the current Board of the ABC?
ROWLAND: I think this Board has serious questions to answer. There should be due process applied to the Board when it comes to these questions and there should be due process applied exactly, as you say, when it comes to these questions of political interference.
FAINE: So what are the questions that you think Board have to answer?
ROWLAND: What did they know about these very serious allegations that have still not been resolved when it comes to what sort of pressure was being applied. Who knew what, when, and whether or not the Board was acting in accordance with its requirements under the legislation. And there are serious questions here for the Board to answer that still haven't been answered. I was saying this weeks ago now. I was also saying weeks ago, and Labor continues to say, that this Minister has serious questions to answer about the ABC.
FAINE: The ABC's always been a political football. Whoever’s in charge, the government of the day tries to, in whatever way they can, exploit the opportunity they have to appoint people to the Board and influence which way the ABC goes. Your party, when last in power, was pretty much doing similar stuff?
ROWLAND: Well let’s be clear, Jon. Just to show the poor judgement of this Minister: Even after we've had all of these allegations, many of which have yet to be fully explored, we have this Minister appointing a recruitment firm, Korn Ferry, and at its head of this particular division that's looking into Board appointments is a former Liberal NSW Minister and donor to the Liberal Party. Now, if you could think of anything more stupid to do...
FAINE: Well sorry, with respect Minister, the Labor Party gives jobs to mates when it's in power too, does it not?
ROWLAND: Let's look at this situation which we have at hand. Really, if you are a Minister and you have an agency such as the ABC which is currently embroiled in these allegations of political interference, why would you appoint a recruitment firm with clear Liberal Party ties, which many people consider is undermining the independent appointment process that is supposed to be in place under legislation? That would have to be one of the dumbest things you could do at this point in time. So it is very clear that not only does this Minister have no regard for the future of the ABC, he clearly still has no regard for due process, even in the face of everything that has happened over the last couple of weeks.
FAINE: Alright and just finally, is the Labor Party going to make the ABC an election issue?
ROWLAND: It already is. It already is and the fact is that people, even if they don't usually vote Labor, they come up to me and say this all the time: "I don't vote Labor but this is an issue that's important to me." And herein lies the problem for the government. They have thought that this is an issue that only concerns a certain class of voters. This is in fact an issue that transcends voting patterns. And it's also one that Labor has been highlighting since the get-go, since Tony Abbott promised no cuts to the ABC or SBS, and yet cut them in his first budget. We have been highlighting this ever since and if you think that this issue isn't important to people in the regions, isn't important to people who may be traditional Liberal voters, then this government should think again.
They have been very poor in the way in which they have underestimated how important this issue is to people and myself and my colleagues have been to a large number of public meetings about this issue in recent months and I can tell you there is anger against this government in the community and they don't know what they're dealing with when you consider that this is an issue that is uniting people right across the political spectrum because they are concerned about the future of the ABC. They know it can't survive another term of this moribund Liberal Government, and they want to ensure that it goes into safe hands.
FAINE: Well, let's wait and see if Mr - Senator - Fifield is prepared to respond. Thank you for your time this morning, Michelle Rowland, the Shadow Minister for Communications.