SUBJECTS: Departure of ABC Managing Director Michelle Guthrie; the Liberals’ attacks on the ABC.
STEPHANIE BORYS: I've started first of all by asking Michelle Rowland for her response as to why Michelle Guthrie was sacked.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Firstly, I think it should be acknowledged that this is an independent decision that the ABC Board has made. So what has been done in this case is consistent with the powers of the Board. I think it should be noted that Michelle Guthrie is an experienced and highly skilled media executive and Labor wishes her well and thanks her for her contribution to the national broadcaster.
BORYS: If she was highly skilled, why do you think then that she was sacked?
ROWLAND: There are a couple of issues here. I think the first is that this has come at a time that is most disruptive for all sectors of the media, and at this time Michelle Guthrie was spearheading a major transformation of the ABC to adapt to the digital age. And within that context it was also in a period where the Liberal Government was launching an unprecedented attack on ABC independence, and that's in both a financial and ideological sense. So when you consider that in the context of all these issues happening within the ABC, and the fact that ABC staff have been performing in an environment of enormous uncertainly in the wake of all these external factors and its own corporate transformation, it does make that role one that is very demanding – and one which is responsible and answerable to the ABC Board, and one in which the Board has made the decision it has.
BORYS: Do you think that internal problems at the ABC have affected the content that viewers and readers receive from the ABC?
ROWLAND: I think that there could be arguments that people could make that are both valid, but also need to have some rigour attached to them. And just to give an example, Labor did not always agree with the decisions that had been made under Michelle Guthrie's tenure. Just to give some examples, the cuts to transcription services that were made and also the closure of shortwave radio were ones on which Labor made a very strong case in both Senate Estimates and outside the Parliamentary processes. But I should note that we always found Michelle Guthrie to be receptive to those representations, but I think it should also be noted that under her tenure as Managing Director, there was an increased focused on regional funding and regional content.
BORYS: Now, you spoke earlier about the funding cuts the ABC is facing. Do you think that a new Managing Director will somehow get more money for the ABC, or be able to convince the government that it does need more funding?
ROWLAND: Michelle Guthrie made it very clear that the latest round of funding cuts under Scott Morrison when he was Treasurer of some $84 million would indeed impact on the ABC's ability to deliver on its Charter, and that this could indeed affect content that's being provided. But I think other than funding there's also, of course, a legislative package the government has to meddle with the ABC Act and its Charter, there's a Competitive Neutrality Inquiry that was launched as part of a deal the government did with One Nation over media ownership changes, and there's an efficiency review currently underway which many fear is simply code for more cuts to the ABC.
So I think the short answer to your question would be I think it would depend on who the ABC choose to appoint in this instance,, but I would hazard a guess that all of these factors would not be lost on them.
BORYS: The ABC says it needs a better leadership style. What style of leadership do you think the ABC needs going forward, considering the number of hurdles it's facing at the moment?
ROWLAND: That, I think, is a matter for the ABC to determine. But I am sure they would be well aware that staff have been performing in this environment of uncertainty and there would be some need for stability in that top management level. Clearly what has happened today reflects that there have been issues, ones to which I wasn’t privy and I don't know anyone in the Labor Opposition that has been privy to those specific details. But certainly I think that there is a need for certainty in the face of all these changes that have been going on.