SUBJECT: Departure of ABC Managing Director Michelle Guthrie; The Liberals’ attack on the ABC.
NICOLE CHVASTEK: Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Minister for Communications. Michelle Rowland, good afternoon.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Good afternoon.
CHVASTEK: What's your reaction to the sacking of Michelle Guthrie?
ROWLAND: It's a big decision. It took many by surprise, including myself.
CHVASTEK: Why were you surprised?
ROWLAND: This was not an 'on the horizon' piece of action that I saw coming, and I think that in my dealings with Michelle Guthrie I found her to be professional. I had a working relationship with her. She was ready to brief myself and fellow Labor MPs on issues as required. I can appreciate that there would've been a difference of opinion, and clearly the reactions to this decision today have been polarising.
CHVASTEK: Did they make the right decision?
ROWLAND: I don't think it's for me to say whether or not they made the right decision because this is an independent decision of the ABC Board, which is in accordance with its statutory rights.
CHVASTEK: You must have a view, though, as to whether she was the right person to lead this organisation?
ROWLAND: I think that certainly the position was very challenging in terms of many fronts, there being an increased focus on convergence in the sector, the need to bed down a major internal restructure, which I know was a cause of angst in some parts. But also on top of that we had relentless government attacks, both financial in the latest form of Scott Morrison's cut of $83.7 million in the last Budget to the ABC, but also ideological attacks as well. So it would've been a very challenging time for Michelle Guthrie as Managing Director.
CHVASTEK: So you think she was handed a poisoned chalice?
ROWLAND: I wouldn't say that. I would say she came in at a time when, really, I don't think you could've dreamed up a much more difficult circumstance for the ABC, which was only exacerbated by this government.
CHVASTEK: She was obsessed with talk of platforms and flow charts according to Jon Faine. She didn't engage with content, she was invisible, she failed to champion the ABC, are some of the critiques of Michelle Guthrie. What do you make of those?
ROWLAND: I can respect that employees of the ABC would've had a different perspective than I would've had and certainly I've been looking at the views of some of the unions who, similarly to some of the wording that has been used, they believe that there needs to be a champion at the ABC and I think that they had some disappointment in Michelle Guthrie. I would say that Michelle Guthrie was outspoken in her criticism of Scott Morrison's latest funding cuts for sure. And she made that clear both straight after the Budget and in her National Press Club speech.
CHVASTEK: So you blame the Turnbull-Morrison-Abbott Government for this?
ROWLAND: I'm just saying that I think some of the decisions that were made, particularly in the area of funding, contributed to areas where I actually, and Labor, were in fundamental disagreement with decisions that were made at the ABC such as shortwave radio being cut, transcription services being cut, and these are matters, decisions that were taken in response to Liberal budget cuts. And I think that they made it very difficult in an environment that was already one that was challenging.
CHVASTEK: So do you sheet home at least some of the blame to the government?
ROWLAND: I merely point out that this government has had both financial and ideological attacks on the ABC and during the tenure of Michelle Guthrie being there. But there is nothing in what I have seen from the government that suggests that anything other than an independent decision has been made by the ABC Board.
CHVASTEK: How would you like to see this now move forward? How would you like to see the ABC move forward? Clearly the hunt for a new Managing Director starts today.
ROWLAND: Well for a start, there is a dire need for stability at the ABC. It's one of our most trusted institutions and it's very important that we maintain that trust. So I think the first step we'd already taken as a party was to commit to reversing the latest round of Budget cuts by Scott Morrison. Only time will tell if the removal of Michelle Guthrie improves things at the ABC, but certainly Senate Estimates are coming up soon and Labor will be closely scrutinising this decision.
CHVASTEK: Scott Morrison would say everyone has to take a haircut. Joe Hockey famously talked about the “Budget emergency”, although they did give $444 million unilaterally to a Great Barrier Reef foundation that wasn't expecting it but nonetheless when the razor gang comes around everybody has to take their share of the pain.
ROWLAND: Well, bear in mind that this government, this Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government was elected on a promise of no cuts to the ABC and since 2014 we've seen some $366 million cut from its budget; we've got Bills before the Parliament right now to meddle with the ABC Act and its Charter; we've got a Competitive Neutrality Inquiry that's been launched as part of a dirty deal that the government did with One Nation; we've seen 800 staff go out the door and there's an efficiency review designed to find ways to make even more cuts. So this government can't turn around and wash its hands of what's been happening at the ABC.
CHVASTEK: Great to talk to you, thank you so much for your time.
CHVASTEK: Michelle Rowland, Shadow Minister for Communications. And we requested an interview with the Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield, but his office did not return our calls.