SUBJECTS: Allegations regarding political interference at the ABC involving Justin Milne; Labor’s call for Senate Inquiry into political interference at the ABC.
NICOLE CHVASTEK: Today, the Chairman of the ABC fell on his sword and resigned after incredible pressure. This follows the release of an explosive email which was printed on the front page of The Age yesterday in which Mr Milne, the now former Chair, seemed to suggest that a journalist who had written an article critical of the Coalition's corporate tax regime should be fired. In fact, he said in this email that "they hate her; we've got to get rid of her. The Turnbull Government hates her and there is no suggestion that they won't win the next election", or words to that effect.
Well, that has kicked off a fire storm today. There are reports that the ABC Chairman, Justin Milne, asked the former Managing Director to take action against two other ABC journalists, political reporter Andrew Probyn and radio broadcaster Jon Faine, who had also upset the government according to sources which have spoken to the Australian Financial Review. It reports the complaints about the two high profile journalists were made verbally and followed Jon Faine's clashes with a government minister and coverage that upset the Coalition by Mr Probyn, according to the source.
1300 303 468 if you'd like to join the conversation. The Chairman of the Board has gone. Two days after sacking the Managing Director, is this matter now at an end? Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Communications Minister. Michelle Rowland, good afternoon.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Good afternoon.
CHVASTEK: Is this matter now at an end?
ROWLAND: By no means is this at an end. We still require and I think that the public demands that the veracity of the allegations that have been made need to be tested in an open and transparent way.
CHVASTEK: Why? I mean, the calls were for the removal of Justin Milne. There were wide spread complaints about the contents of that email, and he's gone.
ROWLAND: Well, yesterday afternoon, Labor made it clear that we believed that a Senate Inquiry would be the appropriate course of action; an inquiry that is capable of calling witnesses, of taking evidence, and one in which it would be conducted transparently. But this goes to issues of trust. The ABC is an important pillar in our democracy. It's the most trusted news source in Australia and Australian taxpayers are stakeholders in this great organisation and they deserve to know whether these allegations are in fact substantiated and they deserve nothing less than having that done in a transparent manner.
CHVASTEK: Isn't it clear though what's happened? Isn’t it clear that the Chairman has been lent on and that he has acted in a way that is inappropriate and he's now been removed from that position and we should all get on with our lives?
ROWLAND: Well, to the contrary, I don't think that that has been admitted by anyone. And for the Prime Minister to state today effectively "oh, business as usual, everyone go on with your lives, there's nothing to see here", I think that that seriously underestimates the importance of this issue in Australians’ minds. If this can go on in these numbers of incidences that have been claimed, then what else is going on, what other activity has happened and what is the guarantee that this won't happen again in the future? It's certainly not business as usual.
CHVASTEK: What evidence do you have that there is anything else that has happened along these lines?
ROWLAND: Well, that is what needs to be tested in an open and transparent way. Australians need to know the truth of this matter and we still have not had the government or the ex-Chairman actually make a statement in relation to the veracity of these claims and a statement that I think is to the satisfaction of the Australian public.
CHVASTEK: Well, in fact Justin Milne made a statement about the veracity of these claims when he spoke to Leigh Sales this afternoon -
Milne: I have never sent an email to Michelle Guthrie or anybody else which says "you must sack Emma Alberici or Andrew Probyn, or anybody else". This is a piece of an email which I actually haven't see but, nevertheless, it's a piece of an email that was taken out of a context in a conversation which was a confidential conversation and a conversation which you'd expect should be had. "What do we do about this?", that was what that conversation was. But I have never provided instructions that anybody should be sacked.
CHVASTEK: Michelle Rowland, he denies it.
ROWLAND: Well, to the contrary, this goes to whether or not he, and also the Board, in that matter has acted with independence and integrity. We have heard one side of the story but we need to get to the truth about whether or not these claims actually have any substance and that needs to be tested, it needs to be tested openly, and that needs to happen in the most transparent way possible.
CHVASTEK: This alleged email was sent some time ago. What about the behaviour of the rest of the Board in understanding that their Chairman was calling for the sacking of a respected senior journalist and this is the first we hear about it?
ROWLAND: Well, certainly the Board has obligations under the ABC Act to act with independence and integrity also. So, what we are talking about here applies not only to the Chairman but also to the actions of the Board, and again, this underscores why the public expects no less than a full and transparent inquiry into what has gone on and whether or not the actions of the Board have been consistent with its obligations under the Act.
CHVASTEK: Are you also calling for the Board to be sacked?
ROWLAND: I'm calling for these claims to be investigated in a transparent way. They are very serious allegations and certainly they are of a kind that we have never seen before.
CHVASTEK: Thank you for your time.
CHVASTEK: Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Communications Minister and we put in a call to Mitch Fifield, the Communications Minister but that was declined.