October 15, 2018 11:05:27
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield knew the ABC board was planning to sack managing director Michelle Guthrie a fortnight before she was formally dumped.
Ms Guthrie was sacked late last month, after the board decided it was in the best interests of the organisation for her to go.
Shortly after, allegations were raised that ABC chair Justin Milne had pressured Ms Guthrie to sack two senior journalists because their reporting had angered the Federal Government.
Senator Fifield told the Senate on Monday morning that he had a “professional relationship” with both Ms Guthrie and Mr Milne.
“Let me be clear, prior to these media reports I was not aware of the allegations of encounters between the former managing director and the former chair in relation to staffing matters,” he said.
The Minister said he had received the findings of an investigation by the Secretary of the Communications Department into the incident, and argued it showed there was no political interference with the public broadcaster.
Senator Fifield also outlined the chain of events leading up to Ms Guthrie’s sacking.
“The then-chair spoke to me in Canberra on September 12 to advise that the board no longer believed the managing director was best placed to lead the organisation,” Senator Fifield said.
“He further advised that he would be conveying this to the managing director on behalf of the board the following day.
“Although not sure where this matter would land, he hoped that a mutually agreeable path could be found. I indicated to the chair that I respected the managing director’s position was, under the legislation, a matter for the Board.
“Given the uncertainty as to how this would conclude, and out of respect for the privacy of the managing director, I undertook to not further convey that information at that time.”
The Federal Opposition argued the Coalition could not pretend it had no role in the leadership turmoil at the ABC.
“What [Senator Fifield] attempted this morning is to come in here and wipe the blood off his hands for all the damage that he’s done to the ABC,” Labor senator Deb O’Neill said.
She accused him of “cleaning up after the scene of the crime of constant and persistent attacks on our national broadcaster”.
October 15, 2018 10:56:30