The appointment of Ita Buttrose as the new Chair of the ABC is another step back from making it truly independent and encouraging it to perform its proper role. No, it is not as if Ms Buttrose is a lurking leftie who will sell the ABC’s soul to the Greens and Get Up! That has already been done. But the appointment means several other things that are worse.
First, it is obvious that once again Mitch Fifield the minister has intervened, discarded whoever the independent appointments panel recommended and has hand-picked his own nominee, with the obvious agreement of the prime minister. When I was on the panel, Fifield did the same thing and, although I have never revealed this publicly, he actually intervened while we were having hearings and demanded a meeting with our Chairman, which he got. He then ignored our recommendations, and, in cahoots with the cabinet, produced some very curious appointees who had not even applied to be directors and who were clearly quasi-political nominees. In the course of that dysfunctional performance we ended up with Justin Milne. Weren’t we lucky? So the proper process has, once again, not been followed and that always spells trouble.
Secondly, Ms Buttrose will try to make the ABC bigger and more pervasive than it is already, more of a copy of the commercial outlets than a genuine alternative. She comes from the media sector and, like everyone in it, wants higher ratings, new platforms and wider coverage. So she will copy the commercials and go for more social media, asinine quizzes, so-called comedy shows and cringe-making panels. Married at First Sight is starting to look good. The commercial media has to find its own money. But that burden does not have to be borne if you are the ABC, as you simply spend other peoples’ money and grow fatter. The ABC is already a vast competitor to the commercial media and is growing by the day into an internet company, event manager, booking agency, social reform workshop, and all the rest of it. The ideal Chair is therefore someone who is above the fray, who knows nothing about the media, is immune to the Stockholm Syndrome, and someone who will act like a company director and carry the responsibility of the organisation to be a genuine and independent alternative. With Ms Buttrose in the chair, the ABC will be bigger and a copy of the commercial media where she was such a powerful figure. Is this what a free enterprise government should want, to increase the size of such a body? Hold onto your hat. The billion a year we spend on the ABC will look like chicken feed in a few years.
On the wider political scene, two forces are pulling in opposite directions today, both concerning the Coalition, one good and one decidedly bad. The good one is the growing maturity and standing of the prime minister, to the extent that if something is not done about it, I may have to vote for him. I do not like praising politicians: it gives them ideas above their station and encourages them to continue with their never-ending march to controlling every aspect of our lives. But I watched Scott Morrison on TV the other night and found him confident and articulate, refusing to let Leigh Sales interrupt him and giving understandable and believable statements on policy. And a vote for him is a vote that might stop Shorten’s schoolboy socialism. So that, like 1066, is a Good Thing. But the Bad Thing, pulling in the opposite direction, is that so many people in politics on the Coalition side are being allowed to run around in a disreputable manner, doing no end of crazy things that sap public enthusiasm for re-electing it. You would think that, after all the leadership dramas, the abuse of travel allowances, chasing female staff, groping anyone in sight, issuing dubious government contracts and doing business deals on the side that would never pass the pub test, the Coalition would keep such a tight rein on their people that they would not dare step out of line. But no. They seem to be worse than ever. And there is a new feature creeping into their activities. The recent crop of miscreants, frankly, leaves me both appalled that people would contemplate taking part in these activities, but also amazed that they cannot see the obvious conflict of interest involved. Senator Cormann’s holiday-that-Helloworld-forgot-to-bill-him-for is a prime example. The notion that he was able to book flights through the CEO, that the travel agent ‘forgot’ to charge him for and that he was allowed to get on the plane without paying, which neither you nor I can do, stretches credulity to breaking point. Joe Hockey is no better; how could he not see that being involved in discussions about a travel contract for a friend had the appearance of a conflict of interest? And Tim Wilson’s little escapade in chairing a parliamentary committee whose decisions could benefit a relative and using it to promote the Liberal party is not the standard of conduct that Coalition voters like to see in their elected representatives. And having had your training with the Human Rights Commission would surely teach you all there is to know about due process and fair play. Then there is the mind-boggling trouble that Michaelia Cash has got her party into over the leak of law-enforcement raids on the AWU. A recent addition to the list is the less than creditable stuffing of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal with political appointments which will encourage the socialists to do the same if they have the chance. All of these events could have been avoided with some common sense and they will be repeated unless there is far more rigorous enforcement of standards, up to and including sackings, than there has been in recent months.
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