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Interview with Patricia Karvelas - ABC RN Drive

The rumours had been swirling around for days, but former editor and TV presenter Ita Buttrose has been officially confirmed as the new chair of the ABC. Ms Buttrose takes over from Justin Milne who resigned during the ugly public fall out from the Board's decision to sack Managing Director Michelle Guthrie last year. The 77 year-old media veteran says bringing stability to the organisation is her first priority.
[Excerpt]

ITA BUTTROSE:
In my role as chair, I think it's my most important role is to restore stability to the management of the organisation, to reassure the staff that life will go on as usual, and to reassure the board who's also been through a period of unrest, that it's time to get the ABC functioning again.
[End of excerpt]

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Mitch Fifield is the Minister for Communications and I caught up with him a short time ago.
[Excerpt]

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Mitch Fifield is the Minister for Communications. Welcome to the program.

FIFIELD:
Good to be with you, Patricia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Ita Buttrose wasn't on the shortlist given to the Government by the independent panel tasked with finding a new chair. How did her name come up?

FIFIELD:
The Prime Minister and myself thought that she was the best person to be chair of the ABC. You're right, we do have an independent nomination panel process. But that represents an input into the consideration of Government.

There are few people who have the experience in the media that Ita Buttrose has. She's someone Australians know. She's someone Australians trust. And we came to the view that she is the right person at this time to lead the organisation.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Why did you decide that she was a better fit than the others who'd been recommended by the panel?

FIFIELD:
She brings a unique blend of experiences to the role. She has worked in every form of media. She's worked as a journalist. She's worked in management. She's worked as an editor. She's made an incredible contribution, separate to that, through the not-for-profit and voluntary sector, through things such as the presidency of Alzheimer's Australia. She has a pretty unique skill set. And I think the reaction to her appointment has been overwhelmingly positive.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
There were no women on the shortlist the Government was given? Why didn't you ask the panel to consider gender? I wonder how they could provide names – honestly, it's 2019 – with no woman recommended?

FIFIELD:
The independent nomination panel is appointed, separate to government, by the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. While the Government initiates that nomination panel process when there is a board vacancy, the independent panel operate completely independently of government. As Minister, I have no line of sight as to who they're interviewing, who they're shortlisting. The first that I see of their work is when they've completed it and they provide to government a list of recommended names. So that is the process that Labor, in government, legislated.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
[Interrupts] Is it worth considering changing it to create in the guidelines a requirement that gender be considered, given the Prime Minister has outlined that this was an issue; he was disappointed that there were no women on the list. Well certainly, you could change that, couldn't you? And you have, on your own boards, government boards, you have quotas there; couldn't you provide more guidelines to say that this is something that they need to look at?

FIFIELD:
This is the process that Labor legislated.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
They did, so you could also change it.

FIFIELD:
This is the process that Labor legislated. So these are the arrangements that we're operating under. Labor, in their legislation, also make provision for the Government to make an appointment separate to the names on the list that comes from the nomination panel. And that's what we've done.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Okay. Is it worth changing the nomination panel to make it better, tighter because this is the second time now that the Coalition Government while you've been in power, has not taken a nomination from the list. So it seems to me that the nomination panel is not providing names you're interested in.

FIFIELD:
Well no, that's not right. On a number of occasions the Government has chosen a name from the list. On a number of occasions we've chosen apart from the list. That is the process that Labor legislated. So we have at all times acted in accord with the legislation.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Okay. Now Ita Buttrose didn't apply, why not? I mean, she hasn't elaborated about why, so why didn't she apply?

FIFIELD:
She didn't apply. She was asked that today at the press conference. And she said that she didn't apply. Now, I'm not speaking specifically to Ita's circumstances, but there are a range of eminently qualified people who wouldn't apply through a process on spec. So what we did was we considered names apart from those who came through the independent nomination panel process. And I think the choice of Ita is a good one.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
She also says that the ABC isn't very biased and is very fair and balanced. Do you agree with her?

FIFIELD:
Well that's often a question that's put to me. And my response is that I don't believe that the ABC has one monolithic culture. It's a big organisation. I think there are a range of cultures. But every media organisation should continually strive to be its best self. There's no such thing as a perfect media organisation amongst the public broadcasters or amongst commercial media.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
The Opposition leader Bill Shorten says he was only notified of the appointment at 8.15 this morning, given we're just months away from a federal election, I mean it's very soon now, should Labor have been consulted?

FIFIELD:
Labor were consulted. The legislation requires that the Prime Minister consult the Leader of the Opposition. And that occurred.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Okay. But he just told him this morning, that's not a lot of notice is it?

FIFIELD:
We are fully in accord with the Act. We aren't in caretaker period. We are not in the election period. Caretaker conventions don't apply. What applies is the legislation. And the Prime Minister fully acted in accordance with that.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
The Liberal Party railed against Victorian State Labor MPs using electorate staff to campaign. You're now letting electorate allowances be used for radio and TV ads; isn't this about using taxpayer money to actually help MPs in these very political ways?

FIFIELD:
Well what it's about is having a level playing field for media organisations. It doesn't make sense that members and senators can communicate with their constituents via Facebook but that they're not allowed to do so through a regional family owned radio station.

And I should make the point that we are not altering the budget that members and senators have. Not a cent is being added to that despite Labor's lies over the last couple of days. This is simply recognising the way that media is consumed.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Labor Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek says a Labor Government will force MPs to repay the money if they can't block these changes from going through; does that concern you?

FIFIELD:
Look, I don't know how they would seek to do that. There are regulations that apply to members and senators. And members and senators should comply with those.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
Mitch Fifield, thanks for joining us.

FIFIELD:
Good to be with you Patricia.

PATRICIA KARVELAS:
That's the Communications Minister Mitch Fifield there.