A truly independent panel must be appointed to select future Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Board members, Senator Simon Birmingham today.
A so-called “independent panel” is planned to provide Communications Minister Stephen Conroy with a shortlist for board vacancies as part of Labor’s election policies, a scheme similar to the BBC’s board appointment process.
Senator Conroy today told a Senate Additional Estimates committee hearing that although he hoped to have the panel in place in four to eight weeks, much of the criteria for the selection of panel members and subsequent operation of the panel remained uncertain.
The process upon which this is modeled received widespread criticism in the United Kingdom recently, including from the Lords Communications Committee in a report on the chairmanship of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC):
“What is clear is that this process gives Ministers considerable opportunity to influence the selection. Ministers appointed the selection panel, Ministers were allowed to change the shortlist of candidates and ultimately Ministers were able to choose between four candidates who passed the interview process.”
First Report of Session 2006-07, Lords Communications Committee, 3 August 2007
Senator Conroy was today unable to assure the Estimates hearing that Members of Parliament, former Members of Parliament, current or former political staffers or senior public servants would not be eligible to be appointed to the independent panel. He was also unable to indicate whether or not Ministers, including himself, would be able to make nominations directly to the selection panel.
Senator Conroy did, however, confirm he would make the final selection based on a shortlist provided by the selection panel.
“It is clear that the process adopted by the Rudd Labor Government to appoint the ABC Board remains open to abuse and has many, many questions unanswered as to its implementation,” Senator Birmingham said today.
“The British example shows this new, independent process is wide open to manipulation and that Senator Conroy must adopt a much higher standard than that relating to the BBC if he’s to ensure the Board remains free of political interference.”