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The Board of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) will be restructured to improve corporate governance at the national broadcaster, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Helen Coonan announced today.

The staff-elected Director position on the ABC Board will be abolished and legislation to give effect to this change will be introduced as early as possible, said Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Helen Coonan today.

The Minister advised in a media release that she had concerns about conflicts of interest and the effective functioning of the ABC Board, including maintaining the confidentiality of Board deliberations. “As the staff-elected Director has been elected by staff rather than appointed, there have been claims that the position creates uncertainty about accountability.

“However, there is a clear legal requirement on the staff-elected Director that means he or she has the same rights, duties and obligations as the other Directors, including to act in the interests of the ABC as a whole.

“The Government is of the view that there should be no question about the constituency that ABC Directors are accountable to,” Senator Coonan said.

“Therefore, to ensure the efficient functioning of the ABC Board, the staff-elected position will be removed. This change is in line with modern principles of corporate governance and will also provide more consistency in governance arrangements for Australian Government agencies.”

Christopher Warren, Federal Secretary of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance said the move was “A further disturbing attempt by the Government to tighten its control over the ABC Board. The ABC director has for a quarter of a century provided a unique perspective for the Board which I believe has really assisted the Board in its corporate governance responsibilities.

 The Staff-Appointed Director is not appointed by the Government and the position’s abolition will strengthen the Government’s stranglehold over the Board.

It’s disturbing that it has happened in the wake of all the other publicity going on about the Government’s dissatisfaction with the ABC. I also think it’s largely driven by blind ideology and a failure to understand that the staff in an organisation such as the ABC have a unique insight that is of great value to the ABC’s corporate governance.”

Christopher Warren also said that that reasons cited as being behind the abolition, such as conflicts of interest and compromise of the confidentiality of board deliberations were “Nonsense. All the Staff-Appointed Directors on the ABC Board, and I’ve known many of them, have been acutely aware of their responsibilities to the Board and have fulfilled them with punctiliousness. As far as insinuations of leaks go, there has been no significant evidence of a Staff-Elected Director being the responsible party.”

As far as anything being done to oppose the move goes, Christopher Warren says “It’s really up to the Senate. I think there is an assumption that the Senate will just rubber stamp this proposal. We’re hopeful, however, that the Senate will show a greater understanding of the ABC’s responsibilities and knock it back.”

 

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