Prime Minister won’t rule out ABC merger with SBS

PRIME Minister Scott Morrison hasn’t ruled out merging the ABC and SBS as controversy over the governance of the national broadcaster continues.

Calls are growing for the remaining ABC board members to resign after chairman Justin Milne quit amid accusations he tried to get senior journalists fired and referred to women as “chicks”.

Mr Morrison was asked today about whether he would consider a merger between the ABC and SBS and did not rule out the possibility, saying he would wait until the results of an efficiency review were delivered.

“I’m going to wait for the results of the review to come back, Jon,” Mr Morrison told ABC radio host Jon Faine.

“Those sorts of ideas have been floated before but look … I’ll wait to see what the review says. I think that’s the fair and sensible thing to do.

“It’s not about whether I’m tempted to (merge them) or not, it’s about what the evidence is and what the report is.”

Mr Morrison revealed today he would nominate board member Dr Kirstin Ferguson to be deputy chair of the ABC, which would make her acting chair when endorsed by the Governor-General.

Dr Ferguson is an adjunct professor at the Queensland University of Technology and a former Royal Australian Air Force officer. She has sat on the board since 2015 and previously sat on the boards of infrastructure and mining contractor CIMIC, the Queensland Theatre Company, Queensland Rugby Union, water infrastructure company SunWater and DartEnergy.

ABC chairman Justin Milne resigned yesterday amid reports he called for journalists to be sacked because the government didn’t like their reporting, three days after former managing director Michelle Guthrie was fired.

“Kirstin will be able to step up into that role as recommended and I think restore some stability there, which is very necessary,” the Prime Minister told reporters in Sydney.

“It’s important that the ABC maintains its independence. It’s also important that the ABC maintains a very unbiased approach to how it reports things, that it gets it right and gets the facts right.”

Dr Ferguson, who was appointed to the board on 2015, will remain acting in the job until a permanent chair is appointed.

The recommendation comes after senior Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said ABC board members should be considering their positions.

“The ABC certainly is a mess and board members who can’t do their job should be considering their position,” Mr Albanese told the Nine Network.

“What the board needs is people on it who will stand up for the independence of the ABC. It is critical that it be a public broadcaster, not a government broadcaster.”

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has ordered his department secretary to run an inquiry into the broadcaster and report back within days.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says the results of the inquiry should be known before the future of ABC board members is decided.

“Let that investigation take place, get to the bottom of it, see what the recommendations are and make decisions from there,” he said.

Mr Milne has denied demanding any journalist be sacked, but maintains he was entitled to intervene on issues of editorial accuracy and independence. The former chairman has been accused of asking Ms Guthrie to fire senior journalists Emma Alberici and Andrew Probyn because the government didn’t like their reporting.

In one email to Ms Guthrie, Mr Milne reportedly said the government hated Alberici and the ABC should “get rid of her”.

Mr Milne is also said to have ordered Ms Guthrie sack Probyn by telling her “you just have to shoot him” because Mr Turnbull hated the journalist.

— with AAP


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