The ABC Board is the body responsible for the operations of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It is made up of five to seven directors chosen by the Federal government, a Managing Director appointed by the Board itself, and until 2006 a staff-elected director.
The Governor-General, on the recommendation of the Federal Government, appoints members, as specified in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983. The Act specifies that Directors must be experienced in broadcasting, communications or management, or have expertise in financial or technical matters, or have cultural or other interests relevant to the provision of broadcasting services. Each director serves a term of five years, with eligibility for reappointment at the end of this term.
Directors are expected to follow the ABC Board Protocol, which stipulates responsibilities, expectations, rights, and benefits.
Board members since 1 April 2012:
- James Spigelman – Chairman
- Steven Skala
- Mark Scott – Managing Director
- Julianne Schultz
- Cheryl Bart
- Fiona Stanley
- Jane Bennett
The board maintains an Advisory Council, which advises it on matters concerning the Corporation's programming. The Council is made up of twelve members, broadly representative of the Australian community, which serve staggered four-year terms. Vacancies are advertised in September–October each year. The Advisory Council's current Chair is Dr Jane Munro, Head of International House at the University of Melbourne.
ABC board members are currently directly appointed by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.
Appointments to the board made by successive governments have often resulted in criticism of the appointees' political affiliation, background, and relative merit. Past appointments have associated directly with political parties - five of fourteen appointed chairmen have been accused of political affiliation or friendship, include Richard Downing and Ken Myer (both of whom publicly endorsed the Australian Labor Party at the 1972 election), as well as Sir Henry Bland. David Hill was close to Neville Wran, while Donald McDonald was considered to be a close friend of John Howard.
During their 2007 federal election campaign, Labor announced plans to introduce a new system, similar to that of the BBC, for appointing members to the board. Under the new system, ABC candidates would be considered by a panel established "at arm's length" from the Communications Minister. If the Minister chose someone not on the panel's shortlist, they would be required to justify this to parliament. The ABC Chairman would be nominated by the Prime Minister and endorsed by the Leader of the Opposition. The committee has not yet been announced.
Past Board members
- Janet Albrechtsen – 2005-2010
- Earle Hackett
- Peter Hurley
- Ramona Koval (staff representative 2002-2006)
- Tom Molomby (staff representative)
- Bob Raymond
- Keith Windschuttle
- Michael Lynch
- John Gallagher QC
- Ron Brunton
Appointments to the ABC Board made by successive governments have often resulted in criticism of the appointees' political affiliation, background, and relative merit. Past appointments have associated directly with political parties - five of fourteen appointed chairmen have been accused of political affiliation or friendship, include Richard Downing and Ken Myer (both of whom publicly endorsed the Australian Labor Party at the 1972 election, as well as Sir Henry Bland (an adviser to Malcolm Fraser during the 1976 election campaign). David Hill was close to Neville Wran, while Donald McDonald was considered to be a close friend of John Howard.
In the past, appointments of commissioners and directors also drew criticism. In the 1932, a majority of the commissioners were publicly conservative. This continued to 1942, when the Curtin and Chifley administrations appointed a more 'politically balanced' commission.
Once elected to power, Labor prime minister Whitlam replaced the entire board - appointed by Liberal governments over the previous 23 years - with supporters of the Labor Party. His successor, Malcolm Fraser, attempted unsuccessfully to take similar action by replacing the board with politically conservative commissioners in 1976, but was only able to make new appointments by adding two extra director positions onto the board.
In 1983, Minister John Button referred proposed board appointments to an all-party committee for the first time. This practice was discontinued before the end of Paul Keating's government. Alan Ramsey, in a 1996 article for the Sydney Morning Herald noted that:
"12 came from overt political backgrounds, among them a former Labor premier, a former Liberal senator, a former Liberal Cabinet minister, four trade union activists, four advisers to various State Labor administrations, and Labor's former opinion pollster, Rod Cameron." In short, "less than half Labor's ABC appointments over the years have had obvious party political connections, while two of them came from among the ranks of its political opponents."
A 2006 restructure of the ABC board, undertaken by the Howard government, abolished the position of staff elected director. The elected director was previously nominated and elected by employees of the ABC. Nominees for this director office were to have been employed at least 24 hours a week by the ABC and the term of office was two years with eligibility for re-election to a second term. An elected director was not eligible for a third term of office. The last elected director was broadcaster Ramona Koval who had occupied the position for the previous four years amid ongoing intense controversy. This drew criticism from the Labor Party, Australian Greens, and the Democrats, who saw it as a 'revenge measure' taken against the Corporation.
Labor announced plans to make the system of appointments to the board independent of the Minister for Communications in July, 2007.
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