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Coalition pressured to reform ABC board appointments

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The Federal Government is under pressure to reform the way directors are appointed to the board after a week of leadership turmoil at the taxpayer-funded national broadcaster.

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Neil Brown, a former member of an independent panel that assesses nominations for the ABC and SBS boards, has called for the seven remaining ABC directors to resign because of how they were appointed.

“They came to be directors of the ABC by a nominations system which is more honoured in the abuse than application of it,” he told Fairfax Media today.

But Liberal MP Michael Sukkar dismissed claims Communications Minister Mitch Fifield had not complied with the spirit of the law.

“There’s no truth to it,” Sukkar told Sky News on Tuesday.

ABC chairman Justin Milne sacked managing director Michelle Guthrie last week, before he was himself forced to resign, sparking controversy about political stacking of the board.

Brown, a Liberal deputy leader under John Howard and communications minister in the Fraser government, said the government basically ignored the panel’s recommendations.

“The spirit relating to the nominations panel has not been complied with. I think it has been ignored and ignored in a very serious and repetitive way,” he said.

Sukkar said ministers were ultimately responsible for the board, which was made up of people they believed were capable.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said Fifield and the remaining board members still have questions to answer.

“The government needs to hang its head in shame. You don’t have an independent process and then totally ignore it for every director,” he told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday.

“And how much do these board directors know what was going on, were they really just mushrooms kept in the dark?”

Milne’s departure came after it was revealed he had told Ms Guthrie she should fire two of the ABC’s senior reporters, following complaints from the government about some of their stories.

Shorten on Monday wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanding Labor be consulted on the appointment of the ABC’s next chairman and other board members.

The prime minister rejected this, saying the government would follow the normal process in making board appointments.

ABC board member Kirstin Ferguson has taken over as the organisation’s acting chair.

South Australia is represented on the board by businesswoman and executive coach Donny Walford. She is reportedly one of three board members appointed by Fifield without the endorsement of the independent nomination panel.

– with AAP

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