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ABC board member attends Liberal Party fundraiser

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Amid the furore over political interference in the national broadcaster, ABC board member Donny Walford attended a Liberal Party fundraiser in Adelaide last week.

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Walford, the South Australian owner of executive coaching business Behind Closed Doors, was appointed to the ABC board as a non-executive director in 2015.

Last month, ABC chairman Justin Milne resigned over claims of political interference, reportedly at the board’s urging.

The board had turned on Milne following Fairfax Media reports that he had tried to have ABC economics editor Emma Alberici and political editor Andrew Probyn sacked, after former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull complained about their coverage.

Despite the controversy, Walford attended South Australian Liberal Party Senator and Trade Minister Simon Birmingham’s annual business lunch last week.

The Liberal Party-branded event featured a keynote speech from Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and charged $125 per person.

The Greens this week won agreement to establish a Senate inquiry into alleged political interference at the ABC.

While attending such an event is not a breach of any restrictions, Greens media spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young told InDaily it wasn’t “a good look”.

“By attending this fundraiser, Ms Walford has donated to a Government that currently has three bills before the Senate that undermine the ABC’s independence,” said Hanson-Young.

“While the political interference at the ABC’s board level is under the microscope, this is not a good look from a board member hand-picked by Communications Minister Mitch Fifield.”

A flyer for the Liberal Party event.

Asked whether it was appropriate for an ABC board member to attend (and, if she paid the ticket price, contribute to) a Liberal Party fundraiser, Birmingham said in a statement:

“It’s pretty low to question Donny’s professionalism as a board director just because she attended a lunch with a couple of hundred other people to hear the federal finance minister give a speech.”

He did not deny that the event was a Liberal Party fundraiser.

Independent South Australian Senator Tim Storer told InDaily he was less concerned by Walford’s attendance at a political fundraiser than by the manner or her appointment.

“People in democracies are entitled to support whoever they like,” said Storer in a statement.

“But the fact that Ms Walford didn’t go through the independent nomination process, set up by parliament, for ABC Board members, is the reason I have introduced a bill to enhance the independence, integrity and transparency of people wishing to be Board directors.”

InDaily has contacted Walford, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance and the ABC for comment.

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