Doorstop - ABC > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

CONTACT SENATOR FIFIELD

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MENTONE VIC 3194

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Parliament House Office
Parliament House
CANBERRA ACT 2600
Phone: 02 6277 7480




27-September-2018


Doorstop Treasury Place,
Melbourne 9.30am,
27 September 2018.


E & OE


FIFIELD:

This has been a difficult week for the ABC, but its important work continues. The ABC is one of the important underpinnings of media diversity in Australia. The ABC makes a significant contribution to civic journalism in Australia and to the important accountability role of the Australian media. The independence of the ABC is something that this government is deeply committed to. The ABC has legislated independence in relation to operational, programming, editorial and staffing matters. And as the Minister for Communications, I have always respected the independence of the ABC.

Like most Members of Parliament, I have, on occasion, raised with the ABC, issues of facts in reporting, as indeed I've done with commercial media organisations. But, at no stage, and in no way, shape or form, have I ever sought to involve myself in staffing matters in the ABC. Nor, for that matter, am I aware of any member of the Government who has sought to do so and that includes the former Prime Minister who has spoken to these matters overnight.

There have, over the last two days, been issues raised in relation to the independence of the ABC. Now these are matters that we take seriously as a government, which is why, following discussions with the Prime Minister yesterday, I asked the Secretary of my department, the Department of Communications and the Arts, to undertake an inquiry to establish the facts in these matters. And I've done so because it's important for the community to have confidence in the ABC and its independence.

JOURNALIST:

What powers does your secretary have in running this investigation and he can tell the former managing director and chairman to speak to him?

FIFIELD:        

Well, Mr Mrdak as the Secretary of the Department of Communications and the Arts, will be talking to all the relevant parties; the chair, the current acting managing director. He will invite the former managing director to participate. He will talk to members of the board. He will talk to other staff members as relevant.

JOURNALIST:

Will you be interviewed as part of this inquiry? And will your written communications, emails, other forms of communication, will that also be open to the inquiry?

FIFIELD:

Mr Mrdak is at liberty to raise with me any matter that he wishes to.

JOURNALIST:

We’ve already seen emails between Michelle Guthrie and Justin Milne which means it was aware of this potential misconduct. Should the entire ABC board step down following this?

FIFIELD:        

Part of the work of Mr Mrdak will also be to obtain documentary material which is relevant to his inquiries.

JOURNALIST:

Have you ever actually demanded a journalist specifically, or any journalist, for that matter, to be sacked or have any involvement in programming decisions to be reversed at the ABC?

FIFLIED:        

I have never, in any way, shape or form, sought to involve myself in staffing matters at the ABC. I have never called for or sought the end of the employment of anyone at the ABC, or any media organisation, for that matter.

JOURNALIST:

Have you ever raised concerns relating to one particular journalist, though, or have you ever raised the names of any particular journalist with any ABC senior members?

FIFIELD:        

I have only ever raised with the ABC matters in relation to facts in reporting. I think I've done so on half a dozen occasions since I've been the minister and those occasions are all very well-known.

JOURNALIST:

But you've named particular journalists in your inquiries?

FIFIELD:

Well, in correspondence to the ABC, where I have had issues of fact in reporting, clearly, I've made reference to the particular report.

JOURNALIST:

And if that's not exerting influence, what is?

FIFIELD:

Any Member of Parliament and any member of the community is perfectly within their rights to raise with any media organisation when they think they've made an error of fact. Part of the way that a free, open and democratic press operates is that the press should be free to go about their business, but equally, citizens, including Members of Parliament, should have the freedom to raise issues when it comes to questions of fact in media reporting.

JOURNALIST:

But you're the Communications Minister... sorry, you’re the Communications Minister. Surely your word carries a lot more weight than the average bystander on the street who's responding to an article and raising questions about inaccuracy - surely you would have known that perhaps your concerns about the article would have had a stronger impact on the organisation than anybody else?

FIFIELD:

I would hope that the media organisations in Australia take equally seriously questions of fact that are raised, regardless of who raises them.

JOURNALIST:

If you or Mr Turnbull have not explicitly ordered the ABC chairman to sack journalists, do you think it is plausible that- for Mr Milne to be left in no other understanding following that conversation with the former PM?

FIFIELD:

Let me speak, firstly, to myself. I have never sought to have any employee of the ABC removed from their position. That has never happened. Can I also say that I had never heard the former Prime Minister seek to have any employee of the ABC removed.

JOURNALIST:

Yes, but if he didn’t actually explicitly state and if you go along that line is it plausible from that conversation... he had with Mr Milne that it could be understood to be anything else but a request for a sacking?

FIFIELD:

No. The former Prime Minister has been very consistent. What he has said publicly on these matters is the same as he has said in meetings.

JOURNALIST:

Were you aware that Malcolm Turnbull harboured any hatred towards any ABC reporters?

FIFIELD:

The former Prime Minister is a very mellow individual. He only, to my knowledge, has raised issues of fact in relation to reports by journalists.

JOURNALIST:

Are we to conclude from this that Mr Milne verballed the former Prime Minister?

FIFIELD:

Well, we have a report in the papers today. And that will be an area that the Secretary of the Department of Communications and the Arts looks to, to establish the facts. But what I can tell you, categorically and absolutely is that I have never sought, never indicated, never hinted in any way, shape or form anything in relation to the employment of an ABC journalist. And I never saw the former Prime Minister do anything along those lines.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Milne has in fact lied to the managing director hasn’t he?

FIFIELD:

There is a media report today. And one of the reasons why I have asked the Secretary of my department to undertake an inquiry is to establish the facts.

JOURNALIST:

How long will your secretary have to actually conduct the review and when will it be made public?

FIFIELD:

I would like him to do his work as quickly as he can. It’s ultimately a matter for him, but I would be hoping it’s a matter of days and not weeks.

JOURNALIST:

Do you think Justin Milne should stay in his position?

FIFIELD:

It’s a matter for every high office holder to continually assess whether they retain the capacity to effectively discharge the duties of their office.

JOURNALIST:

Have you spoken to him directly about the allegations against him?

FIFIELD:

I spoke to Mr Milne yesterday to advise him that Mr Mrdak would be undertaking an inquiry into these matters.

JOURNALIST:

Did you discuss anything else other than just informing him of that?

FIFIELD:

I informed Mr Milne that this work by Mr Mrdak would be undertaken and Mr Milne indicated that he would be cooperating.

JOURNALIST:

Did you seek to clarify to your own satisfaction the media reports yesterday in the conversation with Mr Milne or did you just leave it at I’ve appointed this bloke?

FIFIELD:

Mr Mrdak has the task of establishing the facts in these matters.

Thanks very much. Cheers


[ends]






Authorised by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield, Liberal Party of Australia, Parliament House, Canberra.