Scott Morrison says he will nominate Dr Kirstin Ferguson to be the ABC’s acting chair, after a week of unprecedented chaos at the national broadcaster.
The Prime Minister made the announcement in Sydney, and confirmed he would take his pick to the Governor–General today.
Mr Morrison said he wanted Dr Ferguson to be the ABC’s deputy chair.
“Should the Governor-General accept that recommendation then she [Ferguson] will also be in the position of acting chair of the ABC until such time as a new chair appointment is made through the normal process,” he said.
Dr Ferguson has sat on the ABC board since 2015, and is an experienced director with 10 years’ experience on the ASX100 and ASX200 boards as well as private company and government boards.
She was the creator of the social media campaign #CelebratingWomen, which saw her nominated for the Walkley Foundation’s Our Watch Award for best use of social media.
Senior ABC staff have begun questioning the corporation’s board after managing director Michelle Guthrie was sacked on Monday, and chairman Justin Milne resigned on Thursday.
“I think it is important for the ABC to restore normal transmission as quickly as possible,” Mr Morrison said.
“There are vacancies and appointments to be made, but it is important that the ABC gets back to work,” he said.
Radio National presenter Patricia Karvelas said Dr Ferguson told her: “[It’s] a massive responsibility but I just love the ABC so much, I am just honoured to take it on.”
Staff turn up heat on board
Mr Milne — a close friend of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull — resigned after a litany of reports accused him of interfering in the broadcaster’s editorial independence.
Fairfax Media published leaked emails which claimed to show Mr Milne ordered two of the ABC’s most senior journalists be sacked in reaction to Turnbull’s outrage about their work.
Ms Guthrie’s sacking — which she said left her “devastated” and considering her legal options — came as a surprise on Monday.
An urgent all-staff meeting was held at the broadcaster’s Ultimo headquarters on Monday, and a motion calling for Mr Milne to stand aside and for an independent inquiry to take place was passed unanimously.
In the wake of the departures, ABC presenter Leigh Sales questioned the board’s judgment.
My Qs for the other members of the ABC Board, all of whom have so far remained publicly silent:
1. Why did they agree that Michelle Guthrie had to go?
2. Why, if they saw the "political interference" email/conversation records last week, did they not act until that became public?
— Leigh Sales (@leighsales) September 27, 2018
Four Corners reporter Sophie McNeil — a former foreign correspondent — tweeted: “Chairman Milne is now gone but serious questions remain for the entire ABC Board.”
The ABC’s staff-elected director Jane Connors has sat on the board since May.
On Monday, Ms Connors said Ms Guthrie’s sacking was “in the best interests of the ABC”.
However, in an email to one staff member later in the week, Ms Connors described the subsequent headlines about Mr Milne as “distressing”.
Paul Barry, who presents the ABC’s Media Watch program, said the board needed an overhaul and the directors and chair must be transparent, merit-based and bipartisan.
“It’s time for governments of all colours to stop stacking the board with their political or ideological mates,” he said.