Former ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie has claimed the man who orchestrated her firing inappropriately touched her at a dinner function in 2017.
Speaking publicly for the first time since she was sacked from the ABC, Ms Guthrie told ABC’s Four Corners on Monday night that the organisation’s then-chairman Justin Milne rubbed her back while they were at a board dinner at Sydney’s Billy Kwong restaurant in November.
“Inappropriate touching is the best description of it,” Ms Guthrie said.
“It was … I felt icky. You know, it was inappropriate. It was unprofessional and inappropriate.”
Ms Guthrie said she raised the alleged behaviour, which she declined to further detail, with the ABC board before she was formally dumped in September, just two-and-a-half years into her five-year term.
Mr Milne emphatically denied the harassment allegation levelled against him, adding that he was “dumbfounded” by the claim.
“I never, ever behaved in any inappropriate way with Michelle. I had no reason to whatsoever and I didn’t,” he said.
“I’ve had no physical relationship with Michelle at all. I never, ever acted inappropriately with Michelle, or indeed with any other woman in the workforce, or any other woman at all.”
Mr Milne said an intermediary raised the claim with him before the board began a “preliminary investigation” and sent board member Joe Gersh to speak with her.
However Ms Guthrie claimed he tried to convince her to stand aside as a result of it.
“The purpose of that meeting became very clear, that he was trying to force me to resign. It was very, very clear,” she said.
The board denies Ms Guthrie’s version of events that she was encouraged to quit.
In a statement, the ABC board said Ms Guthrie declined to make a formal complaint about the alleged incident after meeting with Mr Gersh.
The meeting was to “give her an opportunity to formalise her allegations and make a complaint” so it could be dealt with by the board, the statement read.
The program also revealed Ms Guthrie was rated extremely low on a range of professional criteria including integrity by senior colleagues in April.
But the former media lawyer and Google and Foxtel executive said she wasn’t distressed as it was a personal development tool.
She is suing the ABC over her dismissal.
Mr Milne was forced to quit days after Ms Guthrie’s sacking after it was revealed he had asked her to fire two journalists because the federal government didn’t like their reporting.
He told Four Corners the idea to sack chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici originated at management level, not at board level.
A communications department inquiry has since found there was no pressure from the coalition on the ABC to sack journalists.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has reiterated the sentiment that there is no need for the ABC to “please the government”.
“These are obviously conversations that allegedly took place between the former chair and the former managing director,” he told ABC TV on Tuesday.
“These were not conversations that we were part of in any way.”