Last week has seen a new round of unprovoked, unsubstantiated attacks on the ABC, directly from one group – the federal Liberal Party. Liberal senators have accused the ABC of “grooming children” and allowing employees to “run rogue” on social media in a fiery and at times chaotic Senate estimates hearing.
- Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson condemned ABC journalist Louise Milligan, falsely stated RN Drive needed nine producers, demanded individual staff member salary details and finally reminisced about ABC "inefficiencies" and "waste" from 30 years ago in the '90s
- IPA member and Liberal Senator James McGrath demanded that the estimates committee discuss tweets posted by Milligan, described ABC journalist Milligan as "rogue" and repeatedly accused the estimates Chair of "running a protection racket for Louise Milligan"
- Liberal Senator Alex Antic unbelievably stated that the ABC’s Play School segment on dressing up amounted to "grooming" children
At the Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday November 8th, Senator Sarah Henderson joined with infamous IPA member James McGrath in a vitriolic attack on the ABC.
In conjunction with McGrath, Henderson:
- Used parliamentary privilege to condemn ABC reporter Louise Milligan over a recent speech made to a group of lawyers, and then labelled Milligan’s tweets on the matter as “disgraceful” and accused Milligan of “going rogue”. “This is why your social media guidelines are a complete joke,” Henderson, the shadow minister for communications, said to ABC MD Anderson.
- Demanded that ABC MD Anderson release full details of individual staff remuneration levels, and a separate breakdown of the roles, genders, places of work, and remuneration bands of ABC employees. He declined.
- Claimed she had witnessed many examples of ABC inefficiencies and waste during her time working there in the 1990’s and extrapolated that "things haven’t changed much".
Reporter Milligan, after reviewing Henderson’s accusations in the Estimates session, labelled them "completely fictitious", noted "This is the second time she has told something to parliament about me that is completely inaccurate", and invited Henderson to repeat the accusations outside the protection of parliament. It will be revealing to see whether the Senator accepts that invitation. McGrath continued to ignore the Chair’s Karen Grogan’s calls for order as he and Henderson subsequently seized on the Milligan’s tweets to question whether they breached the ABC’s code of conduct.
MD David Anderson refused to provide the staff information demanded by Henderson, saying that it wasn’t appropriate to provide that information, but also noting the ABC already disclosed remuneration details in its annual report, which documented the number of employees across specific salary bands. He argued that further granular detail would identify individual employees. Perhaps Henderson should have bothered to read the ABC Annual Report before making her demands.
Anderson also backed Milligan, stating that no complaint had come to the ABC about the speech, but in any case, Milligan had acted in her private capacity, not on behalf of the ABC.
Louise Milligan is one of the ABC’s most highly recognised journalists, with many awards for her journalism. See the attached listing, it’s very impressive!
It is astonishing that in her role as a Federal Senator responsible for the state of Victoria, Ms Henderson thinks that her priorities lie with attacks on that ABC at every opportunity, often based on reporting by the Murdoch press rather than from any direct knowledge, and that her personal reminiscences of her time at the ABC from 30 years ago are interesting, let alone relevant, to the ABC today.
In partnering with McGrath on these attacks, Senator Henderson aligns herself with an outspoken member of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA). The IPA of course has very publicly, and for many years, called for the breakup and privatisation of the ABC. McGrath himself has consistently voted in parliament for ABC funding cuts and supported its privatisation. He has also, as revealed in the Courier Mail and Brisbane Times, in the past paid a disgruntled Labor staffer for dirt files on government MPs (2011), including information on politicians’ sex lives, sexual promiscuity, drinking habits, health matters and family breakdowns. In July 2018, Senator McGrath was photographed alongside a group of Young LNP members with some making the "OK" hand gesture which has come to be seen as a white supremacist symbol. Quite the charmer.
South Australian Liberal senator Alex Antic made the absurd claim about grooming over a Play School segment that featured drag queen Courtney Act reading a story about dressing up. "Why is the ABC grooming children with this sort of adult content?" Antic told the Senate hearing on Tuesday.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Antic’s language was "deeply, deeply offensive". "Grooming is a really serious matter. It is not for being played with by conservative senators to make headlines."
The ABC’s managing director David Anderson calmly denied the accusation, saying "we are not grooming Australian children".
These seemingly coordinated attacks on the ABC by the Liberal Party, supported by the Murdoch press’ own on-going and relentless damning of the ABC, continue in the face of new research on media trustworthiness released last week.
The ABC retained its title as most trusted media brand in Australia, winning an inaugural Roy Morgan Trusted Brand Award in the process.
Netflix, the SBS and The Guardian followed in the ABC in the most trusted column, while News Corporation, Google, Fox News, Sky News and Fairfax Newspapers were the least trusted media organisations.
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