After being accused of interfering in the public broadcaster's editorial independence, Chairman Justin Milne has stepped down from his role.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on September 27, 2018

Milne’s departure comes just four days after former Managing Director Michelle Guthrie was abruptly sacked.

In an interview with ABC journalist Leigh Sales, Milne said he “wanted to provide a release valve” after the “firestorm” of the past week.

“Clearly there is a lot of pressure on the organisation, and as always, my interests have been to look after the interests of the corporation.

“It’s clearly not a good thing for everybody to be trying to do their job with this kind of firestorm going on.”

Milne had reportedly asked former MD Guthrie to fire a journalist

Milne was under immense pressure after reports said he had urged Guthrie to fire Chief Economics Correspondent Emma Alberici and Political Editor Andrew Probyn because government MPs objected to them.

In an email to Guthrie that was later circulated to board members, Milne had reportedly suggested they should cut ties with Alberici out of self-preservation. “We are tarred with her brush. I think it’s simple. Get rid of her. We need to save the ABC – not Emma. There is no guarantee they (the governing coalition) will lose the next election.”

Journalistic independence is fundamental to the ABC’s existence. The legislative framework and charter which underpin the taxpayer-funded broadcaster make explicit that it is independent of politics in Australia. The ABC Board is required by legislation to “maintain the independence and integrity of the Corporation” and to ensure that “the gathering and presentation by the Corporation of news and information is accurate and impartial.”

Staff at ABC’s Brisbane bureau unanimously voted that he should resign and there was widespread dissent across the broadcaster. Similarly, ABC staff at a union meeting in Sydney unanimously passed a motion calling on Milne to stand aside pending an independent inquiry.

As recently as yesterday (Wednesday 26 September) Milne was defiantly brushing away suggestions he stand down. But it soon became clear his position was untenable.

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, recently deposed Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull denied he had ordered Guthrie to fire the journalists.

“ABC Board and Chairman have made the right call,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison wrote on Twitter. “Time for the ABC to resume normal transmission, both independently and without bias. That is what Australia’s taxpayers pay for and deserve.”

ABC now looking for a new Chairperson and Managing Director

The ABC is now faced with a leadership void. Officially, the Governor-General of Australia will appoint the next ABC Chairman. In practice, the Governor-General simply rubber stamps the appointment which is made by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister makes the decision with the support of a nomination panel, who will forward the leader a list of candidates.

Per The Australian Broadcasting Corporation Act 1983 anyone who has served as a Federal or State Member of Parliament or Senator in the past year, or anyone who has served as a political staffer in the last year, is ineligible to be Chairman.

The Board will appoint the next Managing Director for a five-year term though as Guthrie can attest there is nothing to stop the board pushing the MD out earlier if they see fit.