The ABC faced a tough grilling in Senate Estimates over a number of issues yesterday, not least being a recent controversial speech one of its star reporters gave to a Canberra dinner on 21 October.
Reporter Louise Milligan delivered last month’s keynote address at the Women Lawyers Association gala dinner in Canberra.
The speech was reportedly described by some in attendance as “insensitive”, “divisive” and “damaging” for “shaming” female lawyers and barristers who defended people accused of sexual crimes.
According to media reports of the incident, the Bar Council asked ACT Bar Association president Rebecca Curran to express concerns about the address.
Ms Curran wrote that some in attendance were “deeply offended and distressed” by the speech, which also encouraged lawyers to run cases in the media.
Appearing at estimates on Tuesday (8 November), ABC managing director David Anderson said he hadn’t read the Milligan speech but that she was not representing the ABC when she spoke at the event.
“We don’t take responsibility when our people are acting in a personal capacity,” Mr Anderson said.
He said the ABC required its staff to abide by its code of conduct and not bring the public broadcaster into disrepute and that those assurances were given before the address was delivered.
“There is absolutely no problem with what Ms Milligan said on the day,” he said.
“My understanding is that speech was given not as a representative of the ABC, but from an individual perspective, so at the moment I do not see that speech has brought the ABC into disrepute.”
While Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson pursued a line of questioning over the matter, Ms Milligan posted a number of tweets claiming the senator was misrepresenting her and what happened at the event.
Mr Anderson also came under pressure to disclose senior salaries and staffing levels at the ABC.
He refused to do so when repeatedly asked by Senator Henderson.
“I just want to remind you that you’re in Senate Estimates,” Senator Henderson told Mr Anderson.
“You’re required to answer all questions in relation to the expenditure and operations of the ABC. I am seeking these details. Are you able to provide them?”
Anderson replied that he was not.
“I don’t believe it’s appropriate that we provide the information that you seek and I can let you know why. I think there’s enough …”
But the senator interrupted, saying it was not up to Mr Anderson to decline.
The ABC managing director subsequently informed the hearing that there were enough details available in the ABC’s annual report.
He stated four grounds why he wouldn’t deliver the specifics requested of him: that the information would unfairly identify individual employees; the ABC has to protect staff based overseas from harassment; the ABC was part of the fourth estate and such requests should be met with caution; and commercial competitiveness with the private sector.
A closed meeting during the recess failed to resolve the matter.
Mr Anderson also had to fend off accusations that the ABC was “grooming” children because drag queen Courtney Act appeared on Play School reading a book about a girl who wore pants.
“The program was rated G and has been heavily promoted on TV and on the app,” Liberal senator Alex Antic said.
“Why is the ABC grooming children with this sort of adult content?”
His question sparked outrage from Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young.
“Heavens above – girls wearing pants. That is the level of rubbish you are putting forward,” she said.
Mr Anderson denied the ABC was grooming and said the story in question was simply about dressing up.