15 November 2022

Louise Milligan's speech to Canberra lawyers gets ABC an estimates grilling

| Chris Johnson
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Sarah Henderson

Senator Sarah Henderson unsuccessfully sought the details of high paid ABC staff. Photo: Screenshot.

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.

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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.

David Anderson

ABC managing director David Anderson at Senate Estimates fended off attempts to access ABC salaries. Photo: Screenshot.

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.

Drag queen with stuffed toys

Courtney Act appeared on Play School in October 2022. Courtney Act/Instagram.

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.

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The ABC can slander anyone, knowing that lawsuits will be paid for by the taxpayer

Sadly the ABC suffers from a pro left bias which is getting worse. They have become a mirror image of the Murdoch right wing press.

Correct but Murdoch owns his media empire and can convey any message he wants.

I don’t know about you but I don’t like my taxes going towards biased reporting and promoting lies.

The ABC should be an unbiased platform where news is reported accurately and ideas can be debated professionally, politely and with dignity on their current affairs programmes.

No, Murdoch and co have been wildly successful in pulling the conversation so far to the right that any moderate position is denounced as ‘left wing’. The left historically promoted socialism or communism; now suggesting big business should pay tax is dismissed as ‘woke nonsense’. Bob Menzies himself was well to the left of the current Liberal Party. More power to the ABC for covering a wider range of views.

To say that “the ABC is covering a wider range of views” is laughable whilst also frightening.

As I said previously, Murdoch owns his media empire and is entitled to push his agenda.

The ABC is paid for by you and me so they should be providing a more balanced service.

Capital Retro11:20 am 10 Nov 22

The various associations representing Canberra lawyers have made questionable choices in keynote speakers before.

Controversial journalist Clementine Ford was another one a few years ago.

“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 the our people are acting in a personal capacity,” Mr Anderson said.”

So my APS job is not in jeopardy if I make a speech at a, let’s say, pro nazi rally? Asking for a friend.

Yes, it’s a really weird one, that they want to claim at least an appearance of political objectivity as a broadcaster yet allow their staff to outline clear and significant political biases in their “private lives”.

Surely they don’t honestly believe it doesn’t impact on the public perception of the balance of the ABC?

Also ironic that a lot of people agreeing with that position would be the first to condemn someone who behaved similarly on an issue they didn’t agree with, petitioning for them to be fired.

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