Scott Morrison backs Senate inquiry into ABC complaints

The investigation, announced by Sen. Bragg last Thursday, has sparked a major split on the communications committee, with Senator Green Vice Chair Sarah Hanson-Young calling it a “witch hunt.” She plans to put forward a motion to scuttle the inquiry when parliament resumes next week, but without government backing she is unlikely to succeed.

“Scott Morrison said no one was above Senate scrutiny, but his own government tried to use a backdoor to open an investigation into the ABC and SBS that was not supported by the majority of the Senate,” she said.

“This is the latest step not only in a long-running witch hunt against the ABC, but also in the disregard this government is showing for proper process and accountability.”

Ms Buttrose, who was chosen by Mr Morrison to chair the ABC in 2019, doubled down on her criticism on Monday, accusing Senator Bragg of trying to overturn an ongoing external investigation commissioned by the ABC board last month . She described the broadcaster’s relationship with the federal government as “strained”.

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“Senator Bragg has chosen to use the machinery of the legislation committee, where the government has a majority, to force an investigation into the ABC’s handling of complaints,” Ms Buttrose told ABC radio.

“Why is he spending taxpayers’ money on a review that is already underway? Does he agree with the notion of an independent public broadcaster and an independent board? Or does he believe that politicians should be able to step in and dictate to the national broadcaster the content because that’s where it’s leading.

Ms Buttrose has commissioned a review – which will be led by former Commonwealth ombudsman John McMillan and former SBS news boss Seven and Ten Jim Carroll – after scrutiny from federal and state politicians over how the division internal broadcaster reviews complaints about programs such as the Ghost Train series in the Luna Park tragedy in 1979. The conclusions are expected in April, while the Senate inquiry is due to report by February 28.

Senator Bragg used a standing order from the Senate to establish the inquiry, breaking with the typical procedure in which inquiries are established and directed by a reference committee following a vote on the Senate floor. Although the government controls the Legislative Communications Committee, it does not control the Communications Referrals Committee.

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Defending his decision on Monday, Sen. Bragg said the inquiry was “my idea”, describing it as “a pretty trivial thing for the Senate to do.”

“I think the Senate has greater powers to look at these issues and do it more independently,” Sen. Bragg told ABC radio.

Labor Senator Nita Green, a member of the Senate committee, said she opposed the inquiry and dismissed Senator Bragg’s characterization of the inquiry as non-partisan as “bogus”.

“This is no ordinary investigation, which is why he used a majority government committee instead of going to the Senate,” she tweeted.

A spokesman for Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said: ‘It’s entirely up to the Senate. The minister was not involved.

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Norman D. Briggs