Senate investigation into ABC and handling of SBS complaints derailed

Senator Hanson-Young said the Senate saved the CBA from partisan interference after the motion passed on Tuesday.

“An independent review of the CBA’s complaints system is underway. A senatorial inquiry established outside the normal processes and taking place in parallel was inappropriate. This is nothing more than political interference by the Morrison government,” she said.

Senator Bragg used the government’s majority on the committee to put together the inquiry, breaking with the usual procedure in which inquiries are established by a vote on the floor of the Senate.

He said the CBA’s investigation would not be as strong as the Senate’s because it would not involve public hearings, where the evidence would be protected by parliamentary privilege.

“The CBA investigation is not independent because the CBA investigators will report to the CBA,” Sen. Bragg said.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson, an CBA critic, said Tuesday morning that she and Sen. Malcolm Roberts would abstain from voting on the Senate motion due to frustration over the government’s inability to “control” the public broadcaster, which she said was biased. . She said the investigation was unnecessary and called on the government to crack down on the ABC.

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“All he’s going to do is create another investigation. The government has been aware of the CBA’s problems for a long, long time. I’m sick of things being investigated more and more,” Senator Hanson said. “The responsibility lies with the Prime Minister.”

She reversed that position hours later, backing the government’s attempts to keep the Senate inquiry on its feet. Senator Hanson and Senator Roberts, who are both unvaccinated against COVID-19, are attending Parliament by video link to avoid having to undergo a hotel quarantine upon their return to Queensland, in line with state government rules. This means they cannot vote directly on legislation or motions, but can still influence the outcome by requesting a pair for the vote.

A parliamentary “pairing” is an arrangement that allows MPs and Senators from opposing political parties to pair up and both be absent for votes in the chamber, keeping the numbers constant.

The motion, which won by 23 to 22, directed the Environmental and Communications Legislation Committee “to suspend the investigation into the handling of complaints from ABC and SBS pending independent review of the system complaints from ABC”.

Independent senators Stirling Griff, Rex Patrick and Jacqui Lambie voted with Labor and Greens.

The findings of the ABC’s inquiry – which will be led by former Commonwealth ombudsman John McMillan and former SBS news boss Seven and Ten Jim Carroll – are expected in April, while the Senate was due to report in February. With a federal election slated for before May, a suspension of the Senate inquiry until after the CBA’s review means Sen. Bragg won’t be able to revive it until the next Parliament.

Ms Buttrose commissioned the ABC review after a series of complaints, including from federal and state politicians, about how the broadcaster’s internal division reviews complaints about programs such as the Ghost Train series in the tragedy of Luna Park in 1979.

An ABC spokesperson said the broadcaster welcomed the Senate vote “to defend ABC’s independence” and suspended the investigation. The CBA will now continue the independent review of the complaints system commissioned by the council in October and a discussion paper will be released shortly for public comment.

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Norman D. Briggs