Speaking of media independence, how does Aunty fare?

There’s been a heavy focus in the past week on the independence or otherwise of the Australian media   — although the ABC has missed out on its share of scrutiny amid the carnage at Fairfax and News (bar a few swipes from The Australian). So, just how political are the journalists at Aunty? Crikey decided to do a little digging on the subject. The results might surprise you …

It’s long been perceived wisdom in some quarters that the ABC is a hotbed of pro-Labor sentiment and a training school for ALP candidates like Maxine McKew. Last Wednesday, Paul Kelly wrote for The Australian: “Australia can no longer afford a heavily taxpayer-funded ABC locked into a fashionable ‘writers festival’ political culture that caters to a dedicated ‘true believer’ minority.”

This certainly isn’t the first time that The Australian has accused the ABC of left-wing groupthink — but it does come soon after former ABC journalist Sarah Henderson won preselection for the federal Victorian seat of Corangamite. ABC managing director Mark Scott rebuts the accusations, saying they were a little ironic coming from The Oz.

In an attempt to see past the political mud-throwing, Crikey hunted for ex-ABC people who went on to work for Labor or the Coalition — and we’ve found the spread is pretty even. As of Tuesday morning, we’ve found 15 ex-ABC people who went on to the Labor politicians (or candidates), while 13 went to the Coalition camp.

Here’s the list — it’s a work in progress, and we’re counting on Crikey readers to delve into their memories and add more names. Send your tips and we’ll update the list.

ABC to Labor:

Maxine McKew, began her career as a cadet on This Day Tonight at the ABC’s Brisbane office in 1975.  She then worked on the ABC’s flagship current affairs programs, Nationwide, and AM and PM, later moving onto the 7.30 Report. She then joined the ALP and won John Howard’s seat of Bennelong in federal Parliament for the Labor Party, only to lose it in 2010.

Frank McGuire was an award-winning journalist for the ABC, and is currently the Labor state Parliament member for the seat of Broadmeadows.

Mike Bailey, a former ABC weatherman who ran against Joe Hockey in the seat of North Sydney in the 2007 election for the ALP and lost.

Deborah O’Neill, once worked for the ABC, O’Neill in 2010 won preselection for the seat of Robertson — Belinda Neal’s patch — for the ALP and won.

David Hill, ran in the 1998 election for the ALP in the federal NSW seat of Hughes, after he stepped down from his role as Managing Director of the ABC.

Leon Bignell, ex-ABC sports reporter and now a minister in the SA Labor government.

Bob Carr, former Labor Premier of NSW and now federal foreign minister for the ALP, once worked for the ABC as a current affairs journalist.

Mary Delahunty,was a gold Walkey Award-winning news journalist for the ABC, appearing on Four Corners and the 7.30 Report before becoming  chief newsreader for the ABC in Victoria. She  was elected to the seat of Northcote in the Victorian Legislative Assembly at a 1998 by-election. She was minister for education, 1999-2002, minister for the arts 1999-2006, minister for women’s affairs 2002-2006 and minister for planning 2002-2005. Delahunty did not contest her seat at the 2006 state election.

John Bowler, Formerly of the ABC and now proprietor of The Golden Mail. In 2001 he was elected as the ALP Member for Eyre in the WA Parliament. He is currently the Independent member for Kalgoorlie.

Bob Debus, Energy Minister and Attorney General in the Carr Government who was an ABC broadcaster, Executive Producer of the ABC’s Department of Radio Talks and Documentaries in the 1970s.

Clare Martin, The ALP’s former chief minister in the Northern Territory was the morning presenter on ABC 666 Canberra in the1980s before becoming media adviser to chief minister Rosemary Follett in the first ACT government in 1989. She later moved to Darwin where she returned to the ABC and was at one stage presenter of The 7.30 Report.

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19 Responses

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  1. Josephine Keffania, former State 7.30 Report presenter now Baillieu spinner

    by Holden Back on Jun 25, 2012 at 1:44 pm

  2. Just note the number of clips ABC News show of Abbott compared with Gillard and it may be revealing. Regardless of what’s his latest stunt is. And who didn’t get sick and tired of the nightly shot of Howard strolling somewhere in Canberra?
    The “left wing” drivel is a complete lie. The shift has been far more to the right in the latter years.

    by GarryB on Jun 25, 2012 at 2:11 pm

  3. And here are some of the ABC staff who went on to be Labor staffers … Mark Tobin, the veteran ABC 702 state political reporter who left the public broadcaster to work as a media adviser to NSW premier Barry O’Farrell.


    by barfiller on Jun 25, 2012 at 2:42 pm

  4. Didn’t Crikey itself produce a list of journalist (albeit not just ABC)-politician interchanges a few years back? Yes, here it is, crikey dot com dot au/2007/02/27/journalists-in-parliament/, from which apparently at least several others can be added:

    Ian Baker: the former ABC news chief of staff in Victoria was Agriculture Minister in the Kirner Government

    John Bowler : formerly of the ABC and now proprietor of The Golden Mail and ALP Member for Eyre in the WA Parliament.

    Bob Debus: Energy Minister and Attorney General in the Carr Government who was an ABC broadcaster, Executive Producer of the ABC’s Department of Radio Talks and Documentaries in the 1970s.

    Clare Martin: The ALP’s former chief minister in the Northern Territory was the morning presenter on ABC 666 Canberra in the1980s before becoming media adviser to chief minister Rosemary Follett in the first ACT government in 1989. She later moved to Darwin where she returned to the ABC and was at one stage presenter of The 7.30 Report.

    Barbara McCarthy (now Malarndirri McCarthy): Northern Territory Labor MLA for Arnhem and one of the first Indigenous women in an Australian Parliament. Barbara was strongly promoted by Emily’s List and was an ABC news presenter in Sydney and Darwin (and 7:30 presenter in Darwin?) and a contributing reporter to the ABC series Blackout.

    Neville Oliver: the former head of sport at the ABC failed when he ran as Labor’s candidate in the Tasmanian lower house seat of Franklin in 1998 but in 2002 he achieved his goal by replacing Fran Bladel.

    Diana Warnock: long time ABC radio personality and subsequent MLA for Perth in the WA Parliament from 1993 until retiring in 2001.

    The above would have to go close to tipping the balance in the Labor direction.

    Oh and Holden Back, did you mean Josephine Cafagna?

    by Mark Duffett on Jun 25, 2012 at 2:59 pm

  5. I guess the Labor side has more high profile ABC ex staffers in it’s fold.
    Mind you - I’d be interested in whether arts & journo types are more labor inclined overall - not just at the ABC.

    by mikeb on Jun 25, 2012 at 3:07 pm

  6. ABC TV is not too bad. But the radio is a long advert for the Greens. Have you ever heard ABC TV give balanced coverage on (a) gay marriage, (b) refugees or (c) aboriginal relations?

    I sometimes tune into RN and have a bet with myself to see if they can get through 30 minutes without prosletysing on one of these issues. I have never lost yet!

    by Student T on Jun 25, 2012 at 4:27 pm

  7. @Student T

    I’m surprised you get to listen to RN in between your shifts at Coles.

    Clearly, you need to listen to the thrilling insights of 2GB and the other commercial red-faced-men-shouting stations if you want real balanced reporting.

    by Roberto Tedesco on Jun 25, 2012 at 6:13 pm

  8. derr - Mark Scott!

    by Tom McLoughlin on Jun 25, 2012 at 6:38 pm

  9. We saw what happened to Stephen Long, just over 10 days ago.
    But it was nice to see Leigh Sales getting stuck into “Reith-Morrison” tonight digging
    for a Conservative answer, for a change. But for a laugh dig out one
    of her interviews with Labor’s Chris Evans (in the portfolio), a couple of
    years ago - for real paint-stripping demeanour (was that “personal”?).
    Or Gillard - on “Latteline” - when Sales “changed her hair colour for the night”?
    That “grab-bag of Labor embarrassments” she threatened Plibersek with?
    Then there was Emma Alberici’s job on Clare (more “cannon-fodder” Labor member), Friday night - going in with her prejudices blazing away, shooting herself in the foot while she was at it -
    among other things the time zone from which she staged her ambush?

    Then Mark Scott wants to lecture on the intrusion of personal opinion?
    What about when it affects their approach to an interviewee - and their
    differing approaches to members of different parties - according to party,
    either sweet or sour?

    Kerry O’Brien……..”? He could dish it up to either side with the same intensity.

    by klewso on Jun 26, 2012 at 1:05 am

  10. As far as the ABC is concerned all I am asking for is for them to provide an hourly NEWS service on RADIO NATIONAL. Where NEWS must contain only relevant FACTS presented by an ABC newsreader and ABC reporters. No opinion, no gossip, no spin - plain facts. Is that too much to ask for? How about implementing a public and national interest test and dumping their flawed so called “balanced” charter. I believe the ABC would do much better without the likes of Mark Scott!
    I can certainly do without Barnstable Joyce for example telling me about the outcome of his chuck raffle or the latest spin machinations of Limited News! Interesting times indeed. I just had to switch off the RN so called news in disgust. What amateurs! We deserve better!

    by Gocomsys on Jun 26, 2012 at 1:17 pm

  11. Well career choices of ex-ABC staff aside, my imperfect recollection of
    the numerous politically inspired reviews, investigations &
    assessments that the ABC’s undergone in the not so
    distant past, many of them instigated by the Howard government
    attempting to reveal “Reds under the beds”, is that the ABC’s always
    passed the litmus test. One particular review, from
    the earlier days of the Gulf War, stands out when the Libs accused
    the ABC of bias. Turns out, their critism of the war & our decision to
    participate, was if anything, understated!

    I also recall, that during the first year or more of the Labour
    government, monitoring of the ABC revealed that opposition pollies
    were consistently getting more air-time than Labour. Might still be

    Try reading the “Republican Brain”; very enligtening.

    Cheers, Alex.

    by Alex on Jun 26, 2012 at 1:26 pm

  12. @Gocomsys. RN is not a news network. If yuu are so concerned about “news” then listen the NewsRadio - also on the am band.

    by mikeb on Jun 26, 2012 at 2:14 pm

  13. GarryB

    Earlier this year the coalition were running the line that they had not been on the Insiders all year. It turned out to be a tactic. While coalition frontbenchers had consistently been asked, they consistently had made themselves unavailable. Since they were outed, its been basically alternate weeks. Which of course means they are over-represented, given they did not win either a majority of the popular vote or a majority of seats in the last election

    by fisher greg on Jun 26, 2012 at 5:20 pm

  14. Don’t forget Kevin Naughton from ABC Darwin, who moved to South Australia and worked for the
    Liberal party and leaked some incorrect information about Kevin Foley was it?

    When he was still at the ABC in Darwin he complained loudly about Clare Martin using the photocopier after she went back to the ABC after she was defeated the first time. Apparently she might have picked up important ABC secrets

    by Penny MacDonald on Jun 27, 2012 at 2:37 pm

  15. Chris Uhlman is married to an ALP MP, although he did run for a socially conservative independent group for the ACT elections in 1998.

    by Youthy on Jun 28, 2012 at 12:30 pm

  16. I think you’d have a very interesting list of News Ltd journos going to the Coalition.

    by C@tmomma on Jun 29, 2012 at 4:52 pm

  17. Cat - why would Limited News journo’s “go to the Coalition”?
    Most are already there, being paid for their politics and don’t have to
    face elections - like “ordinary politicians”!

    by klewso on Jul 3, 2012 at 8:47 am


    Chris Kenny is a journalist, author and former political staffer.

    He recently served as Chief of Staff to then Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull. He was also Chief of Staff to Alexander Downer, the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the former Howard Government. In State Governments he was Director of Strategic Communications for Premier John Olsen and Chief of Staff to Premier Rob Kerin.

    Previously, Chris was a leading political journalist in his home State of South Australia. After working for a country newspaper, the now defunct Adelaide News and the ABC’s 7.30 Report he covered state politics for Channel 10 and then Channel 9 in Adelaide.

    by Cuppa on Jul 6, 2012 at 5:19 pm

  19. The over view of all this is our politicians will use our money to give jobs to problem journalist, and the underline is most of those journalist can be bought! Edward James

    by Edward James on Jul 6, 2012 at 8:25 pm

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