Crikey does not know the author of this piece and doesn’t agree with
the savage attacks on the likes of Max Euchtritz and Quentin Dempster.
However, this whistleblower is entertaining and very well informed so
we are obliged to give it an airing and just hope I won’t get sacked
from my two remaining spots on ABC radio.

So, an accountant with an underdeveloped chin and a penchant for grey
slip-ons has got the top gig at the Taxpayers’ ABC. Proof, yet again,
that the old public service scam works…put the person you really want
into an Acting position (in Balding’s case, Acting MD), leave him there
for 3-6 months to give him the kind of inside running that external
candidates couldn’t possibly match, then give him the full-time gig,
proclaiming righteously that he’s the best person available because he
knows the job inside out! Who does Chairman Ronald McDonald think he’s
kidding!

The reality is, Balding is a person with just six years’ experience
in media. Because of this abundant lack of expertise, he wouldn’t even
be shortlisted for key middle-management positions inside the ABC, let
alone a real world media outfit. Yet, he has been rewarded with the
biggest media prize in the country and is telling industry veterans how
to do their job. Why has this been allowed to happen? Read on.

Russell Balding’s elevation to MD has come as no surprise to
insiders who have watched a carefully crafted and clandestine strategy
played out over the past nine months. Why NINE months when Shier’s only
been gone seven? Well, the Mutineers (as they were described last
November on the front page of The Australian), along with Chairman
Ronald, had the game plan in place well before Shier copped the silver
bullet.

Max (my grandad drove U-Boats you know) Uechtritz was the Shier-slayer,
the Executive Director of ABC News & Current Affairs who defied his
MD’s authority and precipitated the revolution. Max was an appropriate
choice given his division did most of the leaking against Shier and the
Board throughout the previous twelve months. (Just read the treacherous
maird pumped out by Quentin Dempster, one of the Corporation’s most
underworked employees who has a once-a-week gig mispronouncing intros
on the lamentable Stateline in NSW.)

So, Max decides to tell the Managing Director to get stuffed, the same
MD who only two years earlier had elevated Uechtiritz from TV
journalist to Director of the most influential and cashed-up division
in the ABC. Now that’s loyalty! While Max is a big, bouncing lad who
doesn’t mind a stouch and will probably amount to something when he
grows up, he would not have taken on the formidable Shier without
iron-clad guarantees of support from Chairman Ronald and the person who
controlled the chequebook, Little Russ Balding. (It should be noted at
this point that, true to his public service roots, Little Russ ensured
he was overseas when the knives went in. No Carlton blood-on-your-hands
questions for him!)

The deal was this: Chairman Ronald really did (and still does) want to
be Executive Chairman but lacked the kahoonas to take the plunge. So,
he did the next-best thing. He planned to install a couple of compliant
lackeys. Uechtritz and Balding. As disclosed in major newspapers a
fortnight ago, Uechtritz was always Chairman Ronald’s pick for MD. It
wasn’t a coincidence that Uechtritz was the one who did the
grandstanding and stood up to Shier.

But Max would need a finance man to compensate for his total lack of
fiscal and corporate governance experience. Enter Little Russ, a man
happy to accept the Number Two position of Deputy MD, which was
ressurrected with extraordinary and unseemly haste just days after the
coup. Balding, the “career public servant”, knew that real power lies
with he who controls the cash, and the Deputy MD indeed controls the
ABC Finance Department. He also knew that it’s politically safer to be
just off to the side because if the game turns to shit, it’s the top
guy who cops it the neck, never the Deputy.

The plan was in place, a remarkably ‘flexible’ headhunter was hired and
the conspirators settled in. After travelling the globe, the hapless
hunter came back to Australia to announce that she’d not met “anyone
better qualified than Max Uechtritz” to fill the top job! It really did
leave jaws agape, such was the audacity of the statement and those who
sponsored it. A guy with two years’ management experience operating in
the protective confines of a public sector broadcaster is the best
person in the world to run Australia’s most complex media organisation?
Incredible stuff!

Incredible, too, how the anti-Board leaks dried up the moment Balding
and his mates took over. In fact, Dempster & Co only hit their
wordprocessors again when it looked like the plan was coming unstuck in
the final days ahead of the Board’s decision. Everyone with any genuine
media nouse, supported by politicians from both sides of Parliament,
was pushing Trevor Kennedy’s barrow, and that was the last thing
Chairman Ronald and the Mutineers wanted – an outsider who knew what he
was doing!

Alas, what Chairman Ronald and Little Russ didn’t count on was Max’s
glass jaw. He copped a couple of jabs over the left-wing bias in ABC
News & Current Affairs and spat the dummy. He withdrew his
candidacy in protest. Oh, snookums! If that’s all it takes to derail
baby-faced Max, how did he and Chairman Ronald think he was ever up to
one of the most punishing corporate gigs in Australia? As another
little man would say: “No ticker!”

It is also no coincidence that immediately after Max’s dummy-spit,
Little Russ had a dramatic change of heart. From repeatedly stating he
wasn’t remotely interested in the top job, Little Russ suddenly thought
it mightn’t be such a bad idea, after all. He was getting quite used to
parking those grey slip-ons under the MD’s table and being told how
well things were going under his ‘leadership’.

So, the big day rolls around and the final chapter in this farce is
played out. The Board interviews three candidates for MD on a Wednesday
and makes a deicision in favour of Balding by mid-afternoon on the same
day. The press release went out at 4pm. You can’t go from interview to
hiring a switchboard operator in the ABC that fast! In fact, you’re not
allowed to appoint anyone to a position inside the ABC that fast! But,
hey, it’s just the Managing Director of a
three-quarter-of-a-billion-dollar corporation we’re talking about here.

And speaking of hasty appointments, what about the job of Director of
Finance at the ABC? That’s gone to another insider, a mate of
Balding’s, another Stop/Go sign-holder from the NSW Main Roads
Department, David Pendleton. The gig is worth more than $200,000 a year
and is the most important non-MD Directorship in the ABC’s management
structure. Was it advertised internally? NO. Was it advertised
externally? GOOD HEAVENS, NO! Were any other candidates considered?
DON’T BE STUPID! That good old public service scam kicked in again.
Teflon Dave, as he’s known around Ultimo HQ, was given the Acting
Finance Director gig, left there for three months, and hey presto,
given the full-time job by his good pal, Little Russ. It’s all very
neat and tidy and ensures Finance ‘secrets’ will stay secret under
Teflon Dave. He’s hardly going to bite the hand that’s fed him so
handsomely.

There really should be an inquiry into where all the ABC’s money has
gone. Immediately after Shier was topped, Little Russ announced that
the Corporation was just about broke, due, he and the Mutineers said,
to Shier’s excesses. But wasn’t Little Russ the Finance Director before
and during Shier’s reign? If Shier was fiscally out of control, why
didn’t Little Russ put the brakes on? Or, could it be that he wasn’t
really aware of how bad the ABC’s financial position was? If Shier was
acting against the best interests of the ABC, spending money like a
drunken sailor, Balding should have stood up to him. He didn’t. If
Balding didn’t know how grim the finances were, he was incompetent.
Either way, he failed the ABC and the taxpayers of Australia.

The current round of capital works bids is as good a place to start an
investigation. Word has it that, excluding ambit claims, the total cost
of “essential” capital works projects across the network – for core
infrastructure replacement and upgrades – is $45 million. Not an
unreasonable sum, just 6% of the ABC’s annual budget of $730 million.
But how much is actually available to fund these long-overdue and
essential works? $7 million. So, where has all the money gone? Someone
really should be asking. In the meantime, Little Russ says the ABC is
going to expand local production, especially the extremely costly
business of TV Drama. If there’s only $7 million in the kitty to keep
the place on-air, talk of scaled-up output is a joke.

Finally, Ultimo insiders were saying a week before the Board met to
make its ‘decision’ that Balding planned to do away with the Deputy
Managing Director’s position if he got the top job. All good public
servants know you can’t have someone breathing down your neck,
especially if they’re actually good at their job! An alternative tip is
that Glass Jaw Max will get second prize as a reward for his efforts to
date. Either way, Little Russ will have to restructure things pretty
quickly. He grabbed all the key operational portfolios for himself
under the Deputy MD’s role – Finance, Production, Technical, Property –
leaving the creative Output divisions to the MD. Given that the little
grey accountant doesn’t have a creative bone in his body and there’s no
way he’s gonna let anyone else hold the purse strings, standby for
change!

Those grey slip-ons are going to need a retread real soon.

ends

CRIKEY: I’d be interested in any speculation as to the author of this
caustic but entertaining piece. Apologies to all those it insults but
you have to admit the Balding appointment has not been treated to a lot
of critical scrutiny from the quality media (including the ABC).
annonymous – for obvious reasons!

Peter Fray

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