Has influential Sydney businessman and power-broker David Gonski resigned as chair of the Australia Council so he can step into Donald McDonald’s shoes as ABC chairman?
This intriguing little morsel of speculation was almost buried in a piece by the usually well-informed Robin Usher in The Age yesterday.
The main purpose of Usher’s piece was to talk about Gonski’s replacement at the Australia Council, the national arts funding body. Usher didn’t mince words, boldly declaring that former Qantas boss James Strong WILL take over from Gonski when he steps down at the end of June. Other arts journos, including Corrie Perkin in The Australian, would only go as far as saying that Strong was the favourite in a field of possible names. A well-placed arts administrator assured Crikey this morning that speculation that Strong will be appointed is “spot on”.
In his piece, Usher said the gossip in Melbourne’s “arts circles” was that Gonski is leaving the Australia Council so that he can replace McDonald at Aunty. If true, this is breathtaking news – a long-time adviser to the Packer camp and co-executor (with former Crown Casino boss Lloyd Williams) of Kerry Packer’s will is going to assume the most senior (if not necessarily the most powerful) position in public broadcasting.
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Usher’s speculation hasn’t caused a single ripple of comment (except here), so – as is increasingly the way with such developments – maybe Gonski will get the gig without a murmur of protest.
Nevertheless, even if no one cares about him chairing the ABC, if he does take on the job, it shouldn’t be too much to ask that he resign as co-executor of the Big Fella’s will and publicly declare that he will not act as an adviser to commercial media interests during his term as chairman.
Gonski, however, may not see that there’s any conflict. It’s worth noting that while he was chair of the Australia Council he was also president of the Board of Trustees at the Art Gallery of NSW, an arguable conflict given that the gallery does get at least some project funding from the Australia Council.
While we’re on the subject of conflict of interest, here’s hoping that if James Strong does take over as chair of the Australia Council, he resigns his other arts posts, including his chairmanships of the Sydney Theatre Company and the Australian Business Arts Foundation.