Tomorrow marks the beginning of the end of the stacking of the ABC Board. The term of John Gallagher QC will officially end, making him the first of the present Board to leave since the change of Federal Government. Dr Ron Brunton will leave in May. So we reach the beginning of the end of the political stack – we hope.

The present members of the Board must be feeling the chill, given Senator Conroy’s description of them variously as “pseudo academics” and members of the Howard family’s Christmas card list in his punchy and vituperative performance before Senate Estimates last Monday.

Meanwhile, Crikey hears on the grapevine that Janet Albrechtsen’s faux pas attack on Melbourne Radio announcer Jon Faine is to be raised at Board level – but we have been unable to confirm the rumour this morning.

Conroy told Senate Estimates that he hopes to have the “arm’s length” mechanism for appointing new Board members in place within four to eight weeks, and that no appointments would be made until then, meaning that the Board would “run a little light” for a while.

This means that the focus shifts for the moment on to the membership of the committee that will make recommendations on Board appointments. Conroy said that advertisements inviting applications will appear soon, but given the speed at which he intends to move there must be some idea of who the members might be already.

Crikey hears that several of the names raised in Crikey’s lists of potential Board members are also being touted as possible members of that committee. Conroy has ruled out former politicians and political staffers.

Meanwhile the even more important question of ABC funding remains completely opaque. Unperturbed, people within the ABC are carrying on as though they expect new projects, such as the new ABC 3 children’s television channel, to be funded. Conroy will only say “wait until budget night”, when all will be revealed. Failing to increase ABC funding would be a breach of the spirit, if not the letter, of an election promise, although in Opposition, Conroy was always vague on the numbers.

Conroy confirmed to Senate Estimates what Crikey understood to be the case – that the much touted KPMG report on ABC funding, a summary of which was leaked to Crikey last year, was classified by the previous Government as a Cabinet document, and therefore is not available to the new Government.

Does it matter? Quite possibly not that much. The KPMG exercise was rushed and limited. Given the speed at which the digital world moves, it is probably already out of date. Nevertheless the Opposition would have a bit more credibility when it attacks Conroy if they would cough it up, and stop hiding their poor record on the ABC behind the curtain of the previous Cabinet.

Peter Fray

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