The appointment of new directors to the boards of the ABC and SBS would seem to justify the conclusion that the arm’s length selection process introduced by the Labor government is working — albeit inexplicably and distressingly slowly.

Cheryl Bart, whose appointment to the ABC board was announced last Friday, is the ABC director from central casting. She takes the position vacated by columnist and cultural warrior Janet Albrechtsen.

Meanwhile, the executive director of the Australian Multicultural Foundation, Bulent Hass Dellal, will join the SBS board, filling the vacancy left by Joseph Skrzynski, who became chairman when Carla Zampatti’s term ended. No one can argue with that appointment, either.

A corporate lawyer and serial company director, Bart also nicely straddles the states, being based in Sydney but having her highest profile in Adelaide, for her roles as chairman of the South Australian Film Corporation, the Adelaide Film Festival and Adelaide Film Festival Investment Fund. She holds many non-executive directorships including with  ANZ Trustees.

Add to this that she and her daughter, Nikki, in 2008 became the first mother and daughter team to climb Mount Everest. Not exactly a qualification for steering Auntie, but certainly a point of interest to make her not only another suit.

Her appointment means that the ABC board now includes several people with real experience in cultural Australia, with Julianne Schultz, former journalist and editor of Griffith Review and the former boss of London’s Southbank Centre, Michael Lynch, the previous appointees.

Within the next 18 months Schultz and Lynch will become the board’s longest-serving appointees. Such has been the rapidity of change at the peak of the ABC.

So, Bart’s appointment is a case of good woman, not much controversy. Yet a question remains. Why are these appointments taking so long? Those with long memories will recall that the vacancy was advertised last year with an application closing date of end of November. Interviews were conducted at the beginning of April. Yet this announcement takes until now. That’s a total of almost nine months!

Babies have been conceived, gestated and just about born in the time it takes us to get a new director of Australia’s most important cultural institution.

Is it the process that is so agonising, or is it (as I suspect) another example of what should be routine decisions getting caught up in the Prime Minister’ in tray?

The last I heard, the board was looking for someone with financial and auditing expertise, and not so much wanting to plug the other gaps, which include deep understanding of digital media.

But a lawyer will also be welcome. Steven Skala will leave in October this year. Chairman Maurice Newman is also expected to be on his way. So without Bart’s appointment the board would have been short of legal expertise.

In fact, in the next 18 months most of the existing board will depart. The Howard government appointees Keith Windschuttle’s and Peter Hurley’s terms expire in the middle of next year. Neither will be much mourned. Neither has made much of a contribution.

I would expect the next appointments to include an accountant, and someone with digital media expertise. Names being touted hopefully around the traps within the ABC include former PBL online chairman and former Microsoft executive Daniel Petre, who has a background involving establishing ninemsn, among other things.

Watch the space.

Peter Fray

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