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.

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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.

Malarndirri McCarthy, Northern Territory Labor MLA for Arnhem and one of the first Indigenous women in an Australian Parliament. Barbara was an ABC news presenter in Sydney and 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 Labor politician for Perth in the WA Parliament from 1993 until retiring in 2001.

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

Alan Carpenter, 7.30 Report presenter to WA Labor Premier.

And here are some of the ABC staff who went on to be Labor staffers: Mark Bannerman was a journalist for 30 years, working on several programs for the ABC, such as AMPMThe World Today and Background Briefing. He also worked as an adviser to the-then Labor minister for industry, technology and commerce Senator John Button. Barrie Cassidy is the current host of Insiders on the ABC; he was Bob Hawke’s press secretary from 1986 to 1991. Kerry O’Brien is the former host of the 7.30 Report on the ABC and the present host of the current affairs show Four Corners.  He worked as the press secretary for Labor’s Gough Whitlam. Jeremi Moule, worked for ABC news then later became a minder for the ALP.

ABC to the Coalition

Sarah Henderson, Before she went into politics, her media work included host of the Victorian edition of the 7.30 Report, newsreader for Channel Ten Melbourne and reporter for the acclaimed ABC-TV program, The Investigators. Then in 2010, she contested the federal election as the endorsed Liberal candidate for Corangamite, and lost.  She has won preselection for the next election.

Dai Le, stood as the Liberal candiate for the seat of Cabramatta at the October 2008 byelection and again in the March 2011 NSW state poll. Dai was a journalist with the ABC from 1994 until 2008.

Gary Hardgrave, a former minister in the Howard government, is a former journalist with the Brisbane bureau of the ABC’s 7.30 Report.

Peter Collins, leader of the Liberal Party in NSW for several years, was also a former ABC TV journalist.

Pru Goward, a Canberra-based high-profile ABC journalist, who reported on federal politics for several years.  She is currently the Liberal representative for the state seat of Goulburn, NSW.

Rob Messenger was an ABC radio broadcaster in Bundaberg.  He then went on to become the National Party member for Burnett in the Queensland Parliament. Earlier this year he bowed out of politics in order to run for mayor in his local electorate.

Grant Woodhams, National Party member for Greenough in WA, worked with ABC radio in Tasmania, South Australia, NSW and Victoria.

Eoin Cameron, the former Liberal member for the federal seat of Stirling, presents the breakfast program on ABC local radio in Perth.

Cameron Thompson worked for the ABC in Longreach and Darwin before winning the federal seat of Blair for the Liberal Party.

Scott Emerson, a former ABC journalist, won the Queensland state Parliament seat of Indooroopilly for the Liberal National Party.

Ian Cover, a member of the ABC’s Coodabeen Champions, served as a Liberal member of the Victorian Parliament between 1996 and 2002.

Peter McArthur, a former current affairs reporter and TV newsreader for the ABC, served several years in the Victorian state Parliament as a Liberal member.

Bruce Webster was a sports broadcaster for the ABC and later the Liberal member for Pittwater in the NSW Parliament.

Peter Kennedy, worked for ABC news then was later the unsuccessful liberal candiate for the seat of Bendigo.

And here are some of the ABC staff who went on to be Coalition staffers: Michael Duffy, presented Counterpoint on ABC’s Radio National, he now works for the NSW Liberal government. Chris Wordsworth, after resigning as ABC Queensland state director in 2008, became a Coalition staffer. Cathy Job, a current affairs presenter for ABC radio in Brisbane, became a media adviser to David Kemp after resigning from the ABC. Vicki Thompson, a senior political reporter for ABC radio in Adelaide, became chief of staff for John Olsen, Liberal premier of South Australia. Chris Nicholls, an Adelaide ABC journalist, went on to work for Liberal Senator Grant Chapman. Jim Bonner, after leaving the staff of Malcolm Fraser, held senior editorial positions with ABC radio and television in Canberra and Adelaide.  He later assumed the position of director of the Liberal Party in South Australia. Ken Crooke, state director of the National Party for 13 years, and a close associate of Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, was an ABC journalist before taking up his position with the National Party. 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. Josephine Cafagna, former State 7.30 Report presenter went onto become head of strategic communications for Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu. (And while it’s going the other way, we feel obliged to include ABC Managing Director Mark Scott on this list – in his younger times he worked for then NSW Liberal education minister Terry Metherell). Allen Callaghan, a former Brisbane ABC staffer, became the late Queensland premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersens media adviser.


*Know any more ex-ABC journalists who went on to a career with a political party? Any ex-ABC journalists go on to a career with the Greens? Let us know at and we’ll update the list.