On the boards of corporate Australia, the same names seem to come up often. CEOs, lawyers and investment bankers are frequent go-tos for headhunters after a name that will fit comfortably and respectably on the boards they’re filling. The ABC’s board, with a few exceptions largely fits this model. But the two women named to join it yesterday, to differing degrees, break the mould.

Both women have active social media presences, which is unusual in corporate board land, and neither is based in Melbourne or Sydney.

In filling the two vacancies on the board, the government was keen to ensure a geographic spread of candidates. Kirstin Ferguson is from Queensland, while Donny Walford is from South Australia.

Ferguson’s background is mostly in the resources industry. A former air force officer, she was CEO of Sentis, a health and safety consultancy for the mining and resources industry. When she stepped down from that role in 2010, she embarked on a corporate board career, beginning on the boards of mining and utilities companies like Dart Energy and Sunwater. Since 2013, she’s been a director of the Queensland Theatre Company. Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said in a statement she was the most highly recommended member by the “independent board nominations panel”, but had withdrawn due to “other commitments”. She was convinced to reconsider.

Donny Walford, the other new director, has a lower profile. She’s the managing director of boutique management consultancy Bottom Line Transition Strategies and its sister company Behind Closed Doors, which aims to help women get on boards. Her early career was in finance — she spent nearly two decades at BankSA (now owned by Westpac). She wasn’t suggested by the nominations panel at all, but was appointed directly by the government. It’s the first time the government has side-stepped the independent nominations panel, intended to ensure non-political appointments to the boards of the ABC and SBS. It turns out despite all the fuss about who was on the panel, it’s simple to bypass  — the minister just needs to issue a statement in parliament within two weeks explaining how the new appointee fits the selection criteria. A spokeswomen for the minister told Crikey:

Under s24(x) of the Australian Broadcasting Act 1983 it is open to the Minister to appoint a person other than a person nominated by the Nomination Panel. The Government is always on the lookout for talented individuals to potentially serve on Australian Government boards.”

In the announcement, Fifield said that the appointment of the two women took the ABC to 44.4% female representation, from its previous 33.3%. “The geographic representation is now also better balanced, with new representatives from Queensland and South Australia joining representatives from New South Wales (four members), Victoria (one member), Tasmania (one member) and Western Australia (one member).”

Neither women have much experience in the media, though this isn’t unusual for the ABC board. They’ll help pick the new managing director early next year.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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