Communications Minister Mitch Fifield finally announced two new appointments to the ABC board yesterday, as there had been two empty chairs since June last year. In a nod to “gender and geographic diversity” both the directors appointed were women, one from Western Australia and the other from Queensland. Eyebrows were raised at the appointment of Dr Vanessa Guthrie (no relation to ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie), who is also chair of the Minerals Council of Australia. That’s the same Minerals Council that sent Treasurer Scott Morrison a lump of coal to take into question time. Guthrie was featured in the Australian Financial Review last year, where she said she was concerned about social activists attacking the mining sector:

“It is severely under attack from social activism. It needs all the help it can get. But it means that the rest of the minerals industry gets somewhat tarnished by the coal debate and I think unfairly.”

“I think coal is under attack unfairly so, even though I am a very strong advocate of clean energy and renewables, but coal has a role as does uranium and nuclear power.”

As well as defending coal, Guthrie had this to say about the activists and social media:

“Every social activist uses a mobile phone and tweets. Where do you think a mobile phone comes from?”

“Sixty-one minerals are in a mobile phone. Sixty-one different elements that the world mines to produce mobile phones are in there. Without mining you wouldn’t have an iPhone. And how do you think it gets powered?”

“Most people go and get their information from Twitter or Facebook today and once it’s been tweeted it’s the truth apparently.”

“Somebody tweets that we at Toro are polluting rivers and killing babies, well there is nothing I can do about it. The fact that things get tweeted with no integrity, no facts, no research behind them frustrates me.”

The interview took place just as Donald Trump was elected president, about whom she said “it’s a wait and see” and “domestically it could be quite good for nuclear power and coal”. The ABC has been constantly criticised for not having enough conservative voices and for being biased against the coal industry. Guthrie was appointed by the government even though she wasn’t on the shortlist of recommendations from the nominations panel, but she was “identified by the Government as having the requisite skills to be a suitable appointment to the Board”.

Guthrie and her fellow new board appointee Georgina Somerset could have some interesting insights from the regions, an area where the managing director has been questioned before.

Peter Fray

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