17 November 2021
Subjects: ABC Inquiry
Patricia Karvelas: Senator Bragg joins me now. Welcome.
Senator Bragg: Hi PK.
Patricia Karvelas: Why do you think the Senate needs to allocate resources to this inquiry when the ABC has already initiated its own independent review?
Senator Bragg: PK, the ABC does a very good job, but it can also always do better. And one of the issues that has been canvassed widely has been the approach the ABC takes to complaints handling. And so that's why the Senate has decided to look at the way the ABC reviews its complaints.
Patricia Karvelas: John McMillan was appointed Commonwealth Ombudsman by former Prime Minister John Howard in 2002 and had his term extended by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008. He was then appointed New South Wales Ombudsman by former Premier Mike Baird. Are you really questioning his independence given his record? He's responsible for the ABC's inquiry.
Senator Bragg: I very much welcome the ABC's initiatives here, but the Senate has stronger powers and has some important design features which I believe will ensure that there is a stronger and better inquiry. And that includes legal privilege to people who want to make submissions. It includes public hearings, and it includes a report that won't be given to the ABC's board. So I think it is a welcome initiative by the ABC, but I think the two reviews can be very complementary.
Patricia Karvelas: You met with Mr. Mcmillan and Jim Carroll. Did you disclose to them your intention to initiate this Senate inquiry?
Senator Bragg: I had a very good meeting with the two reviewers, and it was something that I had considered could be useful, but I would say...
Patricia Karvelas: Did you tell them?
Senator Bragg: Well, I hadn't made a final decision at that point. I mean, it was something that we were still considering.
Patricia Karvelas: Why wouldn't you mention it to them if you met them though?
Senator Bragg: Well we were having a discussion in my role as a Senator and the Senate can decide what it wants to do in terms of the review of government entities. And my judgement is that there are things that the Senate can do that an internal review cannot achieve. Now, there are people who want to have legal privilege on their submissions. There are people who want to have their say to public hearing, and those things are not currently available to the internal review.
Patricia Karvelas: Did you consult about a Senate inquiry with the Communications Minister or the Prime Minister?
Senator Bragg: Well, I'm always talking to colleagues, but ultimately, this is a judgement for the Senate.
Patricia Karvelas: But did you consult with them?
Senator Bragg: I'm always talking to colleagues. I'm not going to go into private…
Patricia Karvelas: Well I'll tell you why I'm asking Senator Bragg, it's because the Australian newspaper says you went rogue. Did you go rogue?
Senator Bragg: Well, the Senate is required under the Constitution to perform a review function, and the Senate is performing that function in relation to a range of government bodies at the moment, through the legislation committees. And this is a new inquiry, which I think can add a great deal to our debate and our deliberation about complaints handling.
Patricia Karvelas: Did you go rogue, though? When did you notify the communications Minister about this inquiry?
Senator Bragg: I'm not sure what you mean about the Senate going rogue? I mean, the Senate reviews government agencies all the time.
Patricia Karvelas: Okay. Well, I'm referring to the report in The Australian, which I bet you read, did you?
Senator Bragg: Well, I'm not going to go into private conversations. I don't think you'd expect me to do that. What I can say is, of course, I consult with colleagues, but the Senate has a role under the Constitution to perform a review function. And I think you would generally welcome that, given that it's been able to provide scrutiny of Government Department scrutiny of government agencies. And it does that on a regular basis, most notably through Senate estimates.
Patricia Karvelas: Okay, have you had any other conversations with other media organisations about a Senate inquiry before it was announced? Did you, for example, discuss the issue with any News Corp or nine representatives?
Senator Bragg: No.
Patricia Karvelas: You didn't?
Senator Bragg: No.
Patricia Karvelas: Okay. Given your own complaints about the ABC, Senator Bragg and public comments, how can you claim to be independent?
Senator Bragg: Well, I'm a Senator for New South Wales, so I have obligations to my constituents. I'm also a chair of a committee on communications, and that committee has formed a view that we should respond to community concerns. So the community concerns here are from veterans groups, multicultural groups, individuals who want to have their voice heard. So I think this is an avenue to allow these Australians to have their say about a complaints function that they obviously care about.
Patricia Karvelas: Okay. When was the last time a legislation committee controlled by the government inquired into one of its own agencies? There's a number already underway right now isn't normal practise to use a legislation committee rather than a references committee, though, to conduct an inquiry of this sort?
Senator Bragg: It is very normal. And there are a number of these inquiries right now, and there's been a number of them in recent years. I myself participated in an inquiry into the performance of the Inspector-General of Taxation with the Economics legislation Committee.
Patricia Karvelas: Well, they're usually used on a bipartisan basis, right?
Senator Bragg: Well, the committees facilitate a whole range of inquiries. For example, the government Senators are required to facilitate Senate estimates, which provides opposition parties with an opportunity to pursue their lines of inquiry. And the same courtesies are extended to government centres.
Patricia Karvelas: Okay. What's your response to Ita Buttrose, I mean, the Prime Minister says Australians trust Ita. She says this is political interference. What do you say to Ita Buttrose? Are you concerned that she thinks that you're politically interfering into the ABC?
Senator Bragg: Well, I respect the chair. I respect the ABC. I think ABC does a very good job.
Patricia Karvelas: So what do you say to her complaint that you are interfering into the ABC's independence?
Senator Bragg: Well, I support the ABC's editorial independence, which is established in the ABC's act and also in the editorial standards. And I am a strong defender of that. But that is a separate issue to the complaints handling function, which I don't think has been run as well as it could have. And so we're going to look at how that can be improved. At SBS, for example, they have an independent Ombudsman and they seem to have had a stronger track record of addressing complaints to the community satisfaction. So this is a surgical inquiry into complaints handling, it has nothing to do with independence.
Patricia Karvelas: Okay, so should we trust Ita or should we trust you, Senator?
Senator Bragg: I don't think you need to make a judgement here. I mean, I think ultimately the committee will do its work. It will put forward recommendations, I imagine that could enhance the complaint handling function. And I think every organisation can always be improved, even one as successful as the ABC.
Patricia Karvelas: Well, yes, this show has been very successful at asking you some hard questions! Senator, thank you.
Senator Bragg: That's why I've been a regular guest. Okay, thanks.
Patricia Karvelas: I appreciate your time. That's Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg.
Charlotte Mortlock 0401 392 624