Virginia Trioli: Senator Andrew Bragg joins us this morning. He's a Senator for New South Wales. Senator Bragg, good to talk to you again. Good morning.
Senator Bragg: Hi, Virginia. How are you?
Virginia Trioli: I'm well, whose idea was this inquiry?
Senator Bragg: Well, it was my idea, and I think when you listen to a lot of community feedback, it's a politician's responsibility to respond to that. And there's been quite a lot of concern from different community groups about the way that the ABC has handled complaints. So as a supporter of the ABC, I'd like to see those complaints handled in a better and stronger way.
Virginia Trioli: You said in your statement accompanying the announcement, quote, “Having made extensive complaints myself, I'm concerned complaints are not being seriously addressed”. So does that mean you've called an inquiry into the national broadcaster because you haven't managed to get any of your personal complaints up? Is this all about you?
Senator Bragg: Well, as I said, I'm a big supporter of the ABC. I think it does a very good job. But I'm concerned about the level of community concern here, in particular Virginia, because people feel that they make complaints, and they don't go anywhere. So whether you're a veterans group or multicultural group or individual that has raised an issue, I think we need to look into what these people and these groups are saying.
Virginia Trioli: This is what Ita Buttrose had to say about what you've done. She said this this morning on our RN. (Plays soundbite) “Why didn't Senator Bragg give me a call if he has a problem with the ABC?” If you're such a supporter of the ABC, and you've got a problem with the ABC, why didn't you pick up the phone and call her?
Senator Bragg: As you know, the Senate is responsible for reviewing government agencies and departments and organisations, and this is part of what the Senate does. It's a house of review. We're regularly looking into government bodies,and that's what we're doing at the moment with this particular inquiry into complaints handling. So I think it's a pretty run of the mill thing for the Senate to do.
Virginia Trioli: She said it's highly unusual. She made the point it's highly unusual for a committee like yours to decide to investigate one of its own agencies. Normally, if something like this is to go ahead in this way,it would actually require a vote in the Senate.
Senator Bragg: Well, the Senate is always looking into the operation and efficiency of government entities, and we're doing it at the moment, into the ABC, we'redoing it into the SBS. We're looking at the ACMA. There are a whole range of reviews and inquiries across the Senate, which look into government agencies,and that’s part of the scrutiny of the government.
Virginia Trioli: But not in this way. She made the clear and a distinct point about the manner in which you've called it is highly unusual. So you seem to be sort of standing a bit alone and isolated on some high ground here,Senator Bragg, and we read in the paper this morning in The Australian, no less, that apparently you've been rapped over the knuckles by the Prime Minister's office at the weekend over this, have you?
Senator Bragg: Look, I think it's pretty simple here. There is community concern about the complaints handling function of a government agency, and the Senate is responding to that community concern. The Senate's job is to be a house of review and to look into government agencies. I mean, are people seriously suggesting that the Senate shouldn't be looking into issues that have been raised by the community about government agencies?
Virginia Trioli: I'll get to that in a moment. But just to answer that question, did the Prime Minister have a word to you about you calling this committee and was he displeased?
Senator Bragg: No. And I'm always talking to colleagues, but I mean, these are judgements for the Senate. The Senate is accountable to the people, and the Senate has made this judgement to have this surgical inquiry. I think it'll give people a voice that are otherwise not going to have a say about the issues.
Virginia Trioli: There's an independent inquiry that's already been called by the board of the ABC. And, of course, that board is chaired by Ita Buttrose, who was appointed by the Prime Minister, the same person who was reported today to be cross with you about this. Why is that not enough? Why does it make yours necessary, too?
Senator Bragg: The ABC's inquiry is an internal review because.
Virginia Trioli: I have to jump in there. It is independently held by two outside people, a former Commonwealth Ombudsman, no less.
Senator Bragg: That’s fine. So that particular inquiry will report to the ABC's board.And my view is the Senate has stronger powers to look into these issues and to do it in a more independent fashion. And so that's why my judgement is that the Senate can give people a say through public hearings and the like. And that is important. And that is something that wouldn't be possible in an internal review.
Virginia Trioli: Well, let's test that idea of independence. You say you're a regular complainant about the ABC. Have any of your complaints been upheld?
Senator Bragg: There have been, I think there are about a dozen complaints that I've made. There may be one or two where there have been some corrections made.
Virginia Trioli: And the rest were dismissed? If they were dismissed, that sort of calls into question your independence, doesn't it? That almost makes you a borderline vexatious complainant, doesn't it, Senator?
Senator Bragg: Well, I'm responding to community concerns. That's the principal driver here. There are veterans’ groups. There are multicultural groups, individuals that are unhappy with the ABC complaints handling function. And they'll be able to make a submission and appear at a public hearing and make their voice heard.And I wonder why anyone would want to close that down. That’s beyond me.
Virginia Trioli: Did you do much consultation with the Communications Minister Paul Fletcher about this, Senator?
Senator Bragg: I always consult with colleagues informally, but ultimately, this is a judgement. Senate is a house of review and has made its judgement to look into these matters. And I look forward to receiving the submissions.
Virginia Trioli: The Age today has described you as a publicity craver. I don't know how you respond to that. Does this move give you the attention that you apparently seek?
Senator Bragg: This is about responding to community concerns. I'm a supporter of the ABC, as you know, I want the ABC to be as good as it can be. And I think this is a good opportunity for us to listen to people and consider some targeted changes to the complaints handling function. I mean, at the moment, the complaint handling function is not independent. And the amount and the volume of claims that have been raised or issues that have been raised about it, I think warrants a Senate inquiry. That's what the Senate is there to do.
Virginia Trioli: It's really good to talk to you. And I know you are a supporter of the ABC, so Senator, we will look forward to having you on the program again. Thank you for your time.
SenatorBragg: Thank you, Virginia. Bye.
Charlotte Mortlock 0401 392 624