David Anderson had his first Senate Estimates appearance yesterday, a month to the day after he was installed as ABC acting managing director.
He got a grilling from repeated ABC opponent Eric Abetz, reminiscent of Michelle Guthrie’s interrogation just days after she assumed the top job.
Anderson opened with a gallant nod to ABC’s endurance and independence.
“It is the distinctive content that makes the ABC unique and a priceless national asset,” he said.
“While the recent weeks have been testing, I am very proud of the passion and energy shown by our 4000 employees. They have not been distracted. They remain committed to serving Australians.”
He noted ABC management strived “to maximise every dollar spent on audiences and to plough efficiency savings into content.”
Anderson told Senator Sarah Hanson-Young that Michelle Guthrie’s termination last month took him aback.
“To be honest, it was extraordinary, and yes I was surprised,” he said yesterday.
Guthrie’s performance was not discussed with him ahead of her firing and nor did he raise it.
But headlines are swirling around discussions of redundancy when he told the Senate committee, “I have had discussion with my former managing director a number of times over the course of the year,” Anderson said. “Redundancy did come up in the conversation.”
In a statement later, Abetz questioned his suitability for a management position.
“This is extremely troubling and inappropriate conduct which brings into question Mr Anderson’s judgment and fitness to continue in the substantiative Managing Director’s role. As someone with decades of employment at the ABC who was on an executive salary, a redundancy payout could have been well over a quarter of a million dollars,” he said.
Anderson also said that he did not recall department secretary Mike Mrdak specifically requesting to see the 11-page ‘Guthrie dossier’ given to the ABC board by Guthrie two days before she was fired. He said he sought legal advice about handing over the document, and declined because it was “a confidential document between the former managing director and the board”.
It was later leaked to Fairfax Media. Guthrie has since instigated legal proceedings over unfair dismissal.