A government investigation into the events surrounding the exit of Michelle Guthrie and Justin Milne from the ABC has failed to draw any conclusions about Board interference into editorial, nor why she was sacked.
Secretary of the Department of Communications and the Arts, Mike Mrdak met with former managing director Michelle Guthrie, former Chairman Justin Milne and current Acting Managing Director David Anderson for his 9 page report.
None of the current Board were interviewed, Fairfax reports.
Mitch Fifield was told Milne had lost confidence in Guthrie on September 12, twelve days before her exit on September 24. The next day, Milne asked Guthrie to resign, but she refused.
2 days before her dismissal Guthrie wrote an 11 page dossier to the Board outlining concerns about Milne’s claiming interference in the independence of the ABC. She warned the board that if it sacked her, it would be viewed as retribution for her disclosure.
That document was not available to the investigation.
“I have never in any way, shape or form sought to involve myself in staffing matters, nor am I aware of any current or former member of the government seeking to do so,” Fifield told the Senate today.
“The then-chair spoke to me in Canberra on September 12 to advise that the board no longer believed the managing director was best placed to lead the organisation.
“He further advised that he would be conveying this to the managing director on behalf of the board the following day.
“Although not sure where this matter would land, he hoped that a mutually agreeable path could be found. I indicated to the chair that I respected the managing director’s position was, under the legislation, a matter for the board.
“Given the uncertainty as to how this would conclude, and out of respect for the privacy of the managing director, I undertook to not further convey that information at that time.”
On the question of whether Emma Alberici and Andrew Probyn matters played a direct role in her downfall, Mrdak wrote: “The Chair did write an email to the MD on 8 May 2018 regarding Ms Alberici and the termination of her employment.
“The Chair also conveyed his views on the Probyn report to the MD including in a specific phone conversation.”
The report stated Milne did not consider the email about Alberici to be a direction to sack her, and said he did not recall saying Guthrie had to “shoot” Probyn.
“The Chair acknowledges that there was a heated disagreement with the MD on the call,” Mrdak wrote.
“The MD considers that this was an angry and upsetting phone call from the Chair where she felt significant pressure to terminate Mr Probyn’s employment.”
The Secretary said the inquiry could not determine whether Guthrie standing firm against Milne’s demands was a factor in her losing her own job, ABC reports.
He found “no basis to support the media suggestion” that former PM Malcolm Turnbull or other government ministers told Milne or Guthrie to sack political editor Andrew Probyn or chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici.
Another “confidential” review is still underway via an external, independent investigator over issues she raised in her letter to the board.
Meanwhile The Australian reports a rumoured Four Corners episode on the whole sorry saga is dividing staff, even suggesting it is having trouble assigning a reporter.
ABC is not commenting on whether an episode is planned. Four Corners executive producer Sally Neighbour tweeted “excellent decision” immediately after Guthrie’s firing.