Vanessa Guthrie has been appointed to the ABC board. Photo: Philip GostelowThe Turnbull government has overruled an independent selection panel to appoint the chairwoman of the Minerals Council to the ABC board.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said Vanessa Guthrie has the “requisite skills” to be on the board, despite not making the final list of recommendations put forward by the Nomination Panel for ABC and SBS Board Appointments.
The five-year appointment comes amid heated political debate about the role of fossil fuels and renewable energy in , and follows government criticism of the public broadcaster’s coverage of coal mining and energy security.
The Perth-based Dr Guthrie has more than 30 years of experience in the mining and resources industries, holding a variety of senior executive roles at Alcoa, Woodside Energy and Goldfields Limited.
She was WA’s first female mine manager and eventually rose to the rank of managing director and chief executive officer of Toro Energy, a job she left last year. She is the first female chair of the Minerals Council, one of the most powerful lobby groups in the land.
The government on Monday also announced the appointment to the board of Queensland rural leader and cattle farming businesswoman, Georgina Somerset. She was recommended by the nominations panel.
“Dr Guthrie also participated in the nomination panel process and whilst not on the panel’s final list of recommendations, was identified by the government as having the requisite skills to be a suitable appointment to the board,” Senator Fifield said.
“In making appointments, the government has been conscious of the need to ensure a balanced geographic and gender representation on the board.”
Both appointees bring “exceptional skills, background and expertise” and their appointments were consistent with legislation, he said.
The government has been fiercely critical of the ABC’s coverage of energy, with Resources Minister Matt Canavan accusing it in December of running “fake news” as part of a campaign against the proposed Adani coalmine in Queensland.
The ABC was also accused of bias against the NSW Shenhua coal mine proposal but was cleared by a review.
The Institute of Public Affairs – which has spawned a number of Coalition MPs – claims the ABC has a “systemic bias”, giving the renewable energy industry favourable coverage but showing hostility towards coal and other fossil fuels.
In an interview with the n Financial Review last year, Dr Guthrie attacked social media activism against fossil fuels, taking aim at “inner-city smashed avocado eaters” for unfairly targeting coal and the minerals industry more broadly.
“Every social activist uses a mobile phone and tweets. Where do you think a mobile phone comes from?” she said. “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?”
Dr Guthrie also said she is a “strong advocate of clean energy and renewables”.
Labor frontbencher Mark Dreyfus said the ABC should be above politics and called on Senator Fifield to explain why the panel’s recommendations were disregarded.
“The n people deserve to know whose idea it was to appoint the head of a mining lobby group to the ABC board and why Dr Guthrie merits the appointment,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Senator Fifield said while the panel makes recommendations, it is ultimately the government that makes appointments and has the responsibility to ensure there is the right mix of skills, geography and gender.
It’s understood five of the panel’s eight recommendations were from NSW, which is already well represented on the board. There were none from WA.
The ABC board last year appointed Michelle Guthrie – no relation – as managing director of the ABC. The former Google and Murdoch executive’s time at the top has been controversial due to changes to structure and programming.
The government will soon consider a separate nomination panel report on the position of the ABC chairperson.
The government also announced academic Sally Walker and former Medibank Private boss George Savvides will join the SBS board.
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