Ita Buttrose will not stand for a second term as the chair of the ABC when her five-year term ends in March next year.
Communications minister Michelle Rowland revealed the planned change at the top of the ABC on Tuesday and said that government would commence a selection process in due course.
Rowland said that Buttrose was “the right chair for the right time.”
“Ms Buttrose is a giant of Australia’s media industry, and the Government thanks her for her exemplary service as chair of the ABC. She has much to do in the remainder of her term and will leave the ABC stronger than when she was entrusted with the role in 2019,” Rowland said.
“She navigated the public broadcaster through a challenging period that included strident political criticism, the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing transformation of the ABC so it can remain an essential part of Australian life in the digital age.”
However, on Friday, Buttrose said that she was undecided about her future.
“I’m mulling it over,” she told ABC Melbourne’s Virginia Trioli, “I’ve found the ABC very challenging, but very enjoyable.
“The five years have gone by really quickly, but it’s a big decision to decide whether or not I’ll do another five years because I’ve got to be practical, I’m a woman of a certain age and while everything seems fine at the moment, life is full of unexpected detours and you never know how it’s going to turn out.”
A government spokesperson said that there was no timeframe for the selection process to begin but that the role would be advertised publicly.
The leading internal candidate for the new role is current ABC deputy chair Peter Tonagh. However, The Australian has reported that there is “already talk” that the Albanese government will look outside the organisation for the new chair.
Kim Williams, the son-in-law of the late PM Gough Whitlam, and one-time CEO of both Foxtel and News Corp Australia, is being touted as potential replacement given his media experience and “very Labor-friendly” standing.
Danny Gilbert, the co-founder of law firm Gilbert + Tobin, is also reportedly in the frame having been closely considered for the chair role when Malcolm Turnbull was PM.
Former comms minister Michael Lee is also considered to be a leading contender. However, Stephen Conroy, another former Labor comms minister is reportedly “not popular” with the current crop and therefore almost out of the running.
Gabrielle Trainor, AFL commissioner and former National Film and Sound Archive chair, is respected by both sides and has served on a raft of government infrastructure boards.
The independent selection panel appointing the new chair includes Daryl Karp, Helen Williams, Catherine Liddle and Derek Wilding.
Joseph Gersh was not reappointed to the ABC’s board earlier this year and Fiona Balfour stepped down in February after less than two years following pressure from Buttrose about her perceived conflict of interest having been chief information officer at Telstra.
The first order of business for the new ABC chair will be to make a decision on managing director David Anderson whose five-year tenure is up in May. Anderson has yet to say whether he will seek another term.
Two separate and “well-placed” sources have suggested to The Sydney Morning Herald that the Albanese government will look to have a say on the next chair. Albo has apparently grown frustrated with the broadcaster’s recent decision-making. Four of the last five ABC chairs have been Coalition appointments.
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