Questioned the process that saw Vic Alhadeff appointed to the SBS Board and whether his position as an advocate for Israel might compromise SBS’s perceived impartiality.
Given that Mr Alhadeff has been, throughout his career, a prominent advocate for Israel, was there consideration that his appointment might compromise the SBS’s perceived impartiality with regard to international affairs? Was that taken into consideration?
Whole interaction with Mr Richard Windeyer (Deputy Secretary, Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications) and Senator Jane Hume (Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy) during Senate Estimates (Environment and Communications Legislation Committee, Communications and the Arts Portfolio).
Senator URQUHART: I just want to go to a couple of questions about a board appointment. I understand that Mr Vic Alhadeff was appointed to the SBS board earlier this month. Is that correct?
Mr Windeyer : I think he was appointed on 30 September.
Senator URQUHART: We’re now in October—time flies. I understand there is a legislated independent nominations panel appointed to make recommendations for appointments. Is that correct, Mr Windeyer?
Mr Windeyer : There is a nominations panel, yes.
Senator URQUHART: The PM&C website indicated that a secretariat supports this panel to undertake its work and, if required, a recruitment firm. Was a recruitment firm utilised in this case?
Mr Windeyer : Senator, just let me check. Mr Alhadeff was not recommended by the nomination panel for the vacancy. So he clearly did not come through a recruitment process run by the nomination panel. But what I don’t have in front of me is whether a recruitment firm was engaged for the purposes of running a process around that vacancy. I’m happy to take that on notice.
Senator URQUHART: Okay. So he didn’t come through that process, but you don’t know if a recruitment firm was utilised?
Mr Windeyer : No, I don’t. I’m very happy to take that on notice.
Senator URQUHART: Can you indicate the total budget of the nomination panel?
Mr Windeyer : The nomination panel process is, as you alluded to, run through PM&C, so I don’t have those details in front of me. But I am happy to take that on notice as well.
Senator URQUHART: Could you take that on notice and could you include any recruitment firms used and the secretariat services—so that total budget?
Mr Windeyer : Certainly, yes.
Senator URQUHART: You said that the nomination panel didn’t make recommendations and he wasn’t recommended by the panel. Can you tell me, in relation to the appointment, what process was undertaken to identify him as a suitable candidate if you didn’t in fact use the process?
Mr Windeyer : I think he was an appointment made by the government and identified by the government.
Senator URQUHART: Identified by the government?
Mr Windeyer : Yes.
Senator Hume: Which is something that the SBS Act allows—for the minister to make his own selections, pursuant to the requirements under the SBS Act. The minister has tabled reasons—
Senator URQUHART: Minister Hume, I can’t hear you. Could you speak up a little bit.
Senator Hume: I will lean into the microphone. Pursuant to the requirements of the SBS Act, the minister is not only allowed to make his own selection but has to table reasons for that selection—a statement of reasons—and he did that this earlier this week.
Senator URQUHART: So what were the reasons given?
Senator Hume: I haven’t got the document that he tabled in front of me, other than to say that Mr Alhadeff is clearly a very qualified individual. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the board. He’s a part-time consultant with the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies—
Senator URQUHART: Minister, I’m sorry; I’m not actually questioning his ability at all—
Senator Hume: I think this was in the statement of reasons and you asked me what was in the statement of reasons, so I’m just telling you. He’s also on the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and he’s a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He was previously the chair of Multicultural NSW, and he has extensive experience in both media and multicultural affairs, so I would imagine that he would add great value to the board of SBS.
Senator URQUHART: Right. Okay. Mr Windeyer?
Mr Windeyer : I was just going to say—I have just been advised—I don’t have the costs, but there was a recruitment process run and Watermark Search was the firm used with respect to the vacancy.
Senator URQUHART: For the vacancy, but not this appointment, so he didn’t go through that process? Is that what you’re saying?
Mr Windeyer : As we’ve explained, that’s correct. But we’ll come back; we’ll answer the question on costs.
Senator URQUHART: You’ll get me the costs on that. Given that Mr Alhadeff has been, throughout his career, a prominent advocate for Israel, was there consideration that his appointment might compromise the SBS’s perceived impartiality with regard to international affairs? Was that taken into consideration?
Senator Hume: What are you suggesting, Senator?
Senator URQUHART: Sorry?
Senator Hume: I’m just interested to know what you’re suggesting.
Senator URQUHART: I’m not suggesting anything. I’m asking a question. I am not suggesting anything. I’m asking the question.
CHAIR: What question are you asking? Can you repeat that, please?
Senator URQUHART: I said: given Mr Alhadeff has been, throughout his career, a prominent advocate for Israel, was their consideration that his appointment might compromise the SBS’s perceived impartiality in regard to international affairs?
Senator Hume: Who suggests that SBS has a perceived impartiality?
Senator URQUHART: It’s a question I’m asking.
Senato r Hume: But I’m wondering why you’re suggesting that SBS has perceived impartiality.
Senator URQUHART: I’m asking: because he’s been a very prominent advocate for Israel—
Senator Hume: As is the government.
Senator URQUHART: I beg your pardon?
Senator Hume: As is the government.
Senator URQUHART: Yes, I’m not suggesting that. I’m asking a question.
Senator Hume: I’m questioning the premise of your question. Are you suggesting that the SBS
Senator URQUHART: No, I’m not suggesting that.
Senator Hume: has some sort of inherent bias?
Senator URQUHART: I’m asking the question. Given that he’s been a prominent advocate for Israel, was there any consideration given to his appointment about the fact that it might compromise SBS’s perceived impartiality in regard to international affairs?
Senator Hume: Well, I don’t think there’s a perceived impartiality, so I don’t think that’s an appropriate question.
Senator URQUHART: Right. Okay. I understand that Mr Alhadeff was part of a meeting with the ABC managing director in June this year with the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and that their own press release prompted the ABC to issue their own clarifying press release stating that they had been misrepresented and they were deeply disappointed by their statements. Was this considered in identifying whether Mr Alhadeff was an appropriate candidate for a board of the multicultural national broadcaster? It either was considered or it wasn’t.
Senator Hume: Again, I’m not entirely sure why it would be considered.
Senator URQUHART: Okay. I’m asking: was it considered or not? It’s a very simple question.
Senator Hume: Well, I don’t suppose it is—I don’t think it is a simple question, because I don’t think it’s an appropriate premise.
Senator URQUHART: Minister, has Minister Fletcher received any correspondence from groups who are concerned about the appointment of Mr Alhadeff?
Senator Hume: I can’t answer that.
Senator URQUHART: Could you take it on notice?
Senator Hume: I can take it on notice, but I would imagine that board appointments are almost always contentious. There are an awful lot of community groups that would like to be represented on the SBS board.
Senator URQUHART: If you could take that on notice, and provide us with the groups, that would be great. What is the minister and SBS’s response to those concerns?
Senator Hume : Well, I don’t know whether there have been any concerns, so I can’t tell you what the responses—
Senator URQUHART: No, but you were going to take it on notice.
Senator Hume: Yes.
Senator URQUHART: Are you able to provide that on notice as well?
Senator Hume: Yes.