Spot­light now shin­ing on cor­po­rate history of ABC’s stand- in chair

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - ANNETTE SHARP -

BURIED in the vol­umes of dis­patches pub­lished last week on the de­par­tures of ABC MD Michelle Guthrie and board chair­man Justin Milne was an item claim­ing that while Milne pressed the but­ton on Guthrie, it was the three fe­male ABC Board mem­bers who were happy to see her go.

The three women on the ABC’s eight-per­son board are Min­er­als Coun­cil of Aus­tralia chair Vanessa Guthrie, ABC staff di­rec­tor Jane Con­nors and the per­son who has since been in­stalled to steady the lead­er­less ship, SCA Prop­erty Group di­rec­tor Kirstin Fer­gu­son (in­set).

Fer­gu­son re­cently fin­ished co-au­thor­ing a book called Women Kind which pur­ports to, or so claims the book’s jacket, be a re­source help­ful to “un­lock­ing the power of women sup­port­ing women”. Ironic, much? Ac­cord­ing to pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial on the book, Fer­gu­son, who has a mil­i­tary back­ground, de­cided to lend her voice to the project, coau­thored by Cather­ine Fox, “to ex­am­ine how women’s shared clout is trans­form­ing com­mu­ni­ties, work­places and lead­er­ship; show that every woman is a role model; and chal­lenge the idea that women reg­u­larly turn on each other for scarce seats at the top ta­ble”.

Fer­gu­son’s in­terim ap­point­ment to the role as ABC act­ing chair­man in con­tro­ver­sial cir­cum­stances has brought into sharp fo­cus her cor­po­rate history.

In 2016 Fair­fax Me­dia pub­lished a re­port al­leg­ing that while serv­ing in the role of chair of the ethics com­mit­tee of the af­fil­i­ated Leighton Hold­ings, Fer­gu­son failed to pro­tect a whistle­blower who per­son­ally alerted her to a cor­rup­tion scan­dal in­side Thiess, the na­tion’s big­gest min­ing ser­vices com­pany. The whistle­blower was forced out of Thiess in 2014 and a con­fi­den­tial in­ter­nal cor­rup­tion in­quiry re­port, which in­cluded bribery claims re­lat­ing to an In­dian politi­cian, re­mained buried as a re­sult.

There was no sug­ges­tion Fer­gu­son was in­volved in the de­ci­sion to force the whistle­blower out. The whistle­blower sub­se­quently lodged a case in 2014 at Fair Work Com­mis­sion al­leg­ing their treat­ment was a pos­si­ble breach of Aus­tralian cor­po­rate laws. Thiess made a con­fi­den­tial pay­out as part of a set­tle­ment.

The fol­low­ing year in 2015 Fer­gu­son was ap­pointed to the ABC board where she is said to have been close to Milne.

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