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