EXECUTIVE Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Peter Wertheim said on Wednesday that the Senate’s suspension of its inquiry into the complaints handling systems of the ABC and SBS – less than two weeks after it was announced – “is most unfortunate”.
A motion moved by Labor Senator Anne Urquhart to suspend the inquiry “in line with the request” by ABC chair Ita Buttrose, passed by just one vote on Tuesday afternoon after Liberal Senator Gerard Rennick withheld his vote as part of a continuing protest against his own government over vaccination mandates.
“One recalcitrant government senator declined to vote, and stated that he was withholding his vote for reasons which had nothing whatsoever to do with the ABC or SBS or the merits of the issue. That is an appalling degradation of the parliamentary process,” Wertheim said.
“No publicly funded entity should be above the scrutiny of the Australian people and parliament.”
As reported in The AJN last week, Australian Jewish roof bodies had welcomed the review citing the ABC’s historic failure to adequately address complaints over unbalanced and factually flawed reporting of Israel.
Calling it “a backward step for our democracy”, Senator Andrew Bragg, who announced the enquiry on November 12, said, “It sets a terrible precedent for the Senate to close public access, especially where more than a dozen submissions have already been received as evidence.
“While I am disappointed with the result, I respect the Senate’s right to do so but reserve my right to undertake additional steps.
“The inquiry has already received several sensitive but critical submissions. We must not close the door on these Australians.”
The Australia Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) said it was “disappointed” by the decision, noting that the Senate “is a more than appropriate place to explore all the issues relating to such a complaints procedure and hear from all interested parties under parliamentary privilege”.
“AIJAC supports a strong, vibrant and independent ABC – but this requires a truly independent and external complaints handling body, and the current internal system is not genuinely independent and is unable to provide procedural fairness to complainants,” AIJAC executive director Colin Rubenstein said.
He added, “AIJAC continues to look forward to offering our input to the ABC’s inquiry – and hopefully to a best practice complaints handling mechanism being established for both our public broadcasters as the end result of the process.”