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Female team: Ita Buttrose appointed ABC chair, with Kirstin Ferguson deputy

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It’s official. Ita Buttrose will be the next chair of the ABC, with Kirstin Ferguson staying on as deputy chair.

The news comes after reports earlier this week that Communications Minister Mitch Fifield had taken Buttrose’s name to Cabinet, which subsequently approved the appointment.

The ABC’s acting leadership endorsed Buttrose’s appointment last night, with acting MD David Anderson declaring her leadership “is welcomed” and current acting chair Ferguson noting the “valuable experience” she’ll bring to the ABC board.

While it’s not the first time a woman has led the ABC — Dame Leonie Kramer took on the role in the early 1980s — it is the first time the broadcaster has been led by an all female team at the top.

As we wrote earlier this week, Buttrose certainly has the experience to take on the role, having held high-profile editing and executive positions across publishing and television.

She is arguably Australia’s best known magazine editor and was named 2013 Australian of the Year. She’s known as a media trailblazer and innovator, especially for her time editing Cleo and The Australian Women’s Weekly, during the 1970s. She was recently a Studio 10 panellist with Ten Network alone with Nine’s morning Extra program, and has had an ABC miniseries made about her career. She has also served as president of Chief Executive Women, and as a director at New Limited and Australian Consolidated Press.

Ferguson has been acting chair of the ABC since former chair Justin Milne stood down in 2018. She holds a wide range of positions across ASX listed, private company and government boards. She is a former lawyer and air force office.

Buttrose will now serve a five-year term as chair, and is tasked with maintaining the independence and integrity of the ABC, among other things. Her role, enshrined in legislation, will also see her develop codes of practice, ensure all functions of the ABC are performed efficiently, and ensure its news and journalism is accurate, impartial and objective.

Only the Governor-General can fire the ABC chairperson, if advised by the Prime Minister.

Not everyone is happy with how the appointment was made.

Buttrose was not on the all male shortlist that had been presented to the government by global recruiter Korn Ferry following a five month search. That’s already seen former chair Maurice Newman complaining that the process has been “unfair”.

“If you don’t want to have a process, fine. Leave it up to the PM or the minister of the tea lady of whoever. Everyone knows that’s the basis of the selection. But I don’t really see the point of having a process that is not observed. It makes a mockery of it.” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Newman said his comments are “not a reflection” on Buttrose, but that the appointment made a “mockery” of the short list process.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended his decision to approve her as chair. “I’ve known Ita for a long time and I think she’s an extraordinary Australia,” he said. “There’s been few people more than Ita that I think have lifted the standards of journalism in this country, and I think that says a lot about her character and her abilities.”

Morrison expressed disappointment that no female candidates were shared on the recruiter’s shortlist.

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