Prominent ABC current affairs presenter and editor, Stan Grant, is the featured speaker at an $85 a head dinner scheduled for April, co-hosted by a branch of the NSW ALP, to honour former Labor leader, H V Evatt.
The speaking engagement has the potential to ignite controversy akin to that caused by former Trade Union Royal Commissioner Dyson Heydon agreeing to deliver a lecture for a Liberal Party event in 2015 to honour Evatt’s contemporary and rival, Sir Garfield Barwick. In the face of widespread criticism, Heydon eventually withdrew from the Lecture, and later ruled against an application that he stand down from the Royal Commission.
Complicating the situation is the ABC’s own Editorial Guidance Note on “External Work and Editorial Conflicts”, issued in July 2016, which, if applied strictly, appears to rule out approval for Grant’s participation, given his role and profile and the nature of the event and its hosts.
While a Lecture to honour Dr Evatt has long been associated with the Evatt Foundation, since 2012 the event has been promoted as a “Memorial Dinner”, held in association with the Katoomba branch of the ALP. Previous speakers in this period have included John Faulkner, Tanya Plibersek and Julian Burnside.
In various flyers for the Dinners over the years, including this year’s event with Grant, the order of hosting has been the ALP branch first and the Evatt Foundation second.
While not formally aligned with the ALP, the Evatt Foundation has a long standing association with progressive politics and the labour movement. Established in 1979 to honour Dr Evatt, and his accomplishments in politics, law and foreign affairs, it received Commonwealth funding from 1984 to 1999. It is now affiliated with the University of Sydney. Four current or former Labor Federal and state MPs currently serve on its Executive Committee.
Performing as MC for the Dinner since it has been co-hosted by the ALP branch have been local Labor luminaries including former Minister Bob Debus, state MP Trish Doyle and Senator Doug Cameron. This year’s MC is Susan Templeman, the Federal Labor MP for Macqaurie.
The dinner is scheduled for 22 April at the Carrington Hotel, Katoomba.
Grant, a journalist and author, joined the ABC in December 2016 as a presenter and Indigenous Affairs Coverage Editor. His new current affairs show, The Link, filling the Friday 7.30pm slot, premiered on 3 March. Prior to that, he was the stand in presenter for the ABC’s leading television current affairs program, 7.30, while Leigh Sales was on leave.
In July 2016, the ABC adopted an Editorial Guidance Note to address the potential for editorial conflicts arising from external engagements outside the ABC.
The Guidance Note defines “external work” as any work “paid or unpaid” (which it highlights in bold), including as an example, “delivering a speech (excluding, of course, personal speeches on social or family occasions)”.
The Guidance Note goes on to nominate those ABC staff considered to be “very high risk” in terms of external work, being “high profile on-air presenters, reporters and editorial leaders [who] are most closely associated with the ABC. Their involvement in outside work is very high risk.”
The Guidance Note states that:
“any work for political parties is extremely high risk and is unlikely to be approved except in exceptional circumstances.” (My emphasis).
It further notes that:
“Work for lobby groups, campaign organisations, unions and large public companies is high risk.
Think tanks, activist NGOs, low profile companies are moderate to high risk, depending on how controversial or politically partisan an organisation is or is perceived to be.”
To “quantify” the risk to the ABC, a series of values has been allocated to each of the risk ratings, from “no risk” being rated 0, low risk as 1, moderate risk being valued at 2/3, high risk as 4, very high risk as 5 and extremely high risk as 10.
A score is calculated from the various elements associated with the nature of the work and the staff member’s role at the ABC. According to the Guidance Note, a score above 15 means that the engagement is unlikely to be approved.
Grant’s role at the ABC as a presenter and editorial leader would fall within “very high risk”, meaning a 5, while the involvement of a political party, being extremely high risk would mean a 10, while the profile of the Evatt Foundation might mean a rating within the “moderate to high” risk category, between 2 and 4. With these elements alone, the overall risk rating is at least 17. Additional issues around the content of the speech would only add to the score.
A discount is given if the work offers a potential benefit in terms of raising the ABC’s profile or adding to the public debate. In the Guidance Note an example of such a benefit is given a value of -2, meaning Grant’s reduced risk score would still be at least 15.
In response to a number of questions concerning the event and the Editorial Guidance Note asked earlier today, an ABC spokesperson has advised:
The ABC’s editorial and external work policies do apply to Mr Grant. Though the HV Evatt Memorial Dinner is organised in part by a branch of the ALP, it is a non-party political event and is not a fundraiser for either organisation. Mr Grant’s address to the dinner will look at issues of identity and the emergence of the Indigenous middle class – the same themes explored in his recent Quarterly Essay. Mr Grant gives many speeches to groups from across the political spectrum.