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Wednesday, 10 June 2015

AFTRS and after Sandra Levy (4) - George Brandis's spin doctor beats up on Film Alert

George Brandis handling pressure
A little while ago I reported to devoted readers the state of play regarding the appointment of a new Chief Executive Officer to the Australian Film Television and Radio School. The first of several stories can be found here and it has links to an excellent piece by the esteemed Paddy Gourley in the Canberra Times. The key paras that mattered are as follows:

Paddy has discovered one film industry related case in point, the appointment of the next Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Film and Television School. The story is spelt out in a little detail on the link provided above. The Act of Parliament (1973) governing the AFTRS clearly states in S24 (1): “There shall be a Director of the School, who shall be appointed by the Governor‑General on the recommendation of the Council.”. What attracts attention in Paddy’s piece about this particular appointment process is the advice he was given when preparing his story that “…The Minister for the Arts will approve the final appointment but will not be actively involved in the initial process of assessment and recommendation but that he did not wish to comment on any other aspects of the process.”  (That’s my underlining.)

This ought to be of interest to those who want AFTRS to be as good as it possibly can be because it would seem to imply that George Brandis can exercise a veto over the appointment. Why he would want to take such action is mysterious given the process that has been followed and which Paddy spells out. As for "active involvement" whether any delicate negotiations about the final nominee have taken place between Brandis, his private office, his various Departments (the statement quoted above was made by a spokesperson for the Attorney-General’s Department, not the Department of the Arts), and the Council and officers of the AFTRS is of course not known. Maybe there's nothing to see here or maybe things  will never be known. There's just enough slippery language here to make you want someone to press the issue with George when Senate Estimates come round just to see if he thinks he really can intervene in any way in the appointment. If he does believe that it would be something with serious ramifications for other agencies in his portfolio which have similar provisions for the appointment of a Chief Executive.

That seemed interesting enough. Then AFTRS decided to let go its head of Degree Programs  Ben Gibson. Then....nothing. Notwithstanding that Sandra Levy’s appointment comes to an end in twenty days, nada, niente, rien du tout.  Do I make myself clear. In the spirit of Woodward & Bernstein, Film Alert decided to take on the powers that be and investigate this matter. The following questions were sent to George Brandis’s office requesting immediate attention.

When does Senator Brandis expect to make an announcement of the AFTRS CEO?

Has Senator Brandis personally met or interviewed the proposed candidate? If not Does Senator Brandis intend to meet or interview the proposed AFTRS CEO before submitting the name to the G-G for the signing of the instrument of appointment?

Is it intended that the Prime Minister will meet the intended appointee before the instrument is submitted to the G-G? Has such a meeting taken place?

Simple enough you might say. So after first getting no answer and then being advised that an out-of-office acknowledgement may have been sent, I was promised an answer. And that’s what I got. viz this reply received from Amy Symons, Arts Communication Advisor from the Attorney-General’s Department (talk about getting to the top, no I wont)
Anyway Amy advises:

The Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) is currently conducting a recruitment process for the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
As AFTRS is a Government agency within the arts portfolio, the Minister for the Arts will approve the final appointment but will not be actively involved in the initial process of assessment and recommendation.
Under legislation (Australian Film, Television and Radio School Act 1973) the CEO is appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the AFTRS Council.

Amazingly it is the same answer as was given to Paddy Gourley lo all those weeks ago, 

This is in fact wrong in several material respects and causes me to state the following.

1.      AFTRS is NOT currently conducting a recruitment process. It has in fact done that long ago and submitted the result to the Attorney-General/Arts Minister
2.      The AFTRS ACT has no provision which allows for the Minister to ‘approve’ the appointment
3.      Just in case you hadn’t noticed, Amy has not answered any of my questions.
4.      Film Alert has been belted out of the ball park.

5.      This will be remembered.

1 comment:

  1. I'm surprised she didn't add that the government has an open mind on the future of AFTRS, however, should it decide at some stage in the future that it is necessary or desirable to alter the CEO appointment process, it may prepare legislation in relation to this or any other relevant matter(s) for due consideration by both Houses Of Parliament.

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