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Ita Buttrose walks away from ‘challenging’ ABC top job – so who could replace her?


Ita Buttrose will walk away from being ABC chair in March after deciding not to seek another term after five ‘challenging’ years in the role, the Albanese government has revealed. 

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland made the shock announcement on Tuesday. 

‘Ms Buttrose is a giant of Australia’s media industry, and the government thanks her for her exemplary service as chair of the ABC,’ Rowland said in paying tribute to the media icon’s time as head of the national public broadcaster.

As late as last Friday Buttrose, 81, told ABC radio that she was still deciding on whether to put her hand up for another five-year term.

‘I’m mulling it over,’ Buttrose told Melbourne morning host Virginia Trioli. 

‘I’ve found the ABC very challenging, but very enjoyable.’

ABC Chair Ita Buttrose will not be seeking another five years at the helm of the national public broadcaster

ABC Chair Ita Buttrose will not be seeking another five years at the helm of the national public broadcaster

‘The five years have gone by really quickly, but it’s a big decision to decide whether or not I’ll do another five years because I’ve got to be practical.

‘I’m a woman of a certain age and while everything seems fine at the moment, life is full of unexpected detours and you never know how it’s going to turn out.’ 

Buttrose’s departure is already fuelling speculation over who will take over one of the nation’s most prestigious and high-profile media roles. 

A likely successor from inside the organisation would be ABC deputy chair Peter Tonagh but the Labor government make seek to put its own stamp on the broadcaster.

However, the Albanese government might use the opportunity to put more of their stamp on the organisation, with two other board seats also up for grabs having recently been vacated.

Former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard is one of the name being bandied as a possible successor as ABC Chair

Former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard is one of the name being bandied as a possible successor as ABC Chair

The new chair may also have to pick a new managing director with David Anderson’s five-year tenure up in May.

Mr Anderson has not indicated whether he will seek another term. 

If Labor were to pick one of their own some possible candidates include former prime minister Julia Gillard, former Opposition leader Kim Beazley and former Queensland Premier Anna Bligh. 

Two former Labor communications ministers Michael Lee and Stephen Conroy could also come into consideration although Mr Conroy, who has often appeared on the conservative Sky News talk shows, is thought to be out of favour.. 

A candidate who has both Labor and media pedigree is  Kim Williams, who is the son-in-law of iconic Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam and had a stint as CEO of News Corp Australia and Foxtel.

Another potential candidate is high-flying lawyer Danny Gilbert, the co-founder of  firm Gilbert + Tobin, who is believed to be Labor-friendly, and is currently co-chair of the strongly pro-Voice body, Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition.

Former Q+A host Stan Grant sensationally quit the program claiming ABC management had not supported him as he was bucketed with racial abuse

Former Q+A host Stan Grant sensationally quit the program claiming ABC management had not supported him as he was bucketed with racial abuse

National Film and Sound Archive chair Gabrielle Trainor would be another strong candidate to be the third ABC female chair following Buttrose and Dame Leonie Kramer. 

Buttrose was chosen for the role in 2019 by then-prime minister Scott Morrison as a ‘captain’s pick’ because her name was not on a shortlist compiled by an independent selection panel. 

‘Australians trust Ita. I trust Ita and that’s why I have asked her to take on this role,’ Mr Morrison said after announcing his choice. 

Buttrose’s tenure at the ABC can be seen as steadying the ship after following the sudden departures of her predecessor Justin Milne and managing director Michelle Guthrie.

However, all has not gone smoothly.

When Indigenous presenter Stan Grant suddenly announced he was stepping down as host of the flagship Q+A program in July he accused the ABC of not supporting him while he was deluged with racial hatred online.

This led to an impromptu walkout by ABC staff in support of Grant and an eventual public apology from Mr Anderson. 

‘Stan Grant has stated that he has not felt publicly supported,’ Mr Anderson said.

‘For this, I apologise to Stan. The ABC endeavours to support its staff in the unfortunate moments when there is external abuse directed at them.’

Grant featured in the ABC’s coverage of the coronation of King Charles in May, which attracted over 1,000 complaints.

The coverage, which featured extensive discussion of the historical wrongs of colonialism, was called ‘disrespectful’ by irate viewers.

ABC Insiders host David Speers expresses  his support of Stan Grant after the high-profile presenter accused the national broadcaster of not supporting him

ABC Insiders host David Speers expresses  his support of Stan Grant after the high-profile presenter accused the national broadcaster of not supporting him

In March the ABC was forced to launch an urgent review of its capital city radio offerings after their ratings plunged to record lows.

ABC Radio National morning host Patricia Karvelas stuggled to attract listeners with her five-city breakfast audience falling below 50,000.

The local ABC Melbourne station fared little better slumping to its worst ever ratings result in March, attracting an average share of just 5.8 per cent of the city’s listeners listeners, although there have been some modest gains since.

Buttrose has frequently expressed concerns about ongoing issues with ABC staff’s use of social media.

Patricia Karvelas (pictured hosting Q+A after the departure of Grant) has struggled to attract listeners to Radio National breakfast show

Patricia Karvelas (pictured hosting Q+A after the departure of Grant) has struggled to attract listeners to Radio National breakfast show

In August broadcaster to axe all but four of its official accounts on X, the platform previous known as Twitter.

The ABC said the majority of its consumers were more active on sites such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, where it will concentrate its social media efforts. 

‘We also found that closing individual program accounts helps limit the exposure of team members to the toxic interactions that unfortunately are becoming more prevalent on X,’ the ABC said.

There was the shock announcement in March that the ABC were axing political editor Andrew Probyn as part of a cull of 120 jobs.

ABC insiders later claimed  the real reason behind Probyn’s sacking was because of disputes with bosses over a beer fridge and his coverage of independent Senator Lidia Thorpe’s bikie ex-boyfriend.

The ABC has been beset with threatened industrial action by its staff complaining of low pay and poor working conditions

The ABC has been beset with threatened industrial action by its staff complaining of low pay and poor working conditions

ABC newsroom and other staff threatened to strike in March over what they claimed was abysmal pay, conditions and career opportunities. 

While the strike was called off in a last minute deal between management and media unions ABC staff were still very vocal online and even about the many failings they perceived on the part of management.



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