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

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

  • Ita Buttrose to vacate ABC chair in March
  • Communications minister pays tribute
  • Speculation on replacement begins

Ita Buttrose will walk away from being ABC chair in March after deciding not to seek 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. 

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

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

‘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.

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

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. 

More to come