The ABC’s CEO walked a delicate tightrope as he defended Laura Tingle over her ‘racist country’ tirade. But his five-word verdict shows why she’s still in big trouble, writes PETER VAN ONSELEN

The CEO of the ABC chose to delicately walk both sides of the fence as he appeared before Senate Estimates to respond to an outburst by one of his most senior political journalists’ directed at Opposition Leader Peter Dutton.

David Anderson defended 7.30 chief political correspondent Laura Tingle as ‘amongst the most respected and admired’ political journalists in the country. 

He said that she ‘understands’ ABC guidelines but admitted that her comments about Peter Dutton were ‘problematic’. 

Tingle told a Sydney Writers Festival audience she had ‘this sudden flash of people turning up to try and rent a property or at an auction and they look a bit different, whatever you define different as, that basically he [Peter Dutton] has given them licence to be abused’. 

The CEO said Tingle does ‘an excellent job’ but when it came to her tirade against the opposition leader, ‘I wish it hadn’t happened’. 

ABC CEO David Anderson (pictured) is a toothless tiger at the organisation he leads in name only

One of the ABC's top political journalists, Laura Tingle (pictured), had breached ABC guidelines

One of the ABC’s top political journalists, Laura Tingle (pictured), had breached ABC guidelines

He wasn’t asked about her tirade against the entire Australian population. The 7.30 reporter declared Australia is a ‘racist country’. Not backing the claim up with any evidence or analysis. 

When asked if Laura Tingle should leave the ABC for showing a lack of impartiality in her comments about Dutton, the CEO said ‘I don’t believe so’, despite also saying that he agreed with ABC Chair Kim Williams’ comments, which clearly stated that anyone who can’t maintain impartiality should leave the ABC. 

Williams said in March that anyone who wants to keep practicing activist journalism should find employment elsewhere. 

The CEO told Senate Estimates that he had ‘briefed the chair this week’, but hasn’t ‘sought counsel’ from Kim Williams. 

While David Anderson admitted that Tingle’s comments were ‘a mistake’ he appeared to suggest that the matter is over now that the news director, Justin Stevens, has had a little chat with her. 

This was despite Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson noting that the Sydney Writers Festival comments by Laura Tingle were ‘not an isolated case’.

Henderson pointed to similar comments she made about Peter Dutton on the Insiders program. She also tweeted late one evening about the ‘political bastardry’ of Scott Morrison during his prime ministership. 

Despite these exchanges the CEO maintained that the ABC is a cut above other media organisations.  

Asked point blank if he would apologise to Peter Dutton for the comments Laura Tingle made the CEO paused for a moment in thought, before refusing to say that he would. He did express ‘regret’ and said he was ‘sorry’ about what happened, but refused to say that he would utter those words directly to Peter Dutton.

Pressed on whether he would do so, having not properly answered the question, David Anderson appeared to deflect the blame back onto Peter Dutton, saying that when political leaders put views out in the public such debates will follow. 

New ABC Chair Kim Williams (pictured) says there is no place for activist journalists at the ABC

New ABC Chair Kim Williams (pictured) says there is no place for activist journalists at the ABC

ABC news director Justin Stevens (pictured) reprimanded Laura Tingle with a wet lettuce

ABC news director Justin Stevens (pictured) reprimanded Laura Tingle with a wet lettuce

On cue the Greens began interjecting at this point in the hearing, using cowards castle – where defamation laws don’t apply – to hurl smears at the Liberal leader in his absence. 

So where does all of this leave us? 

Clearly the ABC is circling the wagons, proving once again that it is a bottom up organisation wherein management has little control over the staff collective. 

That said, what was the Liberal Party doing getting Senator Henderson to do the cross examination in Senate Estimates? 

It dripped of hypocrisy. 

Henderson is a former state presenter on 7.30 before it became a national program. That was her career prior to embarking on a political career for the Liberal Party. 

First as a lower house MP, now as a senator. A double-barrelled political career for the Liberal, no less. 

Who in the opposition brains trust thought it was a good idea to seek to expose political bias by a current ABC worker with questions by a former ABC worker now working for the Liberal Party?  

There were other Coalition senators on the committee who could have asked the questions instead. 

Henderson asking the questions opens her up to accusations of the pot calling the kettle black, if evidence were to emerge of her showing any political bias as a journalist prior to her current partisan political career. 

If anyone could be bothered going back over the tapes of anything and everything she ever said during her ABC employment, on and off air. 

Remembering that the criticism directed at Tingle is focused on her off air comments.