Justin Milne, who resigned as ABC chairman on Thursday morning, allegedly used the term “chick” to refer to a woman at the MYOB Group, the accounting software company he also chairs, according to a person who worked with him.
Two years ago during a meeting with institutional investors in MYOB, Mr Milne was allegedly asked about his plans for the board, according to a person who said they were present.
“Justin Milne said MYOB was looking to appoint another board member and said ‘We’re even looking to appoint a chick”,’ the source claimed.
Two institutional investors present in the meeting, both men, declined to comment when asked whether the remark was made. A spokesman for Mr Milne did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman for MYOB said she would look into the report and “come back to you if I have any information to add”.
Two of MYOB’s seven directors are female. Anne Ward joined the board in 2015 and Fiona Pak-Poy last January.
The Labor Opposition, ABC staff and many commentators have called on Mr Milne to resign or explain himself over reports he sought to have ABC journalists fired or punished for upsetting the Coalition Government.
Another source claimed Mr Milne referred to managing director Michelle Guthrie, whom his board fired on Monday, as “the missus” in front of staff.
The Sydney Morning Herald and other Fairfax Media newspapers first reported the “missus” allegation on Thursday. The papers also said Mr Milne referred to women as “chicks” and “babes”.
The reports of questionable language put more pressure on Mr Milne, who hasn’t made a substantive response to reports in The Australian Financial Review, Sydney Morning Herald, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph and other papers that he wanted action taking against his own journalists, the Triple J radio network and even a comedy show for upsetting the government.
ABC radio broadcaster Rafael Epstein said the ABC board was holding a meeting Thursday morning, without Mr Milne present, to discuss Mr Milne’s future.
Mr Epstein said the board was not informed that the Department of Communications was ordered on Wednesday to conduct an inquiry into Mr Milne. “In those circumstances had to meet without Milne,” Mr Epstein wrote on social media.
The Labor Party wants to conduct an inquiry through the Senate, which would potentially allow it to publicise embarrassing information or allegations about Mr Milne and the Government.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has initiated a separate government inquiry which he said could be completed in a few days. He said at a press conference Thursday morning that he had informed Mr Milne about the inquiry and “Mr Milne indicated he would be cooperating”.
Ignoring political pressure and unanimous resolutions at staff meetings, Mr Milne on Wednesday said he wasn’t going to “provide a running commentary on day-to-day issues which arise in pursuit of our duties”.
The ABC chairman, who has the same protections as a federal judge, reportedly told Ms Guthrie to remove Ms Alberici because of the government’s resentment at her negative reporting about its business tax cut policy.
“They hate her,” Mr Milne allegedly said in the email to Ms Guthrie. “We are tarred with her brush. I think it’s simple. Get rid of her. We need to save the ABC – not Emma. There is no guarantee they will lose the next election.”
Speaking in New York, Malcolm Turnbull, who had a business connection to Mr Milne and was prime minister when he was appointed, denied that he had ever pushed for journalists to be sacked.
“The bottom line is I’ve never called for anybody to be fired,” Mr Turnbull said.
“The ABC isn’t perfect; they make mistakes,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday morning. “It’s not our job to tell the ABC how to run itself. The ABC board is responsible for its own reputation. The idea the government has somehow got some list and who should work there, that’s nonsense.”
With Phillip Coorey