Departing ABC Chairman James Spigelman has been recognised for his contributions to the ABC, the law, politics and Indigenous reconciliation at a farewell event held at ABC Ultimo.
Tributes to Mr Spigelman were led by the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – a lifelong friend – the Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, the Manager of Opposition Business Tony Burke and ABC Board Member Simon Mordant.
Guests included ABC Managing Director Michelle Guthrie, former Managing Director Mark Scott, current ABC Board Members and members of the ABC leadership team.
A video tribute featuring former Prime Minister Paul Keating, former NSW Premier Bob Carr, Ms Guthrie and Mr Scott paid tribute to Mr Spigelman and his many roles in Australian public life over four decades.
Mr Spigelman, who was appointed ABC Chairman in 2012, completes his term on 31 March. His career has included being Senior Adviser and Principal Private Secretary to former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam from 1972 until 1976; from 1976 to 1979 as a member of Australian Law Reform Commission; a successful barrister from 1980 until 1998, appointed QC in 1986; and Chief Justice and Lieutenant-Governor of New South Wales from 1998 to 2011.
He has also served on numerous Boards including of the Australian Film Finance Corporation and as Chair of the National Library of Australia.
The Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said leading the ABC was a role Mr Spigelman had been destined for.
“Your contribution to the cultural life of the nation through the arts and media has been immense,” Mr Fifield said. “There is almost no institution in my portfolio you have not led or served on the board of during the last 40 years.
“Under your stewardship Australians have kept coming back to the ABC and a big part of that is you have recognised the ABC has to continually change. You’ve given immense support to both your managing directors Michelle and Mark, something I know they are extremely grateful for.
ABC Board Member Simon Mordant spoke of Mr Spigelman’s “great respect for, and deep love of, the stories, conversations and culture that flow from the work of the ABC.”
“Jim is a great storyteller in his own right. What he has most treasured in his time at the ABC has been his ability to immerse himself in storytelling – to champion new initiatives, to talk to content makers, to forensically examine our content heads over their strategies and audience data and constantly challenging how we can reach new audiences.”
The Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recognised Mr Spigelman’s work as an advocate for Australia’s Indigenous people on the 1965 Freedom Rides and his bravery standing alongside Indigenous leader Charlie Perkins, often when his own safety was at risk.
The Prime Minister also reflected on his personal friendship with Mr Spigelman, including his Paris wedding to wife Alice where Mr Turnbull was best man. He observed Mr Spigelman was finishing his term at the ABC but was “far from retiring” and still had many contributions to make to the community.
“Seventy is the new fifty,” Mr Turnbull said. “So get on with it.”
The departing chairman’s contribution to Indigenous affairs both at the ABC and the wider community was also praised by broadcaster Charlie King, who heads the ABC’s Bonner Committee. In a message read by Kelly Williams, Bonner Committee Member and Executive Producer Back Roads Digital, he acknowledged Mr Spigelman’s “leadership and support for Indigenous employment and reconciliation at the ABC.
“Your contribution to Indigenous affairs has been lifelong and is recognised and honoured not only by the indigenous staff at the ABC but more broadly across the nation,” Mr King said.
“Thank you and all the very best for your future adventures. The ABC has become a better place under your leadership and guidance.”
The event included a smoking ceremony presented by Uncle Max Eulo and a welcome to country by Aunty Millie Ingram. The Bonner Committee also presented to the Chairman an artwork called ‘Walungurru’ by the artist Pepai Jangala Carroll from Ernabella Arts.
Mr Spigelman said he was overwhelmed by the messages of congratulations: “I will cherish the associations I have formed here,” he said.
“The ABC has a great future. I tried when I was first appointed to give a framework to what I thought was important to the role of the ABC, that the ABC has to treat its audiences as citizens not as consumers.
“It’s a big difference. Treating them as citizens means not only treating them with respect but treating them as people with rights and duties, not as people with wants and needs.”
The Government is expected to announce a new ABC Chairman next week.