8 February 2023

Labor's review alone won't stop jobs for mates on public sector boards, says independent MP

| Chris Johnson
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Jobs for mates on public sector boards are getting some high-level scrutiny. Photo: File.

An integrity review aimed at ending a ‘jobs for mates’ culture forced on the public service won’t go far enough, according to an independent MP who is putting forward her own private member’s bill to deal with the issue.

Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher has appointed former Australian Public Service commissioner Lynelle Briggs to head a review of public board appointments.

The minister described Morrison government appointments to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Productivity Commission as a mockery of due process, saying such roles should be filled on merit and not because of who someone knows.

The Labor government has already announced the abolition of the AAT – to be replaced with a new federal administrative review body – over what it described as cronyism in the appointments process.

The Briggs review will specifically look at public sector board appointments and what minimum attributes appointees should possess.

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A focus of the review will be ensuring appointment processes are more transparent and that they involve greater diversity in the composition of boards.

The review is expected to be completed by the middle of the year.

“I look forward to Ms Briggs’ robust recommendations on how the government can put merit and integrity back at the centre of the public sector appointment process,” Senator Gallagher told the Chifley Research Centre conference in Canberra.

“She brings a whole stack of expertise, obviously, to this job.”

Ms Briggs was previously the CEO of Medicare and has served as a commissioner on the aged care royal commission.

But independent Member for Mackellar Sophie Scamps has called on the government to undertake a much deeper review of the system.

“Ensuring that Commonwealth appointments are made on the basis of experience and expertise is only one step,” Dr Scamps told parliament.

“The process must also be transparent and independent so the Australian people can trust the decisions being made by the institutions that underpin our democracy.”

Dr Scamps said parliament should establish a public appointments commissioner and departmental independent selection panels.

She said a joint parliamentary committee to oversee the process should not have a government majority.

“In my proposed framework, the discretion of the minister is limited,” she said.

“The minister will choose the successful candidate, but only from a shortlist of candidates selected by the departmental ISP (independent selection panel).

“The minister will not be able to select someone who is not on that list or be able to add candidates to it.”

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Dr Scamps’ so-called ‘ending jobs for mates bill’ is expected to be before the parliament in the next few weeks.

“I applaud the Albanese government for attempting to restore trust to the public board appointments process,” she said.

“But anything other than a fully independent, transparent and expertise-based appointment process will do nothing more than provide cover for the jobs-for-mates culture in politics to continue under a false veneer of respectability.”

Dr Scamps said she worked with the Centre for Public Integrity to draft her private member’s bill.

She said Coalition governments stacking Commonwealth positions with their friends had eroded the public’s trust in democratic institutions.

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Maybe the review could also inquire into ex-ministers and their compliance with the ethics code for departing parliamentarians. This code requires departing members to ensure their personal conduct upholds the reputation of Parliament. The code bans them from lobbying or advocating to government or the public service for a period of 18 months after leaving parliament on any matters they previously dealt with as senior ministers. The code protects the parliament from ex-ministers who use inside knowledge to take personal advantage and benefit financially from their parliamentary roles including trade and the disclosure and sensitive national security information. The media has reported several high-profile parliamentarians and senior members of Cabinet who in recent years have resigned and immediately been engaged to highly lucrative positions as consultants by businesses or businessmen closely aligned to the Chinese Communist Party. One of these Chinese businessmen is a billionaire businessman closely linked to the CCP with significant property investments in Australia. He is a major political donor to the LNP and controversially acquired the 99-year lease for the Port of Darwin in 2015.

Jenny Graves4:50 pm 08 Feb 23

I agree wholeheartedly with Sophie Scamps. We need a robust system that makes it impossible for a minister to impose someone who isn’t approved by a departmental independent selection panel. Otherwise, the next time that the Coalition is in government it will all begin again!

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