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Thursday, August 11, 2022

This is an easy way to stop governments giving jobs to colleagues

Delegating a cushy job to a political partner may seem harmless – after all, everyone does it, right? But the politicization of public appointments has real, widespread consequences for Australian democracy. Increasingly, many government boards, tribunals and independent agencies are filled with people working in politics.

A new report from the Grattan Institute, released today, shows that political appointments are common at the state and federal levels. It reveals the costs that all Australians bear when governments choose more partners than they deserve.

Political appointments are widespread

About 7% of federal government-appointed jobs in public bodies are filled by people who have worked as a politician, political advisor, candidate or party employee.

But this is just a baseline. Political appointments for jobs on well-paid, powerful and/or prestigious boards triple to 21%. It is one of five of these top public roles. Individually, many of them may have the right qualifications, but collectively their presence undermines these important positions.

On the boards of Australia Post and other federal government businesses – companies that employ thousands of people and manage incomes in the billions – more than 20% of the members have political affiliations. In most states this figure is above 10%. This is in stark contrast to the ASX100 boards with very similar responsibilities, where less than 2% of the board’s members have direct political affiliations.

The boards of powerful independent government bodies, including regulators and commissions, are also full of political appointees. For example, half of the Productivity Commission board members have ties to the Coalition.

While the skills established in a political career can be valuable, most political appointments come from the same side of politics as the government that appointed them. There are signs that intercourse prevails over merit.

This Is An Easy Way To Stop Governments Giving Jobs To Colleagues

The political stack is especially evident over the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), an independent expert body that reviews government decisions on everything from child support to migration status.

The AAT has become a lucrative destination for political appointees, offering the full trifecta of the powerful, the prestigious and the well-paid (AAT member salaries range from about $200,000 to nearly $500,000). Of the AAT’s 320 tribunal members, 20 per cent have direct political links with the government that appointed them.

And the problem seems to be getting worse. Political appointments to the AAT have increased significantly in the last five years. Many of these appointments were made in the lead-up to the 2019 and 2022 federal elections.

This Is An Easy Way To Stop Governments Giving Jobs To Colleagues

Political appointments damage institutions and trust

Public appointments should not be considered “nice things to give to peers.” People in these roles make important decisions that should be kept away from the government. In some cases, political appointments have a significant impact on public policy.

Politicizing public appointments can compromise government regulation and oversight, foster a corrupt culture and reduce public confidence in government institutions.

The “Captain’s Choice” does not always have the necessary skills and experience to perform their responsibilities effectively. A Grattan Institute analysis of performance data shows that AAT members with political affiliations perform worse on average than those without. Nearly a quarter (24%) of political appointees are well below their performance targets, compared to 17% of non-political appointees.

Even if the appointee is fully capable of doing the work, their presence may compromise the perceived or actual independence of the institution. These appointments foster a culture of patronage in which loyalty is considered more important than merit. Such a culture can also have an effect on non-political candidates and recruits – they may fear that rocking the boat or giving clear and fearless advice will limit careers.

a better way

If Australia had a better process for making public appointments, we could be sure that the appointments were on the basis of merit, whether politically affiliated or not.

There is a simple solution to this problem. Federal and state governments should establish a transparent, merit-based process for all public appointments. As the chart below shows, the new process must be legislated and overseen by a dedicated Public Appointments Commissioner. The commissioner’s work will restore public confidence in appointments and elevate the performance of public sector boards and tribunals.

This Is An Easy Way To Stop Governments Giving Jobs To Colleagues

This process can help change the culture: finding the best person for the job will be the sole consideration by ministers on their decisions. If the new federal government is serious about doing politics differently, it’s a simple change that will make a real difference.

World Nation News Desk
World Nation News Deskhttps://worldnationnews.com/
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