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Is this the beginning of the end for the public sector jobs for mates culture?

Dr Sophie ScampsThe push for more integrity in parliament has continued this month with Independent MP for Mackellar Dr Sophie Scamps introducing the Transparent and Quality Public Appointments Bill 2023 (Ending Jobs for Mates Bill).

To address the lack of a legislated and independent process of appointing people to public institutions, Dr Scamps’ bill proposes to:

  • Establish the role of a Public Appointment Commissioner
  • Introduce Government Independent Departmental selection panels, headed by departmental secretaries, and overseen by a non-government-chaired parliamentary joint committee on appointments that consists of a maximum of 50% government representation
  • Require the tabling of statements from the independent panels certifying a candidate’s suitability for appointment to Parliament to ensure transparency in the decision-making process.

In Parliament, Dr Scamps said, ‘This bill would ensure that a candidate with the requisite expertise and knowledge gets the job — not the bloke who the minister went to school with, or their former staffer or party official.’

Dr Scamps referred to examples including the Morrison Government’s appointment of a former fossil fuel executive as chairman of the Climate Change Authority, as well as the extensive history of party-political appointments to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).

Analysis by The Australia Institute found up to 40% of appointments to the AAT under the Morrison Government were ‘jobs for mates’ style political appointments.

So is this bill dead on arrival, or does it stand a chance?

Private members bills’ rarely come close to passing. They’re often used as an agenda setting move.

In this case however, prior to winning government last year, Labor spent significant time in opposition attacking the Morrison government over their political ‘jobs for mates’.

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Twitter screengrab Twitter screengrab

Crikey’s Michael Bradley observed:

The gap between public demand for better governance and the major parties’ willingness to provide it will be exposed by the fate of independent MP Sophie Scamps’ bill that lands in the House of Representatives.

Dr Scamps’ bill follows research from the Grattan Institute in 2022 that found 1 in 10 public appointees have a ‘direct political connection’, with this number rising to more than 1 in 5 for federal government board positions that are well paid, powerful or prestigious.

Regardless of the outcome for this bill, it’s clear that efforts by the Independents to improve integrity won’t be diminished.

As Independent Federal Member for Indi, Helen Haines, flagged in an interview with the Governance Institute last year, more proposals for political donation reform and truth in political advertising are on the agenda for 2023.

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