A new report from the Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability program represents the largest and most comprehensive national study of the practice of cronyism in relation to government agency appointments ever undertaken in Australia.
This detailed and in-depth report investigated every appointment made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) since 1996 – nearly 1,000 appointments in total, and reveals that the proportion of political appointments to the AAT has soared from about 5-6% under the Howard, Rudd and Gillard, nearly one in three appointments (32%) in the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison governments, and two in five appointments (40%) under the current government alone.
“Out of nearly 1,000 AAT appointments since 1996, a worrying trend emerges: appointments have become increasingly political under the current government,” said Ben Oquist, executive director of the Australia Institute.
“When John Howard was Prime Minister, only 6% of appointments to the AAT were political, but in the last term of the current government, 40% of appointments were political.
“These political appointments are much more likely to have no legal qualification than non-political appointments, although AAT decisions must consider facts, laws and policies.
“The AAT is responsible for reviewing life-changing federal government decisions, including deportations, migration visas, NDIS payments, social benefits, workers’ compensation, and veterans’ rights .
“Members of the public should be able to be sure that their case will be heard by a qualified and politically unappointed member of the tribunal.
“A complete overhaul is needed to ensure that the AAT’s selection process is open and transparent, and not subject to political manipulation. This is no longer just important for the AAT, but it is essential to restore integrity, accountability in government and protecting democracy itself.
Lead author of the report, Deb Wilkinson is an expert in the study of cronyism and is completing her PhD at the Australian National University.