Attorney-General’s Review of AAT Political Appointments a Win for Democratic Integrity

The Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability Program welcomes Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus’ commitment to a more independent appointment process for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) and his review of the AAT’s operations.

In a substantial research report released before the election, Cronyism in appointments to the AAT, the Australia Institute found a sharp rise in the proportion of political appointments to the AAT, making 10 recommendations for how the independence, impartiality, competency and hence integrity of the AAT could be improved.

Background

  • Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has committed to a transparent and merits-based appointment system for the AAT, including expressions of interest and the use of a panel to recommend appointees to the Cabinet.
  • He has also said he is conducting a review of the operations of the AAT to make sure it is fit for purpose.

Australia Institute research has found:

  • AAT political appointments were as high as 1 in 3 under the 2019-2022 Morrison Government, a rate of 40%, up from 6% under Howard, 5% under Rudd/Gillard,
  • AAT Senior Members who are political appointments are much more likely to have no legal qualifications than Senior Members who are non-political appointments (26% vs 1%).
  • Political appointees were more likely to be appointed on a full-time basis (47% of political appointees) than non-political appointees (22%).

“The more transparent and arms-length appointment process for the AAT described by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus is a welcome improvement on what has been an increasingly politicised appointment process,” said Bill Browne, Senior Researcher at the Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability Program.

“However, the Australia Institute identifies that further changes to AAT appointments are desperately needed, including minimum legal qualifications, limitations on party affiliated appointees and publicly available information on the qualifications of appointees. Furthermore, these changes should be made in law, not just a matter of ministerial practice.

“In the last term of the Morrison Government, 40% of appointments to the AAT were political appointments, with political appointments much more likely to have no legal qualifications than non-political appointments, even though AAT decisions must consider facts, laws, and policy.

“An independent commission of inquiry with the power to compel people to give evidence is needed to get to the bottom of the AAT appointment process.

“Unless the process for appointments to the AAT is transparent, independent and set in legislation, the risk will always remain that the AAT will become vulnerable to political appointments.”

Related research

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