Tom Burton: how ‘independent’ is the AHRC anyway?


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“Independent” statutory bodies like the Human Rights Commission are, in reality, beholden to ministers and departments over funding and direction. The current environment makes Gillian Triggs’ position unsurprising.

What was always a thin line of independence between statutory agencies and the central government became even more blurred when Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared the government had no confidence in the judgment of Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs.

There is a reality that exists for all statutory agencies — from the spaghetti soup of regulating acronyms like the ACCC, ASIC, APRA and ACMA, along with big government business agencies such as the National Broadband Network, Australia Post and the ABC. They all live in a strange “fauxness” — independent and protected by statute, but tied to government for funds, remit and, at the end of the day, appointments.

This gives these so-called independent agencies the right to make their own calls, but not control their destiny. In the real world this means these agencies invest extraordinary effort to not bite the hand that feeds them. “… in day-to-day government there is no more important stakeholder than the minister and their department.”

In the trade of public administration they call it stakeholder management, and in day-to-day government there is no more important stakeholder than the minister and their department.

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