A report from the Australia Institute has recommended that anyone who has worked for a federal party in the prior five years should not be eligible to be on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). The report follows findings that the number of political appointments to the AAT has increased in recent years.
Using publicly available information, the Cronyism in appointments to the AAT report, authored by Debra Wilkinson and Elizabeth Morison, found that 32% of all new appointments to the tribunal were political between 2013 and April 2022 — i.e., during the prime ministerships of Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnball and Scott Morrison.
In contrast, from 1996 to 2013, political appointments were found to be 6% under John Howard and 5% under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
‘Cronyism’ as defined in the report is the appointment of friends or colleagues to government positions; it is different from nepotism, which is the appointment of family members or friends.
The report used publicly available information to define a political appointment as someone who had worked for a party at the federal level either in a paid or voluntary capacity.
Political appointments were found to be more likely to not have legal qualifications, which is an issue considering the legal function the tribunal serves.
Commenting on the report, Australia Institute executive director Ben Oquist said the findings indicate a complete overhaul of the tribunal is necessary.
“Members of the public should be able to trust that their case will be heard by a tribunal member who is qualified and not appointed for political reasons,” Oquist said.
Along with the recommendation to prohibit political appointments, the report further recommends, amongst other things, that: all current members are revoked, an independent commission of inquiry with the power to compel evidence is set up, and appointees to AAT should be required to resign from membership of a political party.
Findings from the study have been released during a period of public scrutiny of the AAT, with barrister Michael Manetta claiming he was removed after making too many findings against the government’s decisions.
The report used publicly available information on websites found on the Australian Parliament House database.