Perception of political appointment enough to damage institutional trust

By Anna Macdonald

July 26, 2022

CEO of the Grattan Institute Danielle Woods
CEO of the Grattan Institute Danielle Woods. (YouTube)

Even the perception that a public service appointment is a political one can have damaging effects on the trust of government institutions, Grattan Institute deputy program director Kate Griffiths has said.

“Even if a candidate, an appointee, is fully capable of the job their presence — if it is perceived to be politicised — can be enough to undermine the independence of the institution, can affect how others in the institution behave, assuming perhaps loyalty is more important than merit,” Griffiths commented. 

“It can affect, ultimately, how society sees interaction with government and business sees interaction with government.”

During a webinar titled Merit Over Mates, Griffiths discussed last week’s Grattan Institute report on political appointments. The program director added that these appointments have an obvious impact on the quality of talent. 

“We’re missing out on the best people to run these really important institutions, and to make really important decisions that affect all Australians and Australian public policy,” Griffiths said. 

CEO of the Grattan Institute Danielle Woods, a co-author of the report alongside Griffiths, added it was important to tackle the ‘jobs for mates’ culture as a form of corruption.

“It damages our institutional fabric and over time it chips away at trust for the democratic process itself,” Woods said. 

When asked whether the report looked at the impacts of political appointments on diversity, Griffiths said that although it wasn’t a focus of this research, she assumed the greater transparent appointment process put forward in the report would lead to better outcomes. 

“It’s the role of the independent panels. It’s really important those panels themselves include a range of different perspectives and [that] there’s some diversity there. We don’t want just one public appointments commissioner making every appointment — that’s not going to help the situation either.”

In relation to ambassadorial appointments, Griffiths mentioned there is some debate on whether the political experience was a necessary aspect of diplomatic roles. However, the director said, there would be a concern with a change of government a large number of ambassadors would be pulled from their roles. 

In the webinar, Griffiths mentioned the Grattan Institute would be looking to publish two reports later in the year, one on the prevention of pork barrelling in August 2022 and one on tax-payer-funded advertising in October 2022. 


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