Today’s Australian notes that one of the last acts of the Howard government was to reappoint former Howard speechwriter and “culture wars” warrior Christopher Pearson to the SBS board.

The propensity to make controversial appointments to positions of authority in public agencies was one of the more contentious habits of the Howard government. The controversy derived from the direct or perceived association of the appointees with the Government, the Liberal party, conservative beliefs and philosophy.

The Howard government wasn’t exactly shy about pushing its agenda on national cultural institutions.  Remember the contretemps over the politicisation of the National Museum of Australia by the appointment of friendly-to-the-Howard-view board members (including Christopher Pearson) and the “whitewashing” of Australian history advocated by the National Review of Exhibitions and Public Programs (the Carroll Review)? Not to mention the series of conservative and party-connected appointments to the boards of the ABC and SBS and to the Office of Film and Literature Classification.

Likewise its political agenda. An overwhelming number of Howard Government appointees to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission have employer backgrounds. 

There have also been some interesting appointments to the Federal Magistrates’ Court, where industrial matters post-WorkChoices are heard. (Or should that be were? Whether the FMC retains its jurisdiction remains to be seen after the promised rollback of Workchoices under the Rudd government). Probably the most controversial appointment was John O’Sullivan to one of these magistracies for life after only a few years’ post-admission practice as a lawyer. His job immediately preceding this stellar and unprecendented promotion? Adviser to then-Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews.

The problem with obvious or tainted-by-association political appointments is not necessarily the capacity of appointees to fulfil their offices. It’s their close association with the Government or the party that besmirches the independence of the office or authority, compromising the organisation’s ability to perform it’s stated functions and reducing public confidence in our political and cultural institutions.

After all, independence from Government is the reason a statutory authority or review panel or similar is established. There are obvious questions raised about the inclination of political appointees to perform tasks essential to the democratic process such as assessing, reporting on and being critical (where appropriate) of government policy and activity when they received their commission as a matter of political patronage.

It’s timely to reflect on political appointments now, as the Prime Minister-elect Rudd has indicated that his government will establish a significant number of new agencies, statutory bodies and reviews for which appointees will be needed.

Here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of Howard government appointments smacking of the political made during their term of office. If we have forgotten anyone, email [email protected].


Public agency and position


Donald McDonald

ABC – Chair

Long-time friend of Howard family.

Michael Kroger

ABC – former director

Former president of the Victorian Liberal Party. Liberal powerbroker.

Judith Sloan

ABC – former director

Productivity Commission – Commissioner

Fair Pay Commission – Commissioner

Right-wing labour market economist. Academic Advisory Council of the CIS. Associated with the H.R.Nicholls Society. Columnist for The Australian.

Ross McLean

ABC – former director

Former Liberal member for Perth (1973 – 1983).

Leith Boully

ABC – former director

Land and Water Australia – former director

Community Advisory Committee of the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council – member

Australian Heritage Commission – former member

Close ties with the Coalition and former member of the Northern Territory Young Country Liberal Party.

Maurice Newman

ABC – former director

Financial Sector Advisory Council – chair

Business Advisory Panel (Immigration) – member

Friend and confidant of Howard. One of the founders of the Centre for Independent Studies.

Janet Albrechtsen

ABC – director

Right-wing columnist for The Australian. Associated with the IPA and CIS. Critic of the ABC.

Ron Brunton

ABC – director

Former right-wing columnist for Murdoch newspapers (including the Courier Mail). Former Director of Indigenous Issues at the IPA. Harsh critic of ‘secret women’s business’ in the Hindmarsh Island affair, greenhouse sceptic and critic of stolen generations report, Bringing Them Home.

Steven Skala

ABC – director

Former director of CIS.

John Gallagher

ABC – director

Conservative Queensland barrister.

Keith Windschuttle

ABC – director

Conservative historian. Critic of National Museum and ABC. Key player in the disputes about the National Museum and the departure of former National Museum Director, Dawn Casey.

Peter Hurley

ABC – director

Donor to Liberal Party and Liberal Party front groups, including the Free Enterprise Foundation.

Jonathan Shier

ABC – former executive director

Conservative appointee who had ‘specific mandate to attack the culture at the ABC’ (Daley 2006). Left after 20 months.

Mark Scott

ABC – executive director

Former staffer of NSW Liberal Minister, Terry Metherell

Peter King

Australian Heritage Commission – former Chair

Former Liberal member for the federal seat of Wentworth. Campaigned for the Liberals while still chair of the Commission.

Tom Harley

Australian Heritage Commission – former chair

Australian Heritage Council – chair

Council for Australian-Arab Relations – member

Chair of Liberal Party think tank, the Menzies Research Centre. Close ties with the Coalition and Howard.

Michael Kennedy

Australian Heritage Council – former member

Head of Humane Society International. Has close ties with the Howard Government. Lobbied in favour of a number of the Howard Government’s environment measures.

Jonathan Mills

Australian Heritage Council – former coopted member

Australian International Cultural Council – member

Strong links with the Coalition. Friend of Tom Harley and now director of the Deakin Lectures, which Harley used to run.

Imre Salusinszky

AustraliaCouncil – chair of Literary Board

Right-wing columnist for The Australian.

Tim Fischer

Tourism Australia – chair

Former head of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister (1996 – 1999).

Tony Clark

Tourism Australia – board member

Telstra – director

Friend of Howard and Liberal Party donor.

Scott Morrison

Tourism Australia – managing director

Former state director of the NSW Liberal Party.

Jonathan Hamberger

Office of the Employment Advocate – former deputy and head

Australian Industrial Relations Commission – Senior Deputy President

Former staffer of Peter Reith. Public critic of Labor Party policies while he was the Employment Advocate.

Peter Richards

Australian Industrial Relations Commission – Senior Deputy President

Peter Reith’s former chief of staff.

Ian Harper

Fair Pay Commission – chair

Academic Advisory Council of the CIS. Author of several CIS publications.

Michael O’Hagan

Fair Pay Commission – commissioner

AWA Ambassador. Has appeared in several Government and Murdoch publications supporting AWAs and greater flexibility in the labour market.

Patrick McClure

Fair Pay Commission

Former head of Mission Australia. Mission Australia received millions from Federal Government while McClure was the head.

Christopher Pearson

NationalMuseum– board member

SBS – board member

Right-wing columnist for The Australian. Former Howard speechwriter and speechwriter for Downer.

Tony Staley

NationalMuseum– chair

Former Liberal Party president and Fraser Government minister.

David Barnett

National Museum– board member

Right-wing writer, Howard biographer and former press secretary of Malcolm Fraser.

John Hirst

NationalMuseum– board member

Conservative historian and critic of many things he regards as ‘left-liberal’, including multiculturalism.

John Fleming

NationalMuseum– board member

Gene Technology Ethics Committee – member

Religious broadcaster, radio host and commentator.

Pru Goward

Office of the Status of Women – former executive director

Howard biographer. Standing for pre-selection for Liberals in NSW seat of Epping.

Bruce Lloyd

Australian Landcare Council – former chair

Natural Heritage Trust Advisory Committee – member

Former Deputy of the National Party.

Robert Gerard

Reserve Bank Board – former member

Member of, and donor to, Liberal Party.

Paul O’Sullivan

ASIO – head

Former Howard staffer.

John Herron

Australian National Council on Drugs – head

Former Howard Government Minister and Liberal Senator for Queensland.

Major Brian Watters (Salvation Army)

Australian National Council on Drugs – former head

Outspoken prohibition supporter. The Salvation Army has received millions from the Federal Government.

Robin Batterham

Former chief scientist

Supporter of clean coal and was employed by Rio Tinto while acting as Chief Scientist.

Bob Cronin

SBS – board member

Member of the Liberal Party and former editor in chief of The West Australian.

Carla Zampatti

SBS – board member

Wife of John Spender, former Liberal MP.

Alistair Graham

Biological Diversity Advisory Committee – member (?)

Works for conservative environment groups like WWF and Tasmanian Conservation Trust. Close links with the Howard Government. Lobbied in favour of a number of Howard Government environment measures.

Jillian Broadbent

Reserve Bank of Australia – board member

SBS – board member

Known to have close links with the Coalition.

Robert Champion de Crespigny

National Gallery – board member

Director of CIS.

Roslyn Packer

National Gallery – board member

Widow of Kerry Packer.

Charles Curran

National Gallery – board member

Financial Sector Advisory Council – member

Liberal Party donor.

Roslynne Bracher

National Gallery – board member

Her family’s business, Paspaley Pearls, is a major donor to the Liberal Party.

Michael Cooke

Migration Review Tribunal – member

Former staffer to Tony Abbott and Liberal pre-selection candidate for NSW seat of Manly.

David Flint

Australian Broadcasting Authority – former chair

Conservative commentator and lawyer and active member of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy.

Max Moore-Wilton

Taskforce on National Infrastructure

Former head of Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

John O’Sullivan

Federal Magistrates’ Court – Magistrate

Former adviser to Kevin Andrews when he was Minister for Workplace Relations.