It has always been a given in Australian politics that the spoils of office are scattered among the faithful. This can be done either to reward loyalty or to promote ideological purity in organisations that might otherwise show an unruly inclination toward independent thinking.
John Howard was, as one might expect, the master. The appointments of first Michael Kroger (beachhead established) then Janet Albrechtsen and Keith Windschuttle to the board of the ABC were the acts of a determined cultural commando. Donald McDonald to head the organisation was also inspired, but sadly the chap went native. Howard biographer David Barnett to the Australian Museum, speech writer Christopher Pearson to start talking sense at SBS, Mark Birrell to Australia Post, cabinet henchmen Richard Alston and Peter Reith to plum European postings …. God he was good. Rob Gerard to the Reserve Bank Board was a stumble, but that was Costello’s idea.
The Howard years left no institution whose appointments were within the gift of the central government untouched. From the High Court to the Sports Commission, orthodoxy and patronage reigned.
These are only the first few months of what might turn out to be a generational occupation of the Treasury benches, but already the appointments of the Rudd regime are showing a distinct inclination to something that almost approaches meritocracy. Our new Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, appears to be an eminently qualified candidate who has even honed her gubernatorial skills in the provinces. Tim Fischer was as good a choice as could be made to set up camp in the Vatican, never mind that he was a political foe and that any number of ALP hacks and timeservers might have considered they had prior and superior claims. Kim Beazley, ignored, has been driven to academia. Bob Carr has been reduced to putting his name on the lobbyists’ register … these are indeed lean days for cronyism.
One might have expected, though, that the Prime Minister might at least have seen the opportunity for political advantage in appointments to the High Court. Apparently not. Here too, after a process that positively reeked of due consultation, he has given the job to Justice Robert French, a small “l” liberal. We have rarely seen the like.
New appointments to the board of the ABC are due … who knows, they could even go to people with some knowledge of broadcasting.