The bizarre dispute over the government’s appointment of David Gonski, rather than Peter Costello, to the chairmanship of the Future Fund has been spun as another example of Labor incompetence.

The Rudd government appointed Costello to the board of the Future Fund — and earned considerable criticism from its backbenchers for doing so — primarily on the basis that Costello had established the Fund when treasurer. He had virtually no senior corporate experience to speak of, nor was it clear he had the high-level financial skills required to oversee the investment of $70 billion worth of taxpayers’ money.

This hasn’t stopped Costello attacking the government, of course, and nor should it, but now Costello has launched a new attack on Labor for the process of appointing Gonski. The suggestion, made explicit by Tony Abbott and others in the Coalition, is that Costello was the better man for the job. Even John Howard, who knows a thing or two about not giving Costello the top job, weighed in.

Earlier this week, the Coalition suggested Stephen Smith should resign from the Defence ministry because bureaucrats and the armed services didn’t like him. Not merely is giving our defence services a veto over ministerial appointments a bad idea, such is that state of the Defence portfolio that being resented by the troglodytes responsible for gross mismanagement, procurement stuff-ups and the waste of billions of dollars should be a prerequisite for the job.

Now the Coalition appears to think the government should have allowed some of the Future Fund board to veto the appointment of the chairman.

Like the Defence ministry, the chairmanship of the Future Fund is far too important to be left to the whims of the incumbents. The government must appoint the best people and those prepared to deal with underperformance. And as its recent record suggests, the Future Fund has been significantly underperforming under David Murray.

David Gonski is an excellent appointment. Whether he is the right man for the job remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Costello is not even in the same league as his new chairman.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey