AHRC president Rosalind Croucher. Image credit: Lukas Coch/AAP

In recent months, a series of expiring appointments gave the government the chance to rid themselves of some troublesome and noisy public servants and replace them with people, arguably, a notch more compliant. Let’s look a look at some of these roles and what the people recently assigned to them have been up to.

Fair Work ombudsman

Faced with a resurgent Australian Council of Trade Unions, organised around their “Change the Rules” campaign, the last thing a conservative government needs is a regulator banging on about needing the rules changed too, like former Fair Work ombudsman Natalie James did. James was far from a radical ombdusman, but, as might be expected, the vast majority of her statements were focused on the FWO’s role in enforcing employee entitlements. James lost her bid to be reappointed in June.

Meanwhile, new ombudsman Sandra Parker got herself on the front page of The Australian by reminding employees (through a spokeswoman):

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As a part of the FWO’s functions under the Fair Work Act, the FWO will monitor and investigate potential noncompliance with the commonwealth workplace laws, including allegations of people engaging in or organising unprotected industrial action.

Please be aware that if an ­employee fails to attend the workplace or stops work without authorisation from their employer, this conduct may be unprotected industrial action in contravention of the Fair Work Act.

Any person “knowingly involved” in a contravention of the Fair Work Act is also taken to have contravened that provision.

Where an employee has engaged in unprotected industrial action, the employer is required under the Fair Work Act to deduct a minimum of four hours’ wages from the employee, even if the ­industrial action was less than four hours.

A letter to this effect, penned by deputy ombudsman Michael Campbell and approved by Parker was sent out to employer groups, who, in turn, distributed it to their members. Parker has denied that this was an attempt to discourage workers from attending the rally.

Australian Human Rights Commission president

Gillian Triggs’ Speaking Up details, in part, the media attention she faced in her tumultuous tenure as Australian Human Rights Commission president. It’s a lesson her replacement seems to have learnt from. 

After the ordeal faced by her predecessor, Rosalind Croucher most likely won’t have a book’s worth of strife to recount if she continues to keep her head down as much as she has so far. She’s kept a very low profile, and when a controversial case has crossed her desk, she’s been rewarded for her itch-less trigger finger by Triggs’ primary media antagonist the Oz, who gave Croucher an op-ed to defend the commission’s ruling against a company who had refused to hire a man convicted of child pornography offences. 

Racial discrimination commissioner

Having finally seen the back of reliably forthright Tim Soutphommasane, the government will no doubt enjoy new commissioner Chin Leong Tan’s new interpretation of what his role is for. That interpretation being something along the lines of “racism, boy… I don’t know. What even is it? Who’s to say?”

As he told Fairfax upon his appointment

Calling out racism is very important, but I want to be very careful that we put things in context — because I do share a view that that can be overplayed sometimes. It’s important to remember the race discrimination [commissioner] role is not meant to divide, it’s meant to enhance communities and strengthen them.

Still, he insisted he would “call out” racism where he saw it. Soon enough, we saw some racism to condemn, when the sitting government obviously voted with a Senate motion from noted far-right monoculture enthusiast Pauline Hanson. The motion claimed a rise in anti-white racism and parroted a phrase with white supremacist roots. Chin Tan leapt into action, issuing a statement a mere two days later. It named no names, and didn’t repeat the exact phrase, but did go so far as to say there was no place for racism in parliament.

What do you make of the government’s recent appointments? Write to boss@crikey.com.au.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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