“It basically means they are giving favours to their friends.”
That’s how Monash University senior law lecturer Dr Yee-Fui Ng describes the revelation than 40% of the Abbott-era MPs who left politics were appointed to government jobs.
It’s a surprisingly high figure that reflects a lack of integrity in the application process, she told Inq, and raises questions about whether favouritism or cronyism was behind the appointments.
While many MPs left Canberra to tread the well-worn path into corporate riches, an Inq analysis reveals an even larger number found new and fruitful careers on the public purse, including at the powerful Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) and on lesser-known government boards like the Australian Rail Track Corporation (Warren Truss).
University of Melbourne politics lecturer George Rennie said the high number of government appointments suggested many people were being put into jobs that they were not necessarily qualified to do.
“It’s not just that they’re not the best person for the job, it’s that they’re not a good fit for the job at all,” he said.
This was especially problematic, Ng said, when it came to appointments on government tribunals like the AAT, which made decisions that affected peoples’ lives.
“These positions hold great responsibility. Tribunal members decide on the fate of hundreds of thousands of people in relation to their visas. They have statutory responsibility. A merit-based process is much more appropriate than just appointing friends or colleagues,” she said.
Labor has been accused of gifting well-paid jobs to former MPs too. The Queensland Labor government was criticised last year when it appointed former deputy prime minister and treasurer Wayne Swan to the board of government-owned energy company Stanwell Corporation.
Cronyism is hardly new in politics, but this all comes at a time when faith in the political process is critically low.
One improvement in transparency would be to have appointments that require a bipartisan vote in parliament, rather than being a direct appointment. Another option, Ng said, would be to set up a commission that appointed people independently.
“An independent body that sits apart from government would be a better model,” she said. “Otherwise there’s no transparency.”
Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick said while it was unfair to expect politicians never to work again after leaving politics, it was a problem when ministers left parliament and immediately took up a role in a related field, or when parliamentarians were appointed to taxpayer-funded position in a process that is not competitive.
“These two situations give rise to, in both cases, a further decline in the confidence held by the public into serving politicians and, in the second case, inappropriately qualified people being appointed to important public positions,” he said.