Australian democracy is being undermined by a growing “jobs for mates” culture, with one in five powerful federal government board positions held by a political appointee, a damning new report reveals. 

Research from the Grattan Institute shows federal and state government boards, tribunals and agencies are “stacked” with people who have worked in politics. 

But a newly-elected independent MP has vowed to give the Albanese government a chance to end the culture “once and for all” with her proposed legislation. 

Independent member for Mackellar Sophie Scamps said she would introduce a bill to parliament before the end of the year that would establish an independent and merit-based process to select candidates.

“We need to depoliticise political appointments to help restore trust in our public institutions and to ensure we do not have another Barilaro-type scandal at a federal level,” she said in a statement.

Dr Scamps’ proposed legislation would ensure every role was publicly advertised with selection criteria and that independent panels would vet and shortlist the best candidates without interference from the government. 

The Grattan Institute research showed political appointees made up 21 per cent of the most well-paid and prestigious federal government board positions. 

And at Australia Post, more than one in five members have a political connection. 

Half of the Productivity Commission’s board members have a political connection to the coalition.

The report found political stacking is “especially evident” on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), an independent expert body that reviews government decisions.

Tribunal member salaries range from almost $200,000 to almost $500,000.  

One in five of the AAT’s 320 tribunal members have a direct political connection to the government that appointed them. 

The research found the “problem” of jobs for mates on the tribunal “is getting worse”. 

The tribunal’s political appointments have grown “substantially” in the past five years. 

Many of these appointments were made on “election eve”, in the lead up to the 2019 and 2022 federal elections.

The Grattan Institute report calls for federal and state governments to establish a “transparent, merit-based selection process” for public appointments, to be overseen by a new Public Appointments Commissioner.

Grattan Institute chief executive Danielle Wood said when “mateship prevails over merit, all Australians suffer”. 

“Of course not all political appointees are without merit, but politicising public appointments can compromise the performance of government agencies, promote a corrupt culture, and undermine public trust in the institutions of government,” she said.

In response to the report, Arts Minister Tony Burke said the former Morrison government’s appointments were “lacking in merit” and “off the charts”. 

“I think for the previous government, Liberal Party membership was the only skill they were after,” he told the ABC on Monday. 

“The National Museum at the moment … doesn’t have a single historian on the board, the National Portrait Gallery has no one who is First Nations on its board. 

“You need to say: what’s the mixture of people you need on these boards to make sure that you’re filling the gaps appropriately?”

It is crucial for the political appointment process to be free from political bias, Dr Scamps said. 

“After a decade of political appointments made by former coalition governments, my proposed legislation is a chance for the Albanese government to end the ‘jobs for mates’ culture … once and for all,” she said.