08 May 2016
by Laura Tingle

Jobs For The Boys: Turnbull government makes 103 last minute appointments before poll

Australia has six new ambassadors, a new Reserve Bank Governor and 76 new or reappointed members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal as part of a wave of 103 appointments – including former politicians – made in the dying days of the current parliament.

While many of the appointments and reappointments are entirely uncontroversial, the Coalition's enthusiasm for making so many appointments that will run during the life of whoever forms the next government – without consulting the opposition – will raise some eyebrows and runs contrary to the Coalition's own bitter protests about Labor making such appointments in the past.

In the current case, the appointments include appointing judges to the Federal Courts to fill vacancies that haven't yet occurred.

The most enthusiastic appointer in the past week has been Attorney-General George Brandis, who has made 76 reappointments to the AAT including a former Liberal Senator, Judith Troeth, a former chief of staff to Scott Morrison, and a former federal Liberal candidate Denis Dragovic.

He has also appointed a counsel assisting the Heydon Royal Commission, Sarah McNaughton, as Director of Public Prosecutions, and former Howard Government health minister Kay Patterson as age discrimination commissioner on the Human Rights Commission.

Senator Brandis has appointed Stephen Burley SC to the Federal Court to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of the Hon Justice Annabelle Bennett AO. He has also appointed Mr Shane Gill to the Family Court to fill one of the positions that will become vacant when two justices "retire in the coming months", while Ms Brana Obradovic is being appointed to the Federal Circuit Court to fill "an upcoming vacancy".

Treasurer Scott Morrison and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield have also been busy making appointments, including to the Productivity Commission – where commission member Karen Chester has been appointed deputy chair – and a range of cultural boards, including the National Portrait Gallery, the National Library of Australia and the National Gallery.

Former Liberal minister Michael Ronaldson has been appointed to the board of Australia Post.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has appointed career diplomats as ambassadors to Italy, Vietnam, Iran, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Holy See, and as high commissioner to Ghana.

It has become a common occurrence for governments to make a rash of appointments before going to the polls, though the numbers this time around seem particularly large.

The issue of the appropriateness of making such appointments – when a new government may not agree with them – is the major point of contention between parties, rather than necessarily the candidates.

For example, the Coalition was critical of Labor for extended Glenn Stevens' term as Reserve Bank Governor before the last election, even though it backed the appointment. The then prime minister said he did not have have an argument with the appointment, but "we just think that it was bad process from a government which is incapable of good process".

"There should have been consultation with the Opposition."

Labor's Treasury spokesman Chris Bowen was equally critical this week of the lack of consultation on Dr Phillip Lowe's appointment as Reserve Bank Governor, although he backed the appointment.