Last week on the Law Report, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus discussed his hopes with Kristina Kukolja that the incoming Labor government could restore public confidence in our system of government. In a wide-ranging interview Mr Dreyfus outlined his legislative priorities including his commitment to a federal anti-corruption commission, review of whistle-blower legislation and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), media freedoms and the Privacy Act.
Labor has committed to supporting the Attorney-General's Department with the implementation of the Moss recommendations and bringing any necessary changes to the PID Act to the parliament. Whilst this links to the implementation of the federal anti-corruption commission and NSWCCL supports this important work, NSWCCL believes that the report and Moss recommendations are out of date and that the PID Act needs to be reviewed again.
It is unfortunate that the Attorney-General is yet to clearly articulate decisions relating to the prosecution of Bernard Collaery, David McBride and Richard Boyle, all of whom are being prosecuted for disclosing information, in the public interest, to journalists. Surely, if the goal of the government is to restore public confidence in government, then a transparent conversation with a just outcome must be a priority.
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties welcomes a review of the AAT and the commitment to a more independent appointment process for the Tribunal. NSWCCL has long called for increased transparency and accountability around senior public appointments. The recent media attention and understandable public outcry about the NSW Government proposed appointment of former Deputy Premier John Barilaro to a $500,000 trade job in the US is an obvious case in point. This murkiness clearly does not pass the pub test.
In its recent report “Cronyism”, the Australia Institute found a sharp rise in the proportion of political appointments to the AAT, making 10 recommendations for how the independence, impartiality, competency and hence integrity of the AAT could be improved.
The NSWCCL notes that over the past three years, 40 per cent of AAT appointments had political ties, this equates to 1 in 3 under the Morrison Government and contrasts starkly from both the Howard Government (6%) and the Rudd/Gillard Governments (5%).
In media reports, Mr Dreyfus has not ruled out disbanding the AAT and starting from scratch. Mr Dreyfus has committed to a transparent and merits-based appointment system for the AAT, including expressions of interest and the use of a panel to recommend appointees to the Cabinet.
However, there are risks with wholesale abolition. The dissolution of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission by Bob Hawke in 1989 saw the unfair removal of Justice Staples on a technicality which arguably weakened the reforms Mr Hawke sought to enact. The review of AAT is welcomed by NSWCCL. Careful consideration to a new Public Appointment Framework must be given to ensure truly independent appointments and protect against unintended consequences.
Listen to ABC Podcast “The Law Report” here.