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Amendment of the Net Zero Authority Bill

4 March, 2024:

One of the reasons the good people of Mackellar sent me to this place was to fight for stronger action on climate change. The most critical action required to do that, as every climate expert agrees, is to transition away from our reliance on fossil fuels to an economy powered by renewable energy. The Net Zero Economy Authority, to be established by this bill, seeks to support that transition. I am supportive of this bill but offer important amendments to improve the independence and integrity of the authority.

My amendments seek to inject into the Net Zero Economy Authority Bill a more robust and independent process for the appointment of members to its board. As currently drafted, the board of between five and nine members is to be appointed by the Prime Minister. The only requirement in relation to the appointment of board members is found in clause 22(1) of the bill:
The Board members are to be appointed by the Minister by written instrument.

The bill goes on to require that two of the board members have expertise or experience and professional credibility and significant standing in the trade union movement. Another two must satisfy those criteria in the business industry, finance or investment field. The rest must fulfil those experience and credibility requirements either in those fields already mentioned or in industrial relations, economics, decarbonisation policy, climate change policy, energy markets, regional development, First Nations engagement or governance or law. This is all well and good as far as it goes, but those requirements are not selection criteria. They do not constitute a process the Prime Minister must follow when deciding who to select. Most importantly they do not in any way guarantee any level of independence in those appointments. Independence and expertise are not the same thing.

Over the last decade the integrity of many institutions that underpin our democracy has taken a battering. One key reason for this has been the lack of independent appointment processes to major Commonwealth bodies. Over previous terms we witnessed the jobs-for-mates culture flourish here in Canberra, as rates of politically friendly appointments to important public boards and entities soared. One of those entities, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, was so heavily stacked with political appointees—at a rate of 40 per cent of appointments during the last parliamentary term—that the current Attorney-General has been forced to abolish it and create a new tribunal in its place. To the Attorney's credit, in establishing the new Administrative Review Tribunal he listed to the advocacy of myself and others and legislated for there to be a mandatory independent selection panel process for the appointment of new tribunal members. It will be a better institution because of that—less able to be compromised and co-opted for political purposes.

We must actively legislate to build integrity infrastructure into all the institutions that underpin our democracy and inform national policy, otherwise how can the Australian people trust the decisions that flow from these entities and institutions? The very best solution would be the enactment of comprehensive legislation that requires a transparent, accountable and independent process for all major Commonwealth public appointments, such as my private member's bill I introduced last year, 'ending jobs for mates'—a gold standard process developed in consultation with the Centre for Public Integrity which balances ministerial discretion with ensuring a candidate is independently selected based on their expertise, experience and integrity. Until that robust process becomes law, I have no choice but to introduce individual amendments to each bill that seeks to establish new bodies with major public appointments.

My amendments to this bill ensure that, in addition to experience and expertise, the board of the Net Zero Economy Authority is selected without undue political interference. After all, one can have proper experience but still take family holidays with the minister responsible for the appointment. Therefore, in the selection of members for the board of the Net Zero Economy Authority, my amendments require that the positions and selection criteria be publicly advertised for a minimum of 10 consecutive days; that the assessment of applications be undertaken by an independent selection panel with at least three members and a former superior court judge as chair; that the panel shortlist at least three candidates for each position and certify that they meet the selection criteria; that the minister chooses the successful candidate only from the shortlist; and that the certification of the successful candidate be tabled in parliament. I urge all members of this House to get on board with ending the jobs-for-mates culture in Canberra by supporting this amendment to the Net Zero Economy Authority bill.