Skip navigation

National Reconstruction Fund Corporation Bill 2022

I recently stood up in this place to speak about the National Reconstruction Fund Corporation Bill 2022. While broadly supportive of this bill, I raised my significant concerns about the integrity of the fund's board appointment process. I also asked a question of the minister in question time about this, and I wasn't completely satisfied with the answer. So I bring forward these amendments today to inject into the bill a more robust and independent process for the appointment of members to the board of this corporation. After all, this board will be making investment decisions for a $15 billion fund.

Over the last decade, the integrity of many institutions that underpin our democracy has taken a battering. In recent years, we've witnessed the 'jobs for mates' culture flourish here in Canberra, as rates of political friendly appointments to public boards and entities have soared. Last term, one of those entities, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, was so heavily stacked with political appointees—a rate of 40 per cent of those appointments—that the current Attorney-General has made the decision to abolish it. How can the Australian people trust the decisions that flow from institutions that have had their independence compromised in this way? We also recently heard about a minister who received donations and gifts from an industry she was conducting an inquiry into and was making regulatory decisions about. Last term, we saw millions of dollars in grants handed out for party political reasons without any semblance of proper process. It was no wonder, then, that at the time of the 2022 election Australia had dropped to its lowest ever level on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. This behaviour has to stop.

At the election, the people of Australia voted in droves for greater integrity in our political system. The best solution to this issue of corruption and cronyism would be the enactment of comprehensive legislation that requires a transparent, accountable and independent process for all major Commonwealth public appointments, such as I introduced earlier this week with my Private Member's Bill, ending jobs for mates. This is a gold standard process, which balances an appropriate level of ministerial discretion as the final decision-maker with ensuring a shortlist of candidates is independently selected based on their expertise, experience and integrity.

In the meantime, however, I have no choice but to introduce this amendment to this bill. I will now go to the bill currently before the House and my proposed amendment. At present the ministers responsible for the National Reconstruction Fund Corporation, the Minister for Industry and Science and the Minister for Finance, have complete discretion over who is appointed to the board. The ministers are required to have regard to the experience, professional credibility and standing of the board members they propose to appoint. This is, of course, something that that is expected. However, there is no mechanism or oversight committee to guarantee that the board member selection process is actually competitive, fair and equitable, as would occur under my ending jobs for mates legislation.

My amendment to this bill requires that, in the selection of National Reconstruction Fund board members: the positions and selection criteria be publicly advertised for a minimum of ten consecutive days; the assessment of applications is undertaken by an independent selection panel with at least three members and a former superior court judge as chair; the panel shortlists at least three candidates for each position and certifies they meet the selection criteria; the minister chooses the successful candidate only from the shortlist; and, lastly, the certification of the successful candidate must be tabled in the Parliament.

This amendment strikes the right balance between ministerial discretion and public accountability, and it will not result in undue bureaucratic burden or cost. What it will do is ensure the integrity of the National Reconstruction Fund board and, thus, the important decisions they make on the disbursement of the $15 billion in the fund. The people of Australia deserve a political system they can trust.