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Question to the Attorney General on jobs for mates

8th February, 2024

My question is for the Attorney-General. In 2022, the minister announced the abolition of the AAT, stating that it had been fatally compromised by the stacking of Liberal cronies. But the new tribunal being proposed by the minister, while requiring merit based selection of new members, will not require any independence in that selection process. Merit and independence are not the same thing. The minister will still have the power to hand-pick mates for these plum jobs. Why is the Attorney-General going to the great effort of creating a new tribunal if it is to suffer the same fatal flaw that saw its predecessor abolished?

Mr DREYFUS (Attorney-General and Cabinet Secretary): I thank the member for Mackellar for her question. It is important to see the context that the member gave to her question. She is right to be concerned about the appointments process for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and for the process for the new tribunal that we hope will replace it. This Liberal Party stacked the AAT with at least 85 former Liberal MPs, failed Liberal candidates, former Liberal staffers and other close Liberal associates without any merit based selection process. This Liberal Party cared so little about preserving the actual or perceived independence of the AAT that they even appointed active Liberal aligned lobbyists as members. The AAT's public standing was irreversibly damaged as a result of the actions of the previous government, and it's another mess that the Albanese government has to clean up.

Since the 2022 federal election this government has made approximately 115 new appointments to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, including the new president. Each of these members was appointed pursuant to a merit based selection process. Each of those members applied for the job in response to a public advertisement and was assessed by an independent panel. Each of this government's new appointments to the AAT was endorsed by the panel as being suitable for appointment. There is no law that required our government to follow that or any other process in appointing AAT members, but that is what our government has done.

The legislation that I introduced last year would abolish the AAT and replace it with a new administrative review body that is user focused, efficient, accessible, independent and fair. The legislation would require by law, as you mentioned in your question, Member for Mackellar, that members of the tribunal be appointed through a competitive, publicly advertised, merit based process supported by regulations that set out detailed procedural requirements and selection criteria. We are committed to ending the stack, and I would welcome engagement with the member for Mackellar and other members of this House who are interested about what those detailed regulations should look like and about other aspects of the legislation.

Before concluding, it is deeply disappointing to see that the Greens party teamed up with the Liberal Party in the Senate today to disrupt and delay these generational reforms by delaying the committee inquiry process. We know why the Liberal Party wants to delay these reforms as long as possible—it's about protecting their stack. What I can't understand is why the Greens party are prepared to back the Liberal Party's disgraceful attempts to delay a vital reform that will have a real and lasting benefit for the lives of thousands of Australians.