Australian democracy is being undermined by a growing "jobs for mates" culture, with one in five powerful federal government board positions held by a political appointee, a damning new report reveals.
Research from the Grattan Institute shows federal and state government boards, tribunals and agencies are "stacked" with people who have worked in politics.
Political appointees made up 21 per cent of the most well-paid and prestigious federal government board positions.
And at Australia Post, more than one in five members have a political connection.
Half of the Productivity Commission's board members have a political connection to the coalition.
The report found political stacking is "especially evident" on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), an independent expert body that reviews government decisions.
Tribunal member salaries range from almost $200,000 to almost $500,000.
One in five of the AAT's 320 tribunal members have a direct political connection to the government that appointed them.
The research found the "problem" of jobs for mates on the tribunal "is getting worse".
The tribunal's political appointments have grown "substantially" in the past five years.
Many of these appointments were made on "election eve", in the lead up to the 2019 and 2022 federal elections.
The report calls for federal and state governments to establish a "transparent, merit-based selection process" for public appointments, to be overseen by a new Public Appointments Commissioner.
Grattan Institute chief executive Danielle Wood said when "mateship prevails over merit, all Australians suffer".
"Of course not all political appointees are without merit, but politicising public appointments can compromise the performance of government agencies, promote a corrupt culture, and undermine public trust in the institutions of government," she said.
In response to the report, Labor Minister Tony Burke said the former Morrison government's appointments were "lacking in merit" and "off the charts".
"I think for the previous government, the Liberal Party membership was the only skill they were after," he told the ABC.
"I've got a situation, the National Museum at the moment - the Museum of Australia here in Canberra doesn't have a single historian on the board.
"The National Portrait Gallery has no one who is First Nations on its board. You need to say, what's the mixture of people you need on these boards to make sure that you're filling the gaps appropriately and then for me, every appointment when you worked out the skills, goes through a further process to the department."
Australian Associated Press
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.