Independent MP Sophie Scamps is urging the Albanese government to embrace her proposition of a "gold standard" for major Commonwealth public appointments, saying Labor needs to walk the talk on integrity and restoring trust in the political system.
In her first major integrity push, the federal member for Mackellar has introduced a private member's bill in an effort to take the politics, or the "jobs for mates" culture, out of major and sometimes well-paid appointments for accountable authorities.
The Transparent and Quality Public Appointments (Ending Jobs for Mates) Bill 2023 would create a public appointments commissioner as well as departmental independent selection panels, headed by departmental secretaries, and overseen by a non-government-led parliamentary joint committee on appointments.
The independent Parliamentary Budget Office has costed the implementation of the bill's measures at $3 million a year.
"The government is 'talking the talk' about integrity, but this is actually gold standard," Dr Scamps told The Canberra Times.
"So if they are going to support it, this is the one to support. It will rebuild trust in our democratic system, in our political system.
"And at the moment, when trust is at an all-time low, I think it's imperative that we are seen to be doing what we can to build back integrity into our system."
The Teal independent cites the Morrison government's appointment of former Origin Energy chief Grant King as chair of the Climate Change Authority, the fossil fuel executive put in charge of the National COVID-19 Commission, and the planned abolition of the reviews body the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for being "fatally compromised" by cronyism.
She said the bill aims to bring an end to a practice of appointing politicians, donors, former staff and advisers which has been hanging around both sides of politics, but had become exponentially worse under the Morrison years.
"I think it's very damaging to our democracy, because we're lucky now that we have the national anti-corruption commission, but that's kind of a safety net," Dr Scamps said. "It's catching it, when corruption has already happened.
"This is about preventing corruption and being able to trust our democratic process. So we need to be able to trust the institutions which underpin our democracy, and also the decisions that flow from it."
If passed, the legislation - drafted with the Centre for Public Integrity - would establish an Independent Selection Panel in each department for all major Commonwealth public appointments at accountable authorities, including the National Anti-Corruption Commissioner, the Freedom of Information Commissioner and AAT members. It does not include ambassadorial posts.
It also creates the position of Public Appointments Commissioner. Both the commissioner and departmental ISPs would provide the relevant minister with a shortlist of at least three candidates.
"There will be some discretion for the minister that needs to be retained as well," she said. "But the minister will only be able to choose from a shortlist of candidates that have been certified that they do have the necessary expertise and experience required for the job.
"No one can be added or taken off the shortlist."
There would also be a new parliamentary joint committee on appointments. Under the legislation, the committee overseeing the PAC and ISPs would not have a government-led majority, to ensure independence from the government of the day.
The committee would ensure the shortlisted or selected candidates actually meet the selection criteria.
The MP has briefed the Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and she said he was "very receptive", but there are "some sticking points in it."
The Scamps bill comes after Aged Care Royal Commissioner, Lynelle Briggs was chosen by the Albanese government to head an integrity review into public sector board appointments. Dr Scamps welcomes it, but she said "we need to look at these far more broadly than just board appointments."
"Wherever there's humans, there's bias, of course, but what this does, this bill proposes what is gold standard, a gold standard framework for the process of commonwealth public appointments."
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