8 July 2023

'Potential for corruption is evidently there': Auditor-General invited to examine ACT board appointments

| Claire Fenwicke
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Legislative Assembly

Canberra Liberals MLA Peter Cain told the Legislative Assembly it was “disgraceful” that 14 per cent of government business enterprise board members had political affiliations. Photo: File.

The Territory’s current government business enterprise board and other government appointments will be referred to the ACT Auditor-General to ensure people have received positions based on merit and not because of political affiliations.

Canberra Liberals MLA Peter Cain brought forward the suggestion during a sitting of the Legislative Assembly to make sure there were no “jobs for mates” appointments that had been made.

“Jobs for mates appointment practices degrade public trust in our democratic system and this review will be vital to promoting decision-making in the public interest,” he said.

Mr Cain pointed to the Grattan Institute’s ‘New politics: A better process for public appointments’ report, which found the ACT had the equal-highest most politically affiliated government business enterprise board members from the same side of government that had appointed them.

While this may not be surprising given the ACT Labor government has been in power for the past two decades, Mr Cain argued having 14 per cent of board members with political affiliations was “disgraceful”.

“A referral to the ACT Auditor-General to review current appointments and recommend appropriate protocols for future appointments, which ensure good governance principles are maintained, is clearly long overdue,” he said.

Mr Cain said it was about ensuring the decisions being made by current boards, which may benefit one side of politics over another, were sound, along with those decisions being made by those currently involved in politics.

“It’s very tempting for people involved in politics, whether as a member or a candidate or political advisor … to not be frank in their advice to their own party because they might have an eye on a juicy appointment after that political role is over,” he said.

Mr Cain acknowledged while processes were already in place to ensure no political interference or concerns for board appointments, he felt more could be done.

“The outcomes that we are getting from that process seem to suggest there’s room for improvement,” he said. “We don’t want people appointed to significant roles on these boards or significant statutory roles because they used to be a mate in politics.”

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Greens integrity and community engagement spokesperson Andrew Braddock MLA voiced his party’s support for the motion, stating that external scrutiny of ACT board appointment decisions and processes was something they would “always welcome”.

“If the Canberra Liberals believe there is sufficient reason for the Auditor-General to take a closer look, we would welcome that,” he said.

“The ACT Government’s [board appointment] processes seem to be pretty good, but despite this … it was found the ACT Government has still appointed a significant number of politically affiliated people to its boards.

“Of course one of the reasons we’re having this debate is the potential for corruption is evidently there.”

He said inviting the Auditor-General to examine whether appointments were made with integrity and in line with community expectations was an “important” step, and noted Mr Cain could have written to the Auditor-General about his concerns rather than making it a motion in the Assembly.

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The three business enterprises investigated by the Grattan Institute for its report were Icon Water, ActewAGL and the Cultural Facilities Corporation.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr corrected the record to note that ActewAGL was a joint venture between the government, Icon Water and two other private companies, and not a government-owned entity or business enterprise.

“The ACT Government – the ministers nor the executive – have no role in appointing the executive members to [that] board,” he said.

“An error in the Grattan report was in relation to [the appointments] to the ActewAGL board … I’m sure, given the opportunity, they would correct that and acknowledge that that board is not covered under the terms of their assessment.”

He agreed appointments to boards were “essential” in providing advice, assistance and guidance to both the government and community, but made the point that having held elected office shouldn’t disqualify someone from holding a board appointment in the future.

“Appointments should be made with the view to represent and serve the community, and the ACT Government process for appointments absolutely ensures that this is the case,” Mr Barr said.

“I do, though, welcome any Auditor-General consideration of reviewing the current process.”

Original Article published by Claire Fenwicke on Riotact.

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