Boards stacked with political mates

Politically connected individuals have been handed one in five lucrative and powerful federal government board positions, according to a new report exposing Australia’s “jobs for mates” culture.

What we know:

  • The report warns that political appointees occupy 21% of federal government board  positions that are well-paid, powerful, and/or prestigious (Grattan Institute); 
  • The proportion drops to 7% when including federal board, tribunal and agency roles that aren’t as well paid or powerful;
  • Report co-author Kate Griffiths warned that these appointments impacted the ability of institutions to effectively function, and contributed to “an erosion of trust in government” (The Guardian); 
  • Political stacking is especially evident on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, with 22% of the 320 members politically connected, and enjoying salaries of up to $500,000;
  • “It is unlikely that such a high proportion of politically affiliated people would emerge from a completely merit-based recruitment process”, the report noted;
  • AAT members with political affiliations performed worse on average than those without, with almost a quarter of political appointees falling well short of their performance targets;
  • Half of the members of the Productivity Commission board have a connection to the Coalition;
  • Former prime minister Tony Abbott is among four Liberal Party-aligned members of the Australian War Memorial board, chaired by former federal minister and party leader Brendan Nelson (SMH); 
  • Of the 21% identified as politically affiliated appointees to federal government business enterprise boards such as Australia Post and the NBN, 93% were linked to the Coalition;
  • In states governed by Labor, state government business enterprise board appointees were largely connected to the Labor Party;
  • The report recommends the establishment of a transparent, merit-based process for all public appointments, overseen by a dedicated public appointments commissioner (The Conversation); 
  • It comes in the wake of the abandoned effort to appoint former deputy NSW premier John Barilaro to a senior trade role in New York, in the latest example of a system of “mutually assured corruption” (The Saturday Paper). 
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Labor unrepentant over Covid backflip

Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers has rejected calls for the government to apologise to casual workers, after retreating from plans to end paid pandemic leave payments.

What we know:

  • Prime Minister Anthony Albanese backflipped on ending the payment after a snap national cabinet meeting with premiers who opposed the move (The Conversation); 
  • After the meeting, brought forward from Monday to Saturday, Albanese announced the payments of $750 to casual workers in Covid isolation will be extended until September 30;
  • The plan will cost $780m and split between the Commonwealth and the states and territories;
  • The payment ended on June 30, but people can from Wednesday apply for it to be backdated to July 1;
  • Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley said Albanese “owes an apology to every single Australian who has recently tested positive for Covid-19” for ending the payment;
  • Chalmers rejected that statement on Sunday, noting it was a decision initially taken by the Morrison government;
  • “I think one of the reasons why that comment is so obviously ridiculous is because it was her government, a little over eight weeks ago, that designed for this program to end,” he said (ABC). 
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Heatwave kills 1000 in Europe

More than a thousand deaths have been attributed to a climate change-linked heatwave in Europe, with wildfires sweeping the south of the continent as the UK braces for what could be its hottest ever day.

What we know:

  • More than 1000 excess deaths have been attributed to a nearly week-long heatwave in Portugal and Spain alone, with temperatures reaching as high as 45.7C (Reuters); 
  • Huge wildfires are burning forest regions across Spain, Greece, Portugal and France;
  • In Italy, the heatwave has contributed to the worst drought in decades, with the Po region suffering a 30% decline in seasonal harvests and hydroelectric power down 50% as rivers run dry (Bloomberg); 
  • Temperatures could reach as high as 41C in the UK on Monday, with residents urged not to catch public transport as the country is poised to break its temperature record (BBC). 
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Greens negotiate on emissions target

The Greens have signalled they may back the Albanese government’s 2030 emissions reduction target of 43% if the legislation guarantees the target is a floor and not a ceiling.

Greens leader Adam Bandt on Sunday said the party would push for the target to be set as a minimum to ensure it could not be eroded by future governments (SMH). 

Bandt added that phasing out a reliance on coal and gas would be among his key requests in negotiations (The Guardian). 

He said his “strongly preferred approach is to improve and pass” the legislation but did not rule out opposing it.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton criticised Labor’s plan to legislate the target, saying that doing so would lock Australia into an inflexible position in the event of worsening economic conditions.

Victorian Liberal leader Matthew Guy meanwhile announced his party would legislate a 50% emissions reduction target if it won the upcoming state election (The Age).

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ANZ poised to buy Suncorp

ANZ has offered $4.9bn to buy Suncorp’s bank, with the deal set to be signed this morning.

The deal would likely require approval of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and Treasurer Jim Chalmers (AFR $). 

The ACCC confirmed on Sunday it would decide “whether a public review into the impact of competition is necessary, taking into account the bidders” if an offer was to eventuate.

The deal would also have to navigate Queensland laws that bind Suncorp to its home state.

The rules require the head office to be located in Queensland and the managing director to reside in the state, along with key functions such as treasury operations.

If it goes ahead, it would be Australia’s biggest banking buyout in more than a decade.

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We know there are some outstanding mullets in every corner of Australia and we want to see them all.

Organisers call for entries for Australia’s annual Mulletfest event at the Commercial Hotel in Dubbo on August 20. Adults, children and pets can enter in a range of categories including  over 50s, grubby, extreme, everyday and rookie (The New Daily).

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Postscript: Master cartography and mythical creatures – the world according to the Catalan Atlas

In addition to being perhaps the most accurate and important map of the Middle Ages, it was also quite beautiful, with detailed illustrations of ancient rulers, Christian mythology and more woven into the landscape (Aeon).

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Max Opray is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.

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