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Tuesday, 30 November 2004
Page: 32


Senator MURRAY (2:26 PM) —My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Robert Hill. Given that the minister is aware of recent allegations by a member of the House of Representatives that he was offered an improper inducement of a beneficial trade or diplomatic post, is the minister aware that this has again raised the issue of how government appointments are made? Does the minister recognise that the member's allegations had popular traction because of the public's view that jobs for the boys and girls go on all the time? Does the minister agree that if all government appointments were to be made through an independent process on merit then there could never ever be any opportunity for, or even suspicion of, improper inducements of the kind alleged?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —The implication within that question is that this independent body will make better appointments, and that is neither my view nor the view of the government. This government is responsible for diplomatic appointments. It generally appoints professionals from within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but on occasions it makes a decision that some other individual might be better suited for a particular post. It is a practice that has been in existence for a long time; this is not something that has been originated by this government. I can think of recent appointments who did not come out, at least in the immediate sense, of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade such as Mr Michael L'Estrange in London. I would have thought any objective observer would say that he has done an outstanding job. I do not think anybody would argue that an independent body would have made a better choice. There are a few others I can think of along the same lines.

I can say, similarly, that I thought Kerry Sibraa did a great job in Africa. He was particularly well-suited to that appointment. He had a love of Africa and a good knowledge of Africa. He had been a chairman of the foreign affairs and defence committee of this parliament and the president of the Senate. Senator Conroy might be shaking his head, but in my view his former colleague the honourable senator was particularly well-suited to that appointment. So, no, it is not the view of this government that it should abdicate its responsibility for these appointments to some independent body. It is not the view of this government that that would lead to better appointments. This government will make appointments, as is its responsibility, and it will have the responsibility then to defend those appointments. In my observations, certainly more often than not they have been proven to be wise choices by the high quality of the performance given by the individuals concerned.


Senator MURRAY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister would be well aware, as an experienced minister and member of parliament, that his answer does not address the public perception problem that exists. Is the minister aware that other governments have radically improved the independence of the process by publishing independent criteria under which appointments are made? When will the government act to end appointments being made that could be or are the subject of political patronage? When will it improve its formal processes in this regard?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —There is an assertion within the supplementary question that there is a public perception that there is something wrong with diplomatic appointments. I have not seen evidence to that effect. I have not seen the public expressing criticism of the appointments made by this government to diplomatic posts. The reason I have not seen it, I suspect, is that they have done an exceptionally good job. It is true that other governments in other systems have different ways of making these appointments. I assume the Democrats would also argue for a more independent appointment process for judges. This government accepts that when it is elected to govern it has responsibilities to govern, not to pass that responsibility to third parties. That might not be the way the Democrats wish to do business, but in this instance it is not the Democrats that are doing the business.