Days before calling the election, the government has stacked the AAT with personnel linked to the Liberal Party

christmas trading AAT

Former MP Pru Goward.

In one of its final acts before calling an election and entering caretaker mode, the Morrison government has made a flurry of appointments to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), several of whom have links to the Liberal Party.

Michael Mischin, an attorney-general in Colin Barnett’s Western Australian Liberal government, has been appointed deputy president of the AAT by Attorney-General Michaelia Cash.

He’s joined by Pru Goward as a senior member, a former minister for family and community services in the Berejiklian government, and a NSW Liberal member of the legislative assembly (MLA) for more than a decade. More recently, Goward achieved online notoriety for a column in The Australian Financial Review about the “underclass”, whom she described as “proles” who are “damaged and lacking in discipline”.

Ann Duffield, a former chief of staff to both Prime Minister Scott Morrison (during his time as immigration minister) and Philip Ruddock, has been promoted to senior member. She’s currently an engagement executive at Liberal-linked DPG Advisory Solutions, run by Morrison friends David Gazard and Scott Briggs. According to a 2019 investigation by Crikey, Duffield, who was appointed by former attorney-general George Brandis in 2016, has no known legal qualifications.

Other appointments include Cheryl Cartwright, a director at Liberal-aligned PR shop Barton Deakin, who worked for former Nationals leader Warren Truss and former foreign minister Alexander Downer. Kate Chapple, a senior advisor in Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s office, got the nod, who has also worked for Government Services Minister Linda Reynolds.

Peter Katsambanis, another appointee, was a Western Australian state Liberal MP in both upper and lower houses. Like Mischin, he lost his seat during Premier Mark McGowan’s landslide election victory last year. Brygyda Maiden, also appointed, was involved with the Young Liberals, receiving a special shoutout from Victorian Liberal MP Bridget Vallence in her inaugural speech.

The government also promoted or extended terms for a number of members with Liberal ties, including former candidate Denis Dragovic, Sydney University Liberal Club life member Justin Owen, former Cash advisor Antoinette Younes, former Liberal senator Karen Synon, former Eric Abetz advisor Donald Morris, former candidate Rachel Westaway, and former Victorian upper house MP Donna Petrovich.

Graham “Gray” Connolly, a barrister and prominent conservative commentator, also got an appointment.

The Coalition has form when it comes to stacking the AAT. Before the latest round of appointments, at least 79 people with Liberal ties had been appointed to the tribunal. A 2019 Crikey series found that while in office, the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments had replaced 70% of AAT members with its own members. Most appointments, like this round, are rammed through right on the eve of an election announcement.

Selection processes are notoriously opaque, and salaries are big. Members are paid between $193,990 and $249,420, with senior members on $329,930 to $391,940, and a deputy president earning $496,560.

Cash’s other recent high-profile appointment, Human Rights Commissioner Lorraine Finlay, also has close ties with the Liberal Party.

Ahead of the 2019 election, the Morrison government also made numerous appointments to government bodies, with analysis by The Guardian finding 20% had Coalition links. In addition to the AAT, there have been several other appointments by the government. Yesterday, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher appointed Don Harwin, a former minister in the Berejiklian government, to the Australia Council Board.

This article was first published by Crikey.


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