Attorney-general George Brandis has dismissed concerns that well-paid government jobs are going to former Liberal MPs, stating that holding political office should not disqualify them.
Labor probed Brandis about the validity of some of the appointments to the independent judicial body, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in Senate Estimates on Tuesday. Brandis said that being a member of parliament shouldn't exclude someone from getting a job in government.
"We look for people who are familiar in the broadest sense with government," he said. "That's why people who've served in parliament are among the sorts of people who are suitable. Just as former judges we appoint because they are people who are professionally trained in decision making.
"I have never taken the view that parliamentary service is a disqualification for appointment to positions like for example the AAT."
A total of 11 out of the 15 Liberal MPs who lost their seats at the 2016 election now have a government job.
The only former Liberal MPs to not take a job with the government since losing their seats to Labor last year are: Nick Varvaris (former member for Barton); Ewen Jones (Herbert); Wyatt Roy (Longman); and Luke Simpkins, the former member for Cowan, and now a member of the Australian Conservatives.
Since leaving parliament the remaining 11 have all taken posts either in government or in the offices of other MPs.
Former MPs Karen McNamara, Brett Whiteley, and Matt Williams are all working in the offices of Turnbull government ministers.
Former Liberal minister Jamie Briggs is now the director of government company Moorebank Intermodal. Former Country Liberal Party MP for Solomon Natasha Griggs (who recently quit the CLP) is the administrator of Christmas Island and Cocos Islands.
Former member for Eden-Monaro and Turnbull coup plotter Peter Hendy is on the Commonwealth Grants Committee and the Council for Australian-Arab Relations.
Former member for Lindsay, Fiona Scott, is on the board of the National Film & Sound Archive, while the former member for Lyons, Eric Hutchinson, is the Norfolk Island administrator.
Former member for Macquarie, Louise Markus, is the chair of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Russell Matheson, the former member for Macarthur is also on the AAT with former member for Bass, Andrew Nikolic.
More than a quarter (26%) of the full-time members of the AAT have Liberal links, BuzzFeed News has reported.
BuzzFeed News reported that while in his $300,000 full-tme AAT role, Nikolic has continued to post highly political statements about marriage equality on the Facebook page he ran as the member for Bass, which Labor claimed runs against AAT guidelines.
"I will be voting NO," Nikolic wrote in a post on September 8 after the High Court ruled the same-sex marriage postal survey would go ahead.
When Labor pressed Brandis on this in Senate Estimates on Tuesday, the attorney-general said an opinion on same-sex marriage was not a "partisan opinion".
"I would have thought that all citizens are entitled to an opinion about the issue of same-sex marriage, in fact it's the government's policy to encourage every citizen to vote in the marriage postal survey," Brandis said.
Brandis said that if Nikolic was found to be in breach of the guidelines he would be counselled.
"If he's in breach of the guidelines, then no doubt the president will take appropriate steps in the first instance to counsel him, but the examples you've instanced don't demonstrate to me a breach of the guidelines," he said.
Josh Taylor is a Senior Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Josh Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.
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