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George Brandis Taps Fellow Liberals For High Paying, Independent Tribunal Jobs

The tribunal members are paid up to $360,000 per year.

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A failed Liberal candidate and a lifetime member of the Sydney University Liberal Club are among those who've been appointed to high paying jobs at an independent tribunal that had recently been purged by attorney-general George Brandis.

The names of the appointments to the powerful Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) were released on Wednesday, after news broke that several members of the tribunal would not have their contracts renewed.

Late last year BuzzFeed News revealed some of the Liberal party connections to those on the AAT — the independent body of review for important government decisions around freedom of information requests, disability and veterans' appeals, child support arrangements and refugee applications.

Some of the jobs are full-time, others part-time, with tribunal members paid up to $360,000 a year. Both Labor and Liberal governments have attracted controversy in the past for appointing political allies to the tribunal.

Brandis announced 64 new appointments and reappointments to the tribunal on Wednesday, including a new president, Justice David Thomas from Queensland.

Among them is the National Australia Bank's senior government relations manager and part-time Spectator columnist Justin Owen, who is listed as a lifetime member of the Sydney University Liberal Club.

As reported by the Australian Financial Review last year, Owen took time off from his day job to campaign for Brexit in the UK, then wrote an essay for the Spectator called "Nude at 40,000 feet".

Failed New South Wales Liberal senate candidate and senior party official Hollie Hughes was named to sit for seven years on the tribunal.

As was Nora Lamont, the deputy mayor of the Victoria council of Maroondah, who wrote in a 2010 Facebook post: "I am a current member of the Liberal Party".

There's also barrister Rodrigo Pintos-Lopez, whose CV includes time as in-house counsel for Victorian Liberal premier Ted Baillieu, and consultant Helen Moreland, who once worked for Tony Abbott.

George Hallwood – who was thanked in a South Australian Liberal MP's maiden speech for running a local Liberal party branch – picked up a seven year term on the tribunal.

Several AAT members with Liberal connections were reappointed to their positions for another seven years, including Scott Morrison's former chief of staff Ann Brandon-Baker; former Tony Abbott staffer Helena Claringbold; and failed Liberal Party candidate Nick McGowan.

The full list of 64 new appointments and reappointments to the tribunal can be found here.

Mark Di Stefano is a political editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at mark.distefano@buzzfeed.com.

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