Page 830 - Week 03 - Thursday, 30 March 2006

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chairperson and one other member. Members of the commission are appointed by the executive.

Section 12 of the act places qualifications on who may be appointed as chairperson of the commission. This is currently restricted to current and former judges, former justices of the High Court, former chief executives, former commonwealth departmental secretaries or former members of the electoral commission or of an authority of the commonwealth, a state or another territory.

The government would like to have a wider range of people who are eligible to take on this important position. Experience in a senior and responsible position, impartiality and probity are qualities that can be found in people with a range of life experiences. These amendments recognise that by broadening the field from which appointments can be made. The government is also firmly of the view that it is appropriate that the position of chairperson of the electoral commission, with its functions of supervising the election of the members of the Assembly, should continue to have qualifications, due to the sensitive nature of the appointment.

Under the amendments being put forward in this bill the type of person who may be appointed as chairperson will be expanded to also include a lawyer with at least five years’ experience who has held a senior position in the legal profession; a former chief executive officer of a territory instrumentality; a former statutory office holder; a former head of commonwealth executive agency or commonwealth statutory agency; or a person who has held a senior position as an academic or in business or a profession for at least five years and who has knowledge and experience to exercise the functions of chairperson.

These types of qualifications are in line with legislative requirements for appointment to other responsible positions. For example, section 6 of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act requires that the president of the tribunal be either a judge or have been a lawyer for at least five years. Section 6 of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act provides for people to be appointed as members of the tribunal on the basis of experience at a senior level in business or a profession other than law, where such experience is considered relevant to the nature of the appointment.

I draw members’ attention to the Commonwealth Electoral Act, which similarly provides qualifications as to who may be appointed as a member of the Australian Electoral Commission. Since no restrictions apply to the appointment of an ordinary member of the commission, the knowledge and experience of the chairperson will be able to be balanced with those of another member who has different skills.

The amendments in this bill will not alter the existing protections against the government of the day making political appointments to the commission. Under the electoral act, before a person is appointed to the commission the responsible minister must consult with the leader of each political party that is represented in the Assembly and with any members of the Assembly who are not representatives of a political party. This consultation requirement allows the non-government members of the Assembly to have a say about the appointments and provides protection against a situation where the government proposes to appoint a person with a known political bias. Nothing in this bill will affect that consultation process.

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