Smyth’s appointment lacked transparency, says auditor-general

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AUDITOR-general Maxine Cooper has ruled that while the creation of the position of Commissioner for International Engagement was within the remit of the Chief Minister, the paucity of documentation around the appointment “lacks transparency”.

Commissioner Brendan Smyth.
Commissioner Brendan Smyth.

Former senior Liberal MLA Brendan Smyth was suddenly appointed to the new position only weeks short of the act October Assembly election.

Dr Cooper says that while Smyth’s appointment was consistent with general powers attributed to the Executive under the Australian Capital Territory (Self-government) Act 1988, there are no prescribed processes or procedures for such appointments.

“However, better practice would have been to prepare a business case (or similar) to comprehensively present arguments for the position of commissioner and the office, and which would outline the background, expected benefits and options considered (with reasons for rejecting or carrying forward each option),” she writes.

She presented her review report the position creation and appointment process to the Speaker for tabling in the ACT Legislative Assembly.

“While some aspects of the process are well documented there is little documentation to indicate how potential candidates were to be identified, what skills, experience or qualifications were desirable, or how candidates were to be assessed. An open selection process was not used and the now Commissioner was approached as the sole candidate,” her report says.

In the only recommendation made, Dr Cooper calls on the ACT government to develop guidelines for significant appointments that, amongst other things, provide general principles for appointments; outline considerations for selecting the method of appointment to be applied; specify reporting obligations for the appointee and outline requirements for documentation (full documentation is strongly recommended).

“In this instance, although some aspects of the process are well documented (such as the formal appointment and the employment arrangements applicable to the Commissioner), there is little documentation to indicate how potential candidates were to be identified, what skills, experience or qualifications were desirable, or how candidates were to be assessed,” she says.

“An open selection process was not used and the now commissioner was approached as the sole candidate.

“This is not to suggest, in any way, that the now commissioner is not a suitable appointee.

“The general paucity of documentation, however, lacks transparency.

“Significant appointments are often a matter of considerable public interest. For this reason, better practice would be to ensure that whatever process was adopted was transparent, without bias and fully documented. The community expects that appointees will not only be well qualified, but that the process used will be fair and appropriate.

“In this instance, while some aspects of the process are well documented (such as the formal appointment and the employment arrangements applicable to the Commissioner), there is little documentation to indicate how potential candidates were identified, what skills, experience or qualifications were desirable, or how candidates were assessed.

“Further, although the seniority (and thus remuneration) level of the proposed position was assessed based on ‘the nature of the role’, better practice would be to either refer the proposed position and remuneration to the Remuneration Tribunal, or conduct a formal position evaluation based on an accepted method.”

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