Making independent bodies independent

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As previously identified by the Democratic Audit of Australia, the making of politically tainted appointments to non-departmental public agencies can undermine the public value of these institutions and obstruct democratic processes.1 In most cases, independence from government is one of the major reasons for the establishment of these agencies. Parliament has decided that certain functions would be performed more effectively if they were vested in an autonomous or semi-autonomous organisation that is shielded from undue political interference. The most obvious example is judicial and quasi-judicial bodies where independence is essential to upholding the rule of law and avoiding perceptions of bias. The same principles apply in relation to organisations like the ABC and SBS that are intended to perform a democratic function (i.e. the free exchange of information and ideas) that requires a degree of separation from government. Consequently, when the separation between the government and a public agency is reduced as a result of political appointments, the ability of the organisation to perform its intended function can be diminished. Politically-compromised processes can also result in the appointment of substandard candidates to positions of authority an lead to management difficulties.

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