Positions For Pals Do Boards a Disservice

You’ll recall in my earlier blog I took a critical – and none too flattering – look at government’s rather feeble track record when it comes to living by the laws it creates and applies to others, especially when trafficking in misleading information.

I mentioned, too, that I had more to say on our pollies and their governance attributes…and I’m afraid it’s no less damning when it comes to them selecting people for board positions.

In the corporate and NGO sectors, boards are doing an enormous amount of good work to ensure that there’s diversity and a balance of skill sets among the people they select to direct the organisation.

They do so because experience tells them that people are the lifeblood of any organisation and they will largely determine its success or failure. They know, too, that respected research suggests that diverse boards simply work better for the organisations they govern.

It seems there’s a different mindset in the hallowed halls of power, one that verges on carelessness…and smacks of gross arrogance.

For how else can you explain the behaviour of those who purposefully cock a snook at empirical research by some of the world’s finest governance minds?

That’s right, the startling truth – and I speak from countless years of experience here – is that our politician friends often treat board positions as nothing more than a crude reward for those who have helped the ruling party in some way, shape or form.

It’s not confined to any political persuasion and is so ubiquitous as to be cause for serious alarm and enormous concern.

This ‘positions for pals’ approach cares little for diversity, skills or expertise and it pooh-poohs best practice research. But perhaps worst of all, it is so lacking in integrity.

I’ve encountered it on many occasions, where I’ve been asked to attend to the process and recommend candidates worthy of consideration to ensure that government board appointments are being handled expertly and objectively.

And yet, in most cases, the Minister in question has referred names to me or added to the shortlist and guess what? One of their names invariably ended up getting the gig.

As I said, reward for those loyal to the party, with scant regard for those with the skills to make a meaningful contribution and a positive difference.

When I’ve questioned these Ministers and suggested they’d do well to get some governance education, the customary response is “ah, we don’t need that, we’re in government so understand governance” or “we’re from a business background and understand it so don’t need it”.

I don’t think so!

On a positive note, kudos to the Northern Territory Government of a few years back which, to date, is the only Australian government to have asked me to run good governance educational programs on their behalf, for their Ministers.

I’ll conclude my three-part scrutiny of our pollies next time, with a look at the rubbish that passes for discussion and debate in Canberra.

Until then…

Kate Costello

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