The Guardian 11 May, 2005

SA Government
in US-style cabinet appointments

Bob Briton

The Rann government in South Australia has broken a longstanding democratic principle by becoming the first administration in Australia to appoint non-elected members to positions in the executive arm of government. Mining tycoon Robert Champion de Crespigny and Monsignor David Cappo of the Catholic Church will join the Premier, Treasurer Kevin Foley and Infrastructure Minister Patrick Conlon on the Cabinet Executive the most influential government body in the state.

While the practice of inviting non-elected business and security agency figures into the government is common in the plutocratic parliamentary system in the US, Premier Mike Rann is the first to make such outside appointments in Australia. Though Bob Hawke floated the idea in his Boyer lecture of 1979, the notion of handing non-elected individuals such unaccountable influence never gained ground until now.

The Liberal opposition and the Democrats learned of the move through the media and have objected to the move, though Democrats MP Ian Gilfillan was quick to point out that he was complaining about the "principle, not the personalities".

Premier Rann said his decision was " about my long-held belief that government should tap into the best available talent". Other pro-business sources are crowing that the appointment of Robert de Crespigny is an outward sign that the government is "getting serious" about its commitment to business. De Crespigny was a chartered accountant specialising in corporate finance before founding his own resources group, Normandy Mining Limited in 1985. He is a major shareholder in John Singleton's Macquarie Radio Network.

He resigned his executive chairman and CEO posts at Normandy earlier this year to focus on other projects. He will resign as chancellor of the University of Adelaide for the same reason from June. He was appointed head of the SA government's Economic Development Board (EDB) which has pushed various economic rationalist policies (like the controversial Public- Private Partnerships) and has been on numerous government committees and boards dating back to the days of Prime Minister Keating.

His own board time-serving notwithstanding, the day after his appointment to the state cabinet executive he told a government breakfast briefing that the time has come to wind up 146 boards and committees. Mr Rann has already promised to "cut a swathe" through them within six weeks of getting the EDB report on the issues. De Crespigny also called on the government to put an end to the concept of permanency for the state's public servants.

While few would be confused as to allegiances, Mr de Crespigny avoids questions about his commitment to the ideological right. "I'm certainly not a member of the Liberal Party, as such", he told The Australian recently.

Advertiser columnist Rex Jory praised the appointment of Monsignor Cappo in these revealing terms: "If Mr de Crespigny gives the Government credibility in the business community, Monsignor Cappo will help provide a human face, a cloak of compassion". The Monsignor, the second highest ranking official of the Catholic Church in SA had already been chairing the government's Social Inclusion Unit which will help steer a Social Inclusion Initiative over the next ten years.

The Rann government is known for its self-promotion in the area of poverty eradication including a recent claim to have halved the numbers of homeless people sleeping rough in Adelaide in the past two years. For all this, social inclusiveness seems an elusive goal in SA. There are still large disadvantaged areas with unemployment of up to 21 per cent and many other indicators showing growing inequalities in the community.

The Monsignor himself drew attention last year to a report from the Public Health Information Development Unit of the University of Adelaide that sets out this stark reality. The inclusion of a figure like the Monsignor would indeed be a useful cloak, or cover, for the cooption of unelected business figures into the leading bodies of government.

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