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Australia

Porter hits back on AAT appointments, denies link to campaign bus contract

Attorney-General Christian Porter has defended the appointment of former Liberal MPs to lucrative positions on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and denied any link to a controversial bus contract.

Mr Porter had come under fire for appointing former WA Liberal minister Joe Francis to one of the $244,520-a-year jobs after it was revealed his campaign in the marginal seat of Pearce had been using a bus provided by a company Mr Francis worked for until December.

Attorney-General Christian Porter.

Attorney-General Christian Porter. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

But the Attorney-General told Gareth Parker on Perth radio station 6PR's Mornings the bus was provided on a commercial basis and was a deal done between the bus company, Australian Transit Group, and the WA Liberal Party.

"I haven't had anything to do with the transaction that has brought about the buses being used by the Liberal Party of WA," Mr Porter said.

"I'd say since state politics, I might have talked to Joe Francis two or three times, but not about buses.

"This is a commercial transaction that was settled between the Liberal Party of Australia and Australian Transit Group, which is a company which I have had no dealings with at all.

"Where buses or gifts in kind are donated to the Liberal Party, they're declared as donations."

Mr Porter said it was not unusual for former Labor and Liberal MPs and staffers to be appointed to the AAT because they had experience making administrative decisions.

"People who've been inside the highest levels of government in charge of administrative decisions are often very good at making determinations about them," he said.

"My personal thoughts about this last range of AAT appointments is that I was very keen to get people who would reflect community values in migration decisions because we have had a very large number of ministerial migration decisions overturned by the AAT, about 39 per cent in the last year, in excess of 4000.

"I was looking for a range of people who I thought would reflect community values in very important decisions on migration matters, visa applications and particularly where our minister has taken visas off people who've been charged and convicted of criminal offences in Australia."

Mr Francis was a corrections and veterans minister in the Barnett Government.

Prior to entering parliament he was a naval officer who participated in operations to rescue asylum seekers attempting to reach Christmas Island.

"[Mr Francis has] got a very strong background in administrative decision-making, he is a very well respected naval officer and I take the view that he is the type of person that would reflect community values in these decisions, which is one of the reasons why he was an appropriate choice for this job," Mr Porter said.

"The suggestion that this is attached to something in the nature of a donation is I think a very unfair suggestion for the primary reason that it wasn't a donation.

"The Liberal Party of Australia purchased or will purchase buses pursuant to a commercial arrangement that obviously works for both of the parties involved – the company that was going to get rid of the buses and the Liberal Party – they're being used in a federal campaign, I understand they're going to be used in state campaigns subsequent to that.

"But the notion that they were free, which is what was in the paper today, isn't correct."

Mr Porter appointed 34 new members to the tribunal and reappointed another 52 existing members.

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Former Liberal speaker of the WA Parliament Michael Sutherland was appointed to a five-year term.

The job of the AAT is to review administrative decisions, made by federal government departments or ministers, on their merits.

Some of its decisions – particularly on migration matters – have been labelled "infuriating" by Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said the appointments showed the Coalition was "only in it for themselves".

"The government has a shameful record on stacking the AAT with Liberal donors, former MPs, former staffers and mates – but it has outdone itself today," he said.

Mr Francis declined to comment.

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