Capability Requirements of the Political Class

Members of Parliament will often have a dual focus: one is the welfare of their constituents and engagement in the development of government policy, legislation and regulations.

Another focus for a selected few, is ministerial accountability with oversight of the development and implementation of government policy straddling a diversity of issues, which can have global horizons, domestic horizons relating to economic, infrastructure and the social wellbeing of Australia’s residents.

In many settings ministers in government are accountable to the Parliament for the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money.  That money being derived from all forms of taxes and charges on both the business community and individuals, and international transactions, which attract levies of one form or another.

The offices of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and Premier and Cabinet are onerous, having oversight of the administration of government at a national or state level.  Though there are many ministerial portfolios, which have oversight of treasury and finance functions; infrastructure functions; and industry and trade, which are critical, at state level core ministerial obligations are likely to embrace health, education, infrastructure and transport, with natural resources and energy having variable degrees of importance at state level.

At local government level elected officials are predominantly part-time, not well paid, though have a significant engagement at local level in meeting community needs across a myriad of activities and support of endeavours sponsored by either the Commonwealth or state governments, which outside rates and taxes, are a primary source of their income.

In exploring the skills and the calibre of expertise required of Prime Ministers, Premiers, Mayors, Ministers and elected officials there would clearly be a hierarchy.

In this context we note that the public sector clearly describes its expectations in relation to the skills, experience and capabilities required of their leaders.

In relation to the private sector, among listed companies in which a significant proportion of the community are invested, there is a requirement for disclosure in corporate governance statements and annual and directors’ reports to shareholders providing guidance and information on the qualifications, experience, skills and capabilities of directors who are seeking election to the board of those corporations.



Demonstrated capability in communicating with a diversity of constituents, senior public servants, activists, party members – while also possessing a demonstrated capacity to participate in debates across a wide spectrum of subject matter.

A critical communication skill is the capacity to listen to the views of others while demonstrating well developed social skills including emotional and empathic intelligence.

Constituency Engagement

A critical skill for an elected representative is an ability to engage with and respond to  constituent expectations and needs and to communicate those with ministers and the Parliament more broadly, in supporting constituent needs, be they in health, education, transport, aged care, support for industry, infrastructure etc.

Environment and Sustainability

Relevant experience in relation to environmental issues which is a multi-faceted policy area that impacts on Government and private sector investment decisions as well as the sustainability of current operations and the engagement of Government with investors, suppliers and customers.

Climate change is a contemporary issue which transcends commercial operations, government-owned operations, the investment market and society.

It is anticipated that ministers with oversight of climate issues would bring to the table experience which enables them to effectively consider the implications of climate policy by the Government and its impact on the operational capacity of industry and communities Australia-wide.

Financial Expertise

Relevant experience in financial regulation extending to a capability to evaluate financial statements and understand key financial drivers of government-funded initiatives as well as those impacting on the banks and the capital markets nationally and internationally, which have a relevance in providing support and oversight of commercial enterprises and their impact upon the citizens of Australia.

Comprehensive knowledge of the criticality of the effect of deployment of the Government’s financial resources in the execution of large-scale projects with long-term investment horizons involving substantial capital outlays.

Health and Safety

Experience in workplace health and safety matters; policies and strategies including implementing H&S systems, in government and non-government enterprises of scale.

Industry and/or Government Experience

Prior experience across one or more key industry sectors, which are either major employers nationally or key sources of international engagement for Australia.

Experience and knowledge of the health sector, including public and private hospital operations, the ambulance environment, outsourced research services, health services for the elderly and disadvantaged, including mental health.

Demonstrated experience and knowledge of the education sector from preschool through to secondary and tertiary education.

Knowledge of the criticality of the agriculture, mining and resources sectors is fundamental and aligned to training and education in universities in related engineering and science fields; and the economic returns to Australia including the impact on international trade and the domestic availability of resources in support of industry and infrastructure development as well as essential staples for the community.

This experience extends to the oil and gas sector and related energy portfolios where an appreciation from a policy and regulatory standpoint of national resource strategy and transformative applications of relevant science, engineering and operational challenges are well known.

International Alliances and Defence

Possess a knowledge of Australia’s key alliances, including defence arrangements and an awareness of any emerging, transformative changes in defence-related technologies.


Demonstrated experience and capability in delivering results within budget and on time across complex business models or government policy implications, including change management.

Legal Acumen

Proven ability and understanding in the application of legal principles and their criticality across the public and private sectors and potentially other jurisdictions outside Australia.

Experience in identifying and resolving legal and regulatory issues and having the capability to assist cabinet, ministerial staff and government agencies, in the resolution of legal functionality.

People and Culture

Prior experience in developing workforce capability notable for attracting and retaining capable management professionals and staff; and promoting an appropriate workplace culture while advocating diversity and inclusion.

Political Awareness & Global Perspective

Demonstrate a knowledge of ideological variance across the Australian community and the broader international community, particularly in south-east Asia, which has an increasing relevance to the Nation’s prosperity and security.

Having a global perspective through exposure or accountability for international activities or operations.

Public Policy

Extensive knowledge of public policy and regulatory instruments, which impact upon the management of community expectations, social responsibility, economic issues, together with health, safety and the environment, including workplace issues and broader community risks.

Experience in public and regulatory policy, developing and maintaining relationships across multiple levels of government.

Religion and Race

Possess a knowledge of the religious and racial diversity in the allocated electorate and more widely, in order to and possess the capability of dealing with perceived and/or real tensions in order to manage the harmonisation and contentment of the community.

Risk Management

Experience in anticipating and evaluating risks in relation to government policy at federal, state or local level through an understanding of sound risk governance practices and frameworks and/or capital allocations that could impact the community or business. Understanding of financial and non-financial risk management, including operational, conduct, compliance, environmental, technological and governance risk.

Social Responsibility

Commitment to and experience in, monitoring the development of policy and implementation of programs reflecting social responsibility, carbon emissions reduction, workplace safety, mental health and physical wellbeing, and responsible sourcing and procurement.

Stakeholder Engagement

Demonstrated ability to build and maintain key relationships with the community across the member’s electorate and key relationships with industry relevant to the electorate and wider government oversight.

Strategic Planning

Demonstrated ability to develop and implement government policy initiatives and their strategic intent across all areas under the day-to-day stewardship of government departments.

Experience in defining strategic objectives, assessing the implications of government and policy and plans together with driving the execution of such plans.


Knowledge and experience of the impact of technology and the criticality of innovation impacting upon all Australian communities, including: government and business enterprises: an awareness of emerging transformative technology initiatives; the digital environment and cyber security.

Knowledge and experience in the use and governance of critical information technology infrastructure, the implementation of technology-based projects and digital disruption; leveraging digital technologies; and/or understanding the use of data and data analytics and data security.


The above core skills and experience are expected to be represented across members of Parliament, the ministry and cabinet.  It is equally a reasoned view of the constituents who elect members that management in ministerial offices, government departments and agencies, provide significant external expertise to supplement elected members’ knowledge and further, to have the delegated accountability to implement government policy and programs within budget, on time, and to a defined standard.

Continuous Learning

Critical in major enterprises, which clearly federal, state and local governments are, is continuing development of the organisation’s leadership and staff.  It is important for the community that the Government can demonstrate that its members are allocating a minimum period of time to update their knowledge and experience in areas relevant to their obligations to their community and to the Parliament, with a minimum commitment of 80 hours per annum.

Ministers and members of Parliament, together with mayors and local representatives, should be expected to maintain the knowledge and skills required to perform their role effectively.

The Government should ensure that all elected officials are provided with documents, presentations and briefings on matters that will or may affect the Government’s policy initiatives or operations and further be briefed on material developments to the law, regulations, accounting and governance standards relevant for their engagement with their constituents, government departments, cabinet and industry, as well as international representatives relevant to their role.

All elected members would be expected to undertake continuing education and training to ensure their ongoing effectiveness as elected officials.


It is our judgement that that initiative taken by the ASX in establishing corporate governance guidelines, was and remains appropriate.  This does not eliminate the prospect that with a small number of investors having substantial investments will not impact on the ultimate election of individuals as directors or their lack of support by a small cadre, though influential investors.

Voting on the appointment of directors is not compulsory.  Voting in elections at Commonwealth, state and local level is mandatory for those qualified to vote.

When exploring the breadth of ministerial accountability, as well as those at the mayoral level in local government, it is evident that in order to fulfill the obligations attached to the offices held, the nation and the community require individuals of significant capability together with many personal attributes, which may not be in such high demand in the business sector.

Accordingly, it would be our judgement that those standing for elected office should be required to disclose their qualifications, experience, capabilities and skills in order to inform the electorate of their individual attributes, which extend the ideological commitment of the individual standing for office.

Set out below are a set of core capabilities/skills and attributes we believe are relevant, but to varying degrees depending upon the elected office, for prime ministers and cabinets, other ministers and mayors, and elected officials.

While not defined above, the core attributes we believe are essential for those holding public office would include ethical/trustworthy, empathic, ideologically aligned, which we have added to the table below.

It would be interesting to receive feedback from our readers on their judgement as to the criticality of the skills in the table above ranking the attributes as: A, B, C, D or E.

A:         a critical capability/personal attribute

B:         a highly important skill

C:        a highly relevant capability

D:        a capability/personal attribute of potential value

E:         a capability/personal attribute of minimal value

Using the Australian Public Service as an illustration of the focus on the criticality of capability and accountability their observations updated in 2018 and the Thodey report (Independent Review of the Australian Public Service), of September 2019, are instructive as to the future effectiveness of leadership in government which has stewardship of several billion dollars in operating expenditure and tax collection  including significant disbursements to state governments, particularly in the areas of education, health and infrastructure.

The above observations have not drawn specifically upon these government documents, but rather as a supplement in reinforcement of the work undertaken by the Australian Public Service Commission and members of the Thodey panel.