Josh Frydenberg signs Karen Synon’s AAT nomination in hot water

During the 2019 federal election, Synon posted a photo on social media of herself posing with a Frydenberg campaign poster.

Then-AAT Registrar Sian Leathem revealed in the Senate Estimates last May that “as soon as we became aware of it, there was a discussion with Synon, then a part-time member.” She said the photo was later taken down.


Leathem said the AAT president believes that being actively involved in an election campaign conflicts with code of conduct requirements for members to remain impartial.

Synon, who filled a vacancy in 1997 to serve as a Liberal senator until 1999, has been a part-time member of the AAT’s migration division and its forerunners since 2001.

In December 2020, the government elevated her to full-time senior management as vice president of the social services section, for a three-year term that would have expired next year. Attorney General Michaelia Cash renewed her appointment six days before the election was called, meaning Synon remains in office until May 2027.

AAT officials declined to answer questions from Senate estimates about whether she interviewed before being promoted to vice president, which comes with an annual salary of $496,560. or if the court had supported this elevation.


In subsequent written responses, the AAT said it was in the public interest that any advice from its president to the attorney general regarding his “appointment needs” remain confidential.

This week, AAT member Michael Manetta made the allegations public. Synon moved him from a position reviewing social services cases. because he overturned too many government decisions. He says he’s been relegated to divisional “latrine duty,” ordered by Synon to hear only child support percentage issues.

Synon said she “categorically denies any implication or inference that she has acted in a manner that is not fair, impartial and equitable in the performance of her statutory duties at the AAT.”

Political appointments within the ranks of the AAT exploded under the Coalition, age and the Herald unveiled monday. Since he came to power in 2013, 32% of those appointed have a political background, compared to just 6% under the Howard era.

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