Zali Steggall MP commends amendments to the Administrative Review Tribunal Bill 2023

21 March 2024



I would like to note and thank the Attorney-General and his office and team for their engagement in relation to the Administrative Review Tribunal Bill 2023 and the subsequent amendments that we now see. As others have said, it is so important that we have trust and faith in important institutions.

As I noted in my speech yesterday, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal plays an incredibly important role because administrative decisions touch on so many areas of people's lives, and it is important that they be able to have a fair appeals process and a timely appeals process at that.

We know that the AAT, as it was, was not working well. As a barrister prior to entering politics, I was very aware of the difficulties and the problems with that body. It had been politically stacked. So I very much supported the Attorney-General's decision to abolish the AAT as it was and replace it with the Administrative Review Tribunal.

But there were several elements that were incredibly important to insert into the bill. It's good to see the government coming to the table constructively and now to see these amendments being presented. The member for Mackellar moved amendments in relation to the appointment process, making sure that we have a robust merits process for these appointments but also an independent panel to ensure that, when the Attorney-General exercises discretion in relation to appointments, it is about picking from people that have been assessed as qualified and capable for the role and not just making a politically stacked appointment.

It is so important that administrative appeal bodies like this are independent, impartial and free from politics. Australians must feel like they're going to get a fair hearing before an administrative review body that can make key decisions affecting their lives.

So the amendments now being moved by the Attorney-General are very much welcome and in large part address a number of the concerns that many of us have had. A concern I raised was in relation to the statutory review. We are where we are because the previous body had fallen so far from its original purpose and intent and was not working well. It was politically stacked. The amendment the Attorney-General has now presented reflects the amendment I was offering, and I very much welcome that, especially in relation to all the engagement that there's been in relation to this issue. I know many individuals and organisations called for such a review clause to be included in the legislation, because we're not infallible and we need to make sure, through a legislated review process, that the intended changes work as they are meant to. I'd like to acknowledge the work of Catherine Williams from the Centre for Public Integrity for the work she's done with my office—and, I assume, with others—in relation to the concerns.

The statutory review clause the government is offering is a little different. Firstly, it's providing for a review to occur within five years rather than three years as I had proposed. But I accept that there is a time line and a process. Secondly, the review panel is left to the minister's discretion. There's no description of what the reviewer's qualifications should be included in the act or the amendment. This is in contrast to the membership of a review panel that I had proposed with my amendments—specifically, that it must comprise three members appointed by the minister and include a former judge of the High Court of Australia, of the Federal Court of Australia or of the supreme court of a state or territory; a person with experience in community advocacy and engagement relating to matters dealt with by this act; and a person with significant knowledge or experience relating to matters dealt with by this act. Those three qualifications would help give confidence that, in the review process, the review panel will have the necessary skills. So I put this question to the Attorney-General: how will he ensure that those appointed as reviewers for the statutory review will be appropriately qualified? What, in fact, does he have in mind or intend in the provision for appointment of a statutory review panel?