Speech: Administrative Review Tribunal Bill

Speech: Administrative Review Tribunal Bill  Main Image

Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (18:05): Tonight I rise to speak in support of the Administrative Review Tribunal Bill 2023 and the Administrative Review Tribunal (Consequential and Transitional Provisions No. 1) Bill 2023. I want to say from the outset that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal was fatally compromised by the former government through its appointing of as many as 85 former Liberal MPs, failed Liberal candidates, former Liberal staffers and other close Liberal associates, without any merit based selection. They have undermined the tribunal's independence and eroded the quality and efficiency of its decision-making. The stacking of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal by the former Liberal government is quite extraordinary. But they did it time and time again, without any merit based selection process and for salaries worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, but clearly they did not care.

As the federal member for Gilmore, I know how important the review process is for people in my electorate—people who are absolutely desperate to have a life-changing matter resolved. These include visa appeals, veterans' affairs appeals, NDIS appeals, Centrelink—the list goes on. But what did they get under the former Liberal government? They got a completely stacked Administrative Appeals Tribunal. There was a massive backlog. Think about that for a moment: they didn't care about people in my electorate who needed help.

I want to provide just one of many examples of the shocking treatment of my constituents, which was a veteran's appeal of a Department of Veterans' Affairs decision by the abysmally stacked and ineffective AAT. My constituent's review application was launched with the AAT in 2019. Since that time the matter remained open with the AAT and no decision had been made. Think about that. The veteran's appeal was lodged in 2019 and there was no decision made by March 2023.

Of course, I raised this very sad and shocking case with the Attorney-General in 2023 on behalf of my constituent. While I have been happy to help, I was completely appalled by the massive and, quite frankly, obscenely unacceptable delays. But should I be shocked? Not at all, because through case after case we've heard it before. It made sense, of course, with the former Liberal government appointing—as I said before—as many as 85 former Liberal MPs, failed Liberal candidates, former Liberal staffers and other close Liberal associates without any merit-based selection process, including some individuals with no relevant expertise or experience. The former Liberal government fatally compromised the AAT, undermined its independence and eroded the quality and efficiency of its decision-making.

Our government inherited an AAT that was not on a sustainable financial footing and was beset by delays and this extraordinarily large and growing backlog of applications, which my constituents experienced firsthand. It was operating multiple and ageing electronic case management systems, a legacy of the former government's mismanagement of the amalgamation of the AAT with the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, the Migration Review Tribunal and the Refugee Review Tribunal. It is one of the most shameful acts against people in my electorate of Gilmore and people right around Australia who were crying out for help.

I am here today to say that I care, and the Albanese Labor government cares about Australians who are struggling. We care about their right to a fair and independent process within a system they can trust. That's why the Albanese government announced that it would abolish the AAT and replace it with an administrative review body that serves the interests of the Australian community. A central feature of the new body is a transparent and merit based selection process for the appointment of new members.

I am pleased that our government also took immediate action to address the backlog of cases and reduce wait times while the new body is being set up. In this regard, the government committed $63.4 million over two years for an additional 75 members, and we made a directive last year to prioritise the assessment of outstanding immigration AAT matters due to the huge backlog. We have wasted no time in starting to fix the mess that those opposite left.

I want to really thank the member for Isaacs, the Attorney-General, for his fearless determination to fix that mess, because, in terms of a mess, it was at the top of the pile. It's a pile so high, with a stench of incompetence and stacking by the Liberal government, that only those opposite could be proud of.

The legislation we introduced in December last year to abolish the AAT and replace it with a new administrative review body that is user focused, efficient, accessible, independent and fair, I'm pleased to say, was actually developed in consultation with people who use the system every day. Importantly, the legislation requires that members of the tribunal be appointed through a competitive, publicly advertised, merit based process. Already, we've demonstrated our commitment, with more than 100 new appointments through our merit based process.

The purpose of the Administrative Review Tribunal Bill 2023 and Administrative Review Tribunal (Consequential and Transitional Provisions No. 1) Bill 2023 is to respond to suggestions raised through the parliamentary scrutiny process, including by civil society stakeholders, and to improve and clarify provisions of the bills. In particular, the amendments would strengthen requirements for merit based appointment processes; insert a requirement for a statutory review of the operation of the bill and associated consequential amendment bills; provide a pathway for parties to reviews to seek a second review of tribunal social service decisions, which includes social security, family assistance, child support, paid parental leave and student assistance reviews; refined clause 67 relating to litigation guardians to rename them litigation supporters and more clearly reflect supported, rather than substituted, decision-making; clarify the policy intent of the bill regarding participation by decision-makers in proceedings through changes to the election notice regime; and make other minor and technical changes. Additionally, amendments are proposed to make technical corrections and changes to ensure the effective and efficient operation of the bill upon commencement.

As I've mentioned, our strengthening appointment requirements will require the use of assessment panels when undertaking merit based appointment of the president of the tribunal, members of the tribunal, the CEO and principal registrar. These amendments put beyond doubt the legislative requirement to use an assessment panel as part of the merit based process for appointments to the tribunal. The effect of the amendments is that the minister cannot recommend a candidate for appointment unless they have been assessed as suitable by an assessment panel through a process that was merit based, including public advertising of the position and compliance with any requirements in the regulations. And I am very pleased that the amendments require a statutory review of the bill and related bills to commence just before the five-year anniversary of the commencement of the bill, ensuring proper assessment of the overall reform. The statutory review must consider the implementation of the legislation, including the tribunal's operations and whether it is achieving its objectives.

I am also very pleased the amendments include a second review of social services decisions. The amendments insert a new part 5A to the bill, setting out which decisions are eligible for second review at the tribunal and the processes, procedures and powers that apply to second review. The amendments also include definitional changes and notes to the bill to facilitate the operation of the new part 5A. The second review pathway will replace access to the appeals function of the guidance and appeals panel under part 5 of the bill, in which a party can apply to the president to have a tribunal decision referred to the panel. Referral of a decision to the guidance and appeals panel is at the president's discretion, and can only occur if the president is satisfied the decision may contain a material error or raises an issue of significance to administrative decision-making. Where an application is made for second review of a tribunal social services decision, the review must be conducted. If an application has not been made, the president may still, on their own motion, refer an application for review of a decision to the guidance and appeals panel on the basis that it raises an issue of significance to administrative decision-making on either first or second review.

Provisions of the bill that enhance processes for tribunal review of social services decisions when they are first reviewed, such as allowing for the participation of a decision-maker where it will assist to resolve the matter, are retained. Over time, it is expected that more matters can be resolved at the first review; however, these changes will take time to implement and to mature. The retention of second review for certain social services decisions will ensure that existing systems and safeguards remain in place until that can occur. Consequential amendments will ensure the tribunal operates as intended when providing second review for social services applicants with amendments to social services portfolio legislation required to facilitate reviews under the new part 5(a).

A number of stakeholders suggested amendments to clause 67 of the bill to more clearly reflect supported rather than substituted decision-making. Amendments to clause 67 would respond to these concerns, including by changing the term 'litigation guardian', which suggests substituted decision-making, to 'litigation supporter', to better reflect the roles and duties of persons appointed to such a position.

The amendments would also ensure that the bill incorporates recommendations of the report of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. In particular, they create a presumption that all people have decision-making ability which cannot be rebutted solely on the basis that a person has a disability, in accordance with principle 2 of recommendations 6.6 and 6.7 of the DRC report.

In relation to the election notice regime, amendments to clauses 60 and 63 would clarify that decision-makers may elect not to participate in a kind of proceeding or in particular tribunal case events relating to a kind of proceeding other than directions hearings and individual proceedings. These amendments clarify the policy intent behind the tribunal's election notice regime, consistent with the tribunal's objective to ensure reviews are accessible and resolved as quickly and with as little expense and formality as the proper consideration of the matter permits.

There are a number of other amendments. The amendments to the consequential bill amend the Migration Act 1958 to ensure the drafting is clear and unambiguous, improve the operation of certain provisions and ensure consistency across matters in the Migration Act. The amendments to this schedule insert provisions into a number of acts in the social services portfolio. These amendments would harmonise privacy settings so that tribunal proceedings for student assistance matters are held in private, clarify date-of-effect provisions and ensure the tribunal can publish de-identified decisions for social services reviews, including at first review, implementing recommendations from the robodebt royal commission report in relation to the publication of tribunal decisions in in social services matters.

Amendments relating to the security division are consequential to proposed amendments to the Administrative Review Tribunal 2023, relating to how decision-makers can elect not to participate in tribunal proceedings and case events. The amendments also make technical corrections to existing drafting.

With regard to the veterans' affairs, amendments in this schedule are consequential to proposed amendments to the ART Bill relating to how decision-makers can elect not to participate in tribunal proceedings and case events. The amendments also make technical corrections to existing drafting.

In relation to transitional provision amendments, amendments to this schedule provide additional clarity to the transitional arrangements attaching to parts of the ART legislative package. The amendments aim to facilitate a smooth and uninterrupted transition from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to the Administrative Review Tribunal. The amendments include clarifying how consultation requirements in the ART Bill are to be met where powers are exercised as of its commencement.

To conclude, in this House, we are elected to serve and support our constituents, and that means where there is something that is not working or not serving its purpose we should make changes. That's what we're doing with these amendments to the Administrative Review Tribunal Bill 2023 and Administrative Review Tribunal (Consequential and Transitional Provisions No. 1) Bill 2023. All of our constituents deserve a fair review system. Whether it's a Centrelink matter, a NDIS matter, a visa matter or a veteran's matter, constituents must have access to a fair and transparent review process. I commend these bills to the house.