05 June 2024

Reforming the AAT and the IAA

I rise to speak on the consideration in detail of the diverse portfolio that the Attorney-General manages. Of particular interest to me is our government's reform of Australia's system of administrative review. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal and the Immigration Assessment Authority are being replaced with a new federal administrative review body, the Administrative Review Tribunal, the ART. This is not, as the member for Bradfield would have us think, a name change. It goes way beyond that. It's about fixing a system that those opposite broke and totally undermined. The creation of the ART will restore trust and confidence in Australia's system of administrative review.

Tens of thousands of people rely on the AAT every year to independently review government decisions such as whether they qualify for an age pension, whether they should be compensated for an injury they suffered while serving their nation in the military or whether they should receive NDIS funding for essential supports. The AAT's public standing was irreversibly damaged as a result of the former government's appointment of as many as 85 former Liberal MPs, failed Liberal candidates, former Liberal staffers and other close Liberal associates, without any merit based assessment process.

The former government fatally compromised the AAT, undermined its independence and eroded the quality and efficiency of its decision-making. The Albanese government has inherited an AAT that was not on a sustainable financial footing and that was beset by delays and an extraordinarily large backlog of applications. To its shame, the opposition voted against Labor's reforms, demonstrating its ongoing commitment to using the AAT as a job agency for Liberal mates at the expense of the Australian public.

A central feature of the new ART is a transparent and merit based selection process for the appointment of non-judicial members. Existing non-judicial members of the AAT, many of whom continue to embody the best traditions of that once-celebrated institution, were invited to apply for positions on the new body in accordance with the new process. The government has introduced legislation to give effect to its reform. That came in early in December and was passed, and I was privileged to be Chair of the Social Policy and Legal Affairs Committee inquiry into the ART bills. We recommended those bills be passed. Last week, they were finally passed in the parliament and received assent on Monday of this week. This is going to enable the ART to commence operation as soon as possible.

AAT resources, including staff, will transfer to the ART on establishment. The priorities of the AAT, for 2024-25 and until such time as it no longer exists, are to manage its large and diverse case load, including through ensuring the continued delivery of high-quality services to its users. It will prepare for the transition to the ART, including the ongoing development of the case management system. It will support members and staff during this transition period.

Our legislation establishes an ART that is fair and just and resolves applications in a timely manner and with as little formality and expense as is consistent with reaching the correct or preferable decision. It will be an ART that is accessible and responsive to the diverse needs of parties. It will improve transparency and the quality of government decision-making and, most importantly, will promote public trust and confidence in itself.

The funding in the budget will ensure the new tribunal is supported by a sustainable and demand driven funding model, producing timely decision-making. The funding package also includes $9.6 million to provide improved access to merits review for regional, rural and remote communities as well as a user experience and accessibility team and a pilot First Nations liaison officer program. This funding builds on the Albanese government's investment of $128 million in previous budgets to tackle the AAT's substantial backlog, develop a fit-for-purpose case management system and re-establish the Administrative Review Council. My question to the Attorney is: how soon can the ART commence operations.