The Administrative Appeals Tribunal was established in 1976 following the Parliament’s acceptance of the recommendations of the report of the Commonwealth Administrative Review Committee (1971) and its conclusion that ‘traditional supervision by the courts of the administrative process must be supplemented by provision for review … on the merits of administrative decisions’.
The past 12 months saw the Tribunal take stock of its past and refocus on its future. In November 2012, the Tribunal undertook a comprehensive review of its opportunities and challenges. The result of that review led to the articulation of the Tribunal’s vision – to be widely recognised as an accessible, expert and innovative organisation that ensures administrative justice for individuals and organisations and improves the quality of government decision-making.
Independent merits review of a wide range of administrative decisions made by Commonwealth agencies and ministers in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal gave citizens important rights under Australian law that are still little replicated anywhere else in the world. As Peter Cane observed in Administrative Tribunals and Adjudication, ‘[R]eview by the AAT … involve[s] the transformation of the decision-making process from a two-party to a three-party affair by the insertion of a neutral third party’. Few citizens of other countries have such rights — and every member and all staff of the Tribunal are aware of their high responsibilities to ensure that the Tribunal fulfils its mission of undertaking high quality merits review in a manner that is fair, just, economical, informal and quick.
There are now some 450 Acts or regulations which confer jurisdiction on the Tribunal. The year under report saw the passage of legislation that will significantly add to the AAT’s responsibilities. The Tribunal has a new Division to review decisions made by DisabilityCare Australia under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
We have designed specific procedures for the review of decisions taken under the NDIS, to ensure accessibility and to avoid unnecessary interlocutory delays. I am grateful for the assistance of those members of the NDIS Advisory Group with whom the Tribunal consulted in preparing for this new jurisdiction. I want to thank the members of the Tribunal’s ad hoc NDIS Implementation Committee, including its chair, Senior Member Jill Toohey, for their invaluable work in developing those new protocols during the year.
Our November 2012 strategic review recognised that the adjudicative function of the Tribunal, while essential for ensuring administrative justice, fits within a larger mechanism in which the majority of applications are successfully resolved without a formal hearing. The appointment of Justin Toohey as Director, Alternative Dispute Resolution reflects that understanding. I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the Tribunal’s appreciation for the work of its Client Service Officers and Conference Registrars whose contribution is often otherwise invisible.
The review also acknowledged some of the significant challenges the Tribunal faces. Among the more difficult to overcome will be aligning the Tribunal’s property portfolio with the needs of members, staff and users under the financial guidelines and budgetary constraints that apply to the Tribunal. Achieving that objective will be particularly challenging because the AAT needs an expanded physical footprint to support its role as a review body under the NDIS but that function is subject to review after two years.