The Federal Government plans to abolish the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), a body that reviews certain government decisions.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus says the AAT had been “irreversibly damaged” by politically-motivated appointments, leading to a backlog in hearing cases.
The Government will introduce legislation to replace the AAT with a new body.
What is the AAT?
The AAT reviews decisions made by government ministers, departments, and agencies.
For example, it could review a rejected visa application, a decision to suspend a government payment, or a tax liability – all at the request of the affected person.
It has the power to overturn these decisions, although its own findings can be challenged in the courts.
Who is on it?
The AAT has more than 300 members appointed to sit on its hearing panels. AAT members are chosen by the Attorney-General and earn between $200,000 and $500,000 a year.
A recent report by the Grattan Institute found more than 20% of members have a direct political party affiliation, mostly connected to the party that appointed them. It found politically-connected appointments had increased in recent years, and that politically-connected appointees were more likely to be below their performance targets and less likely to have a legal qualification.
Last Friday, Dreyfus announced the plan to abolish the AAT and replace it with a new body.
He accused the former Coalition Government of “fatally” compromising the body with politicised appointments and said the new body would have “a transparent and merit-based selection process”.
He said many current AAT members, “who continue to embody the best traditions of that once-celebrated institution”, would be invited to apply for the new body.
Dreyfus has said he expects the new body to begin operating “sometime next year”. Before this can start, legislation abolishing the AAT and creating the new body would need to pass Federal Parliament.
Current cases before the AAT will continue, with pending reviews to be transferred onto the new system.
Shadow Attorney-General Julian Leeser opposed the Government’s plans to abolish the AAT, saying it would “cost millions and not deliver access to justice for a single additional Australian”.
He said that some reviews would “fall through the cracks”, and it would mean “less accountability of government, less access for people to challenge government decisions, and more pressure on the courts”.