Yesterday, Federal Parliament passed the Tribunals Amalgamation Bill 2015. From 1 July, the Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT) and the Migration Review Tribunal-Refugee Review Tribunal (MRT-RRT) will be merged into the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), to create a new super tribunal. A Parliamentary media release says:
“This is the biggest reform to the Australian administrative law system since the AAT was established in 1975 as a generalist merits review tribunal with broad jurisdiction...Bringing the tribunals together will enhance access to justice through the provision of a single, simple point of contact for users of the tribunal. It will adjudicate over 40,000 applications every year, providing fair, just, economical, informal and quick reviews of administrative decisions.”
According to the Explanatory Memorandum, the Bill is “primarily directed at the establishment, organisation and procedures of the amalgamated Tribunal” and “is not intended to affect the wide range of substantive rights which can be the subject of merits review.”
The Bill is a result of a number of government reports and recommendations over the years, including the 1995 Administrative Review Council “Better Decisions” report, the 2012 Skehil strategic review and the 2014 National Commission of Audit Report, “Towards responsible government”. The decision to amalgamate the tribunals was originally announced in last year’s budget.
The new Tribunal will contain the following divisions, some of which currently exist within the AAT and some of which will be new:
The President of the Tribunal will still be required to be a Judge of the Federal Court of Australia, and the current AAT President, the Honourable Justice Duncan Kerr, will be the first person to fill this role. Tribunal members will be appointed to fixed terms with a five year maximum, and an expanded seven level membership structure will be introduced. The Deputy President role will become available to non-lawyers in the AAT, to reflect the current situation in the MRT-RRT and the SSAT.
The Bill also preserves the right to a two-staged review process for social services and child support decisions where this is currently available.
The merger is said to achieve savings of $7.2 million over the next four years, coming from the amalgamation of back office functions and sharing of property costs.
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Tribunals Amalgamation Bill 2015 (Cth), Explanatory Memorandum and Second Reading Speech - available from TimeBase's LawOne Service
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