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Estimates: Amalgamating tribunals

The government has announced it will amalgamate the Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Social Security Appeals Tribunal and the Classification Review Board – into one tribunal – by 1 July 2015.

Senator Wright asks questions about the impact of amalgamating tribunals on staffing, caseloads and delays.

Senator WRIGHT: Thankyou for that, Chair. I wanted to follow up a few more questions on the amalgamation of the tribunals—the Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal—with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Social Security Appeals Tribunal and the Classification Review Board. I know that you were answering some questions about that a bit earlier on, and it might be that I did not listen carefully enough and you have answered these already, but I am interested to know: are there envisaged to be amendments to substantive review rights in conjunction with that amalgamation?

Senator Brandis: Well, Senator, I think the best way to answer that question is to say no, it is not envisaged that there will be. I do not immediately see why there would need to be but, having said that, I cannot entirely exclude the possibility that the amalgamation may result in some. I cannot exclude that possibility entirely, but I cannot immediately see why there would be. The word you have used is 'envisaged', so the answer to that is no, it is not envisaged. It is certainly not envisaged by me. I have had long discussions with both the president of the AAT and the CEO of the AAT, and I can tell you that, in the course of those several discussions, that has never been suggested.

Senator WRIGHT: What impact will the amalgamation have on the number of tribunal members?

Senator Brandis: The current intention is to maintain the expanded new AAT at the current numbers, but this is something that is being worked through in the implementation phase between the AAT, which is as it were the lead tribunal here, the other tribunals and the department. I should say that there will be some members, part-time or full-time, retiring soon. I cannot exclude the possibility that, as the amalgamation is put into effect, a decision might be made not to fill those full-time or part-time positions. No such decision has been made, but in the event that does occur I would not want you to be taken by surprise. But no such decision has been made to that effect.

Senator WRIGHT: I am interested in the conditions of appointment because that will vary between tribunals depending on the length of term of appointment. Certainly, there are sometimes concerns about the degree of independence that can be exercised by tribunal members. What process is envisaged? Will it be the highest common denominator potentially or the lowest common denominator, or will there be some variability? Has any thought been given to what will happen there?

Senator Brandis: I think that and kindred issues are issues that will be discussed in the process of giving effect to this decision. There are a number of ways in which one can do this. For example, one matter that is under discussion is whether the AAT in its expanded form ought to be divisionalised so that there are divisions reflecting the new tribunals that are coming under its auspices and, if that were to be so, whether those divisions should be informal, created by administrative arrangements within the AAT, or made more formal by regulation or statute or rules of court, as it were. All of those sort of issues, which obviously you have in mind, are under active consideration at the moment.

Senator WRIGHT: By discussion of existing capacities in divisions, it is essentially looking at areas of specialisation that are already existing, for instance.

Senator Brandis: If I may say, I think that is very sensible. There are some specialist aspects of the jurisdiction of both the AAT itself in its current form and in its enhanced form.

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