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Monday, 28 June 1999
Page: 6680

Senator CHRIS EVANS (8:03 PM) —On behalf of the opposition, I move:

Clause 126, page 103 (lines 2 to 6), omit subclause (1), substitute:

(1) The Executive Director may direct that a hearing be conducted without oral submissions from those parties that may make oral submissions if:

(a) the Executive Director considers that the review hearing could be determined fairly on the basis of written submissions by all the parties to the review; and

(b) all parties to the review consent to the hearing being conducted without oral submissions.

This amendment to clause 126 deals with the issue of the right of a party to make oral submissions to a Social Security Appeals Tribunal review. The government is proposing a new section which codifies the powers of the executive director and effectively allows for that person, on certain occasions and within certain guidelines, to rule that all social security appeal matters are heard by way of written submission and not orally. The amendment seeks to insert the option of all parties needing to consent to the matter being conducted without oral submissions.

We are concerned that this might create a dangerous precedent whereby parties are not allowed to make oral submissions in support of their claims by a decision of the executive director. I am sure the minister will say there are appropriate guidelines and restrictions on that power, but we are concerned that parties may not have that opportunity. That may well be the best way for them to put forward their case and, if they are restricted from articulating their case in this way, that may limit their right to a fair hearing and to seek the benefits of a favourable decision from the tribunal.

Again, this is one of these measures that I understand will be in the Social Security (Administration) Bill 1999, which will come before the parliament again in August. It may well be that there is some way of making progress on this measure other than this, but at this stage we are very concerned that the government's policy direction would not necessarily allow people the right to make oral submissions. We think the amendment we are moving, which basically requires the consent of all the parties to obviate that requirement to have oral hearings, is a better approach. I urge the Senate to support that amendment.