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Thursday, 24 May 2007
Page: 7


Mr ANDREWS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) (9:21 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Migration Amendment (Statutory Agency) Bill 2007 will implement the last of a range of minor changes to the legislative framework of the Migration Review Tribunal and the Refugee Review Tribunal recommended in the Uhrig report, Review of the Corporate Governance of Statutory Authorities and Office Holders, in 2003.

The purpose of the recommended changes is to strengthen the governance of the two tribunals and give legal effect to the practical reality that they have progressively been administered as one agency since 2001.

The bill will insert a new section into the Migration Act 1958 that will establish a single statutory agency for the purposes of the Public Service Act 1999, consisting of the Principal Member of the Refugee Review Tribunal and the registrars, deputy registrars and other officers of both the Refugee Review Tribunal and Migration Review Tribunal engaged under the Public Service Act.

The new section will also provide that the Principal Member of the Refugee Review Tribunal will be the agency head of the statutory agency.

Under the current statutory arrangements, the Australian Public Service employees working at the tribunals are legally employed by the secretary of my department. However, for all practical purposes, tribunal staff are directed by the principal member, who is the executive officer of both of the tribunals, under powers delegated by the secretary.

This bill gives legal effect to the administrative arrangement that the principal member of the tribunals is the employer of the Australian Public Service employees working at the tribunals, not the secretary of my department.

Since 2001, the two tribunals have progressively amalgamated their administrative operations to achieve efficiencies and savings and allow for more flexibility in managing the fluctuating caseloads of the two tribunals. Creating a single statutory agency for the purposes of the Public Service Act is consistent with this administrative reality.

Both tribunals are now co-located in Sydney and Melbourne and have common registries and legal, research, library, corporate and administrative facilities.

As with the principal member, other members are also cross-appointed to both tribunals to allow them to hear cases in either tribunal. The Australian Public Service staff who work at the tribunals are covered under the same certified agreement and provide their services to either tribunal, as required.

Mr Speaker, I said earlier that the bill provides for the principal member of the Refugee Review Tribunal to be the agency head of the statutory agency established for the purposes of the Public Service Act. This is an important provision because it ensures that, if in future two individuals are separately appointed as the Principal Member of the Refugee Review Tribunal and the Principal Member of the Migration Review Tribunal, there will still be certainty about who is the head of the single statutory agency established for the purposes of the Public Service Act.

As a statutory appointee, the Principal Member of the Migration Review Tribunal will not form part of the statutory agency.

The bill provides for the Principal Member of the Refugee Review Tribunal to be the agency head because this is consistent with similar amendments to the Financial Management and Accountability Regulations 1997, which establish the tribunals as a single prescribed agency for the purposes of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 and makes the Principal Member of the Refugee Review Tribunal the head of that agency.

It is important to stress that this bill will not change the functions of the two tribunals under the Migration Act and will not diminish the role and responsibility of the position of Principal Member of the Migration Review Tribunal under that act.

By making the Australian Public Service employees of the two tribunals a single statutory agency for the purposes of the Public Service Act, the bill will clarify the employment arrangements of the tribunals’ staff and will bring the tribunals into line with other merits review tribunals which are already statutory agencies, such as the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Ms Plibersek) adjourned.