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Tuesday, 2 December 1986
Page: 3212

(Question No. 809)

Senator Mason asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice, on 11 February 1986:

(1) How many statutory authorities currently exist under the auspices of the Minister's Department.

(2) What are the names of these authorities.

(3) What appeal mechanisms, if any, exist for the general public to lodge a complaint against these authorities.

(4) If it is proved that any member of staff of any of these authorities is guilty of incompetence, what action, if any, could be taken by a member of the public to sue the authority for compensation; if it is not possible to sue the authority, why is that the case.

(5) How many cases concerning these authorities are currently before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and what is the delay at present between the listing of a case and its hearing before the Tribunal.

(6) If any statutory authority under the Minister's Department cannot be sued, will the Minister consider amending the relevant legislation to make this possible.

Senator Walsh —The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) 11-This figure does not include the three Taxation Boards of Review which were transferred to the Attorney-General's portfolio from 1 July 1986.

(2) Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australian Taxation Office, Commonwealth Banking Corporation, Prices Surveillance Authority, Reserve Bank of Australia, Tax Agents' Board, Sydney, Tax Agents' Board, Melbourne, Tax Agents' Board, Brisbane, Tax Agents' Board, Perth, Tax Agents' Board, Adelaide, Tax Agents' Board, Hobart.

(3) The general public can lodge a complaint against any of the statutory authorities within my portfolio by writing to myself or the Minister Assisting me. Members of the public can also approach their local member who could then either refer the complaint to me or, if the matter was likely to be of more general interest, ask a question in Parliament, either without notice or on notice. Members of the public can also seek relief under Common Law.

In addition to these general avenues of appeal and complaint, there are some special appeal mechanisms relevant to individual authorities within my portfolio. Details of these mechanisms are outlined below; particulars in respect of Freedom of Information matters have not been included.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Prices Surveillance Authority and Reserve Bank of Australia

These organisations are subject to the provisions of the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 and their actions can also be investigated by the Commonwealth Ombudsman.

Australian Taxation Office

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal reviews, at the taxpayer's request, the Taxation Commissioner's decision on objections to tax assessments.

The Taxation Boards of Relief (Income Tax, Payroll Tax, Payroll (Territories) Tax and Estate Duty) consider applications from taxpayers for release from liability to pay tax where payment would entail serious financial hardship.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman can investigate complaints about any action of the Australian Taxation Office.

Tax Agents' Boards

Tax Agents whose registration is cancelled have a right of appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The actions of the Tax Agents' Boards can be investigated by the Ombudsman.

(4) The Attorney-General's Department has advised that, unless an Authority is statutorily protected, it is liable for the torts of its servants committed in the course of their duty. Where employees, acting in the course of their duty are incompetent and, as a consequence, loss is suffered by a member of the public, it will commonly be found that the act or omission which was seen as incompetent was also tortious. In the absence of a denial of liability the negligent giving of erroneous advice is tortious where the advice is given by a person having a duty of care to one who suffers foreseeable damage as a result of reasonably relying on that advice. Many other forms of incompetence would also be tortious, but each case would need to be considered on its own facts. None of the organisations listed in answer to part (2) of this question is statutorily protected against general liability in tort.

(5) At 23 October 1986 the Tax Agents' Board had 5 cases before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. There is generally little delay between referral of a case by a Tax Agents' Board to the AAT and hearing.

(6) Not applicable.