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Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Page: 75

Senator GREIG (5:30 PM) —I largely support the comments of Senator Ludwig in commending the government for listening to the committee on this occasion. It is a good illustration of how Senate processes can be effective and how the government can show itself to be cooperative. I am turning my mind briefly to the aspiration that that might continue to be the case in the latter half of the year—that is assuming we continue to enjoy an objective, robust Senate committee process. In terms of the bill before us, the amendments that the government has moved seek to retain the requirement for the President of the AAT to be a judge of the Federal Court. That goes very much to the heart of a particularly serious concern the Democrats had in relation to this bill. We welcome the government addressing that.

As I outlined earlier in my speech on the second reading, we are concerned about the profound impact the proposal to relax the qualification requirements for the president may have on the operation and the integrity of the AAT. In particular, the independence of the AAT is likely to be compromised if the president is not required to be a judge of the Federal Court. The independence of the AAT is one of its more important characteristics, particularly given that its work is to review decisions made by the government of the day, departmental officials and instrumentalities. So requiring the President of the AAT to be a Federal Court judge strengthens not only the actual independence of the tribunal but also its perceived independence.

As the Administrative Review Council argued in evidence before that committee:

The president is the public face of the tribunal and he has a vital role in organising and discharging its business. We think it is important that he or she be, and be seen to be, independent of government.

A Federal Court judge is not only independent of government but also likely to have the requisite skills and experience that the position of president demands. In this respect, the ARC submitted:

If the president is a judge of the Federal Court we think it more likely that he or she will be experienced in the process of weighing evidence and evaluating competing submissions in order to come to a decision. That is the essential role of the tribunal. It is also likely that he or she will be eminently legally qualified and that can be important in resolving some of the difficult questions of law that come before the tribunal.

For those reasons, we Democrats believe strongly that the requirement for the president of the AAT to be a Federal Court judge should be retained, and we are pleased to see that the government is now endorsing that position.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Kirk)—The question is that government amendments (1) and (3) be agreed to.

Question agreed to.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN —The question now is that schedule 1, item 26, stand as printed.

Question negatived.