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Thursday, 26 November 1998
Page: 805


Senator COONEY (6:23 PM) —This report deals with the Social Security Appeals Tribunal for 1997-98. This is quite an outstanding body which reviews decisions made within certain departments. It deals in a generic sense with what its title indicates; that is, with people who rely on funds paid by the state to sustain life. It is for government and parliament to set policy and it is for administrators to make decisions about particular matters. But, when matters as fundamental as whether people have the wherewithal to sustain life are concerned, it is proper that there ought to be a review. This review system is a good one.

Much is made in this chamber about the amount of money that has been saved by establishing that people who are receiving social security should not get it and, if people do not fit within the description provided by the law, that is right. But on many occasions people lose their income because of wrong decisions, and this body is set up to review those. Therefore it is a most important and essential body.

From page 39 to 47 of the report a number of names are listed. I want to pay tribute to those people because, although they certainly are paid, they do give of their time to do some outstanding work that brings justice to people who otherwise would not get it. I notice, for example, that under `Canberra' Helen Watchirs's name appears amongst those who are legal members of the tribunal. She is a woman of quite outstanding ability and of great disposition.

I note too that Deirdre FitzGerald has ceased to be the senior member in Melbourne. I notice that she was appointed from 22 February 1989 to 31 March 1997 and from 16 April 1997 to 31 December 1997. She is another woman of quite outstanding ability. I should perhaps indicate something of a remote interest in this. Many years ago, she was a partner of my wife. I think that, way back when they started, they were the only women partners of a firm situated in the city of Melbourne. It is good to see that she has gone to this tribunal and done great work on it.

I will return to the main theme that I want to take up in this speech. When we are reviewing decisions of government, it is important to remember what is appropriate for judicial review. Decisions made in respect of particular people should be very much subject to judicial review. Policy, of course, should not; it is for politicians to make policy. It would be a shame to see the judicial review system, as it has been set up over the years in this parliament and in state parliaments, disappear or be prejudiced to the point where people are not getting the sort of justice they are entitled to.