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Monday, 21 April 1980
Page: 1580

Senator GRIMES (NEW SOUTH WALES) - My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security and refers to the right of appeal of social security recipients to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal from decisions of the Director-General, which she and the Attorney-General announced on 1 April. What action has been taken by her Department or the Attorney-General's Department to make sure that people actually know of this right of appeal? Has any provision been made for people appealing to come from outlying areas- country areas- to the capital cities where the appeals will be held, or for the Tribunal to actually go to those outlying areas?


I think two questions were asked by Senator Grimes today, but he did refer to this matter earlier. Perhaps if I give a little more information in regard to his earlier inquiry it may be helpful. The right of appeal in social security matters to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has been introduced to provide persons with an independent review of matters of eligibility and entitlement. In keeping with undertakings made by the Government to introduce a system of external review of departmental decisions, the present system was instituted on 1 April 1980. The Government is aware that some appellants to the AAT in social security matters will be in needy circumstances and is concerned to ensure that such clients are not disadvantaged. For example, applications can be made for legal aid in appropriate cases, and discussions have been held between the Department of Social Security and the Attorney-General's Department to ensure that relevant administrative procedures will operate smoothly and quickly.

The Administrative Review Council is considering the matter of the social security appeals system and its advice will be considered by the Government after its report has been received. The recent conferral of jurisdiction upon the

AAT in no way pre-empts the Government's attitude to the possible content of that report. The Government recognises the need for specialists to be appointed to the AAT and is proposing to make appointments of additional part time members having special qualifications in the social services area. They will then sit on the hearings of these appeals. The matter of appointments is the responsibility of my colleague the Attorney-General. Against that background, Senator Grimes asks what are we doing to see that appellants would know of their rights of appeal. I will ask my Department what administrative arrangements it considers suitable for that purpose. It may be that it will be done when people refer matters to the social security appeals system and it may be that there will be a general notice on all pension and benefit payments. I will ask my Department what would be the most desirable way of drawing this matter to the attention of recipients. As far as appeals from outlying areas are concerned, I think I would need to get advice on that matter.

It may be of interest to honourable senators to know that I have been having some discussions with the Council of Social Service with regard to this appeals system. I hope that, as a result of some consultations with it and with my Department, we will be able to provide the sort of assistance to which, I think, Senator Grimes referred earlier with regard to the preparation of an appeal by a claimant. There may be some way in which we can devise a system of assistance. The matter is being given attention by my Department. I hope that we can arrange a satisfactory means of appeal whereby people are aware of their rights of appeal and that we will be in a position to give whatever additional assistance is necessary, particularly in the establishment of this new system.

Senator GRIMES - In order to clarify the matter, I should like to ask a brief supplementary question. May I assume from the Minister's answer that, despite the fact that for the last three weeks people have had the right to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, neither she nor, therefore, the Parliament has any idea of how people should appeal, that no specialists have been appointed to the Tribunal to hear such appeals and that no one outside the urban areas has any idea of whether the Administrative Appeals Tribunal will be coming to them or they will be going to the Tribunal? If that is so, is that a satisfactory state of affairs?

Senator DameMARGARET GUILFOYLEI do not think the position can be stated as baldly as that. I think it could be said that the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has been empowered since 1 April to deal with social security appeals. The appeals system under the Tribunal will act as soon as the arrangements are made. As I understand it, the appointments will be announced shortly. As it is a new procedure, the knowledge of people with regard to the appeals system may not yet be established as satisfactorily as we would all wish to it to be. However, I am sure -

Senator Grimes - If you don't know and we don't know, how can they know?


I am sure that those who have a claim to make to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal will be advised of that when the result of a decision of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal is given to them. I think we are able to say at this stage that there is the right of appeal to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. I will see that the administrative arrangements required in light of Senator Grime's question are undertaken.

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