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Ruddock compromises independence of Refugee Review Tribunal



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Duncan Kerr

Media Release 4 February 1997

MIN Parharnent Hua r ,:o..a Canberra ACT 2600

Shadow Minister for Population Issues

Shadow Minister for Immigration

and Assistant to the Leader of the Opposition

on Multicultural Affairs

Federal Member for Denison

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5234 Fax 32°22 0530

GPO En.x 32;4 Hic,earI Tas 230'

Ruddock Compromises Independence Of

Refugee ReviewTribunal

The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs has compromised the independence of members of the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) by playing politics with the appointment process.

Although tribunals are not courts, they have a duty to bring the same quality of independent thought and decision making to their tasks as do judges.

The system of independent merits review depends upon applicants and the community being confident that a tribunal will consider the merits of any case impartially and where it is correct to do so, make a different decision to that of the bureaucracy.

Mr Ruddock has destroyed that confidence by:

(a) holding a review into the future of the tribunal;

(b) refusing to release the outcome of the review;

(c) criticising individual members for their decisions;

(d) writing to members advising them about the process for re-applying for their own jobs;

(e) advising members that if they are reappointed they will be reappointed only until September, when they will have to apply again; and

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(f) leaving the future of the tribunal in doubt.

This places members under obvious pressure, and is why the Administrative Review Council (ARC) reported that: "Terms shorter than three years are undesirable since they do not give the members any sense of security". By holding their appointments over their heads, the Minister has violated the fundamental principle that" it is crucial to ensure there is no perception (let alone reality) that tribunals are in any way subject to undue influence either in

reaching decisions in particular cases or more generally" (ARC report Better Decisions: Review of Commonwealth Merits Review Tribunals).

In the case of the RRT, members are usually appointed for a period of five years. They sit on hearings to determine refugee status cases. Often dealing with matters of life or death, they cannot and should not be burdened with the possibility of compromising their ability to make fair and just decisions.

The Minister, Mr Ruddock first used this "interim" arrangement on 11 September 1996 to reappoint 18 members for only a short period (Mr Ruddock's MPS 60/96). It was inappropriate then, but his excuse was that he was still awaiting the report from the committee which undertook the Review of Immigration Decision Making.

Despite receiving the Report as long ago as September 1996, Mr Ruddock refused to comment on, or release the Report, and he is making more short term appointments.

Mr Ruddock has had ample time to take a position on this matter. It was he who beat the drum about the urgency required to deal with the decision making process in immigration.

It is unacceptable to continue this piecemeal process of reappointment. A firm decision is required now.

Further information: Duncan Kerr (06) 277 2178 or 0418 125 161 George Haddad (06) 277 2180 or 0419 009 214

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