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Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Page: 76

Senator GREIG (5:33 PM) —The Democrats oppose schedule 1, item 21, in the following terms:

(1)    Schedule 1, item 21, page 6 (lines 23 and 24), TO BE OPPOSED.

Our opposition to this schedule seeks to ensure that it will continue to be possible to make tenured appointments to the AAT. This is an issue in relation to which strong arguments were made to the committee by a range of organisations. Their arguments related primarily to the need to safeguard the real and perceived independence of the tribunal. The Law Council of Australia, the Law Society of New South Wales and the South Brisbane Community Legal Service all argued that the removal of tenured appointment would be likely to compromise the independence of the AAT and perhaps lead to a drop in public confidence in the integrity of its processes. For example, the Law Society of New South Wales argued:

Security of tenure is one of the cornerstones of independence, whether for a court or tribunal, and that independence should not be compromised.

It is true that the government has not made any tenured appointments for the past 15 years. However, we Democrats firmly believe that this option should at least be retained in the legislation, particularly for the appointment of presidential and senior members. The Australian Lawyers Alliance, for example, argued in its submission:

... the erosion of Presidential independence caused by the loss of tenure will create at least the perception of political influence.

For those reasons, we Democrats believe strongly that the option of making tenured appointments should be kept in the legislation. Retaining this option will place no obligation on the government of the day to make tenured appointments. Indeed, it would be entirely possible for the government to maintain its practice of only making fixed term appointments. Nevertheless, there is clearly merit in retaining both options.