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Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Page: 80

Senator GREIG (5:51 PM) —This amendment, as Senator Ludwig has said, seeks to set a minimum term of appointment for AAT members. It provides that a member of the AAT will hold office for the period specified in the instrument of appointment, which must not be less than five years and no more than seven years. However, the member is eligible for reappointment. We welcome the amendment, which goes further than the committee’s recommendation of a three-year minimum term. Like the requirement for the President of the AAT to be a Federal Court judge, setting minimum terms for AAT members should help to strengthen the independence of the AAT and ensure that members have the appropriate skills and experience that they need to effectively discharge the duties. As PIAC argued in evidence before the committee:

... a minimum amount of time ... is essential for garnering the knowledge of the various pieces of legislation and the process for people to have expertise, which will be built up over time. The AAT covers a very broad variety of pieces of legislation. To get on top not only of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal’s procedures but also of that legislation, you need a minimum amount of time.

We think that not only will minimum terms help to ensure that sitting members develop the appropriate expertise but they may also help to provide an incentive for prospective members to take up positions within the AAT. In this respect the National Welfare Rights Network argued:

Another by-product of shorter term appointments is that they are less likely to attract the high-calibre and best qualified people to these positions, and that will then have the effect of diminishing both the work and the value of the tribunal.

The Democrats’ support for this amendment should be seen in conjunction with our opposition to and rejection of the government’s proposal to remove the availability of tenured appointments in the future. We think the two go hand in hand. We do support minimum terms for members who are not given tenured appointments. However, we believe strongly that tenured appointments ought to be maintained.