House debates

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Bills

Tribunals Amalgamation Bill 2015; Second Reading

5:14 pm

Photo of Michael KeenanMichael Keenan (Stirling, Liberal Party, Minister for Justice) Share this | Hansard source

I thank the member for Isaacs for his contribution to this debate on the Tribunals Amalgamation Bill 2015 and the opposition for their support of this bill that does simplify the merits review process within Australia. The amalgamation of key Commonwealth tribunals will support an effective, efficient and independent merits review system into the future. The bill will place the AAT at the heart of our merits review system as a strong generalist tribunal boasting a range of specialist expertise. The amalgamation will primarily affect the tribunals' internal administrative and corporate operations with no material change to the substantial rights of tribunal users.

As I said, I do welcome the opposition's support for this. I want to make a few comments about the issue the shadow Attorney-General raised in relation to the jurisdiction of the Family Court. I appreciate that the opposition moved amendments in the Senate to give effect to the issues that he was raising. I point out to him though that we did not support those amendments for what I consider to be very sound reasons. We considered those amendments to be unnecessary. They would have complicated the system for judicial review of tribunal decisions.

The number of appeals actually heard by the Family Court at the moment is very small. I am advised it is only one or two per year. In practice almost all child support appeals from the tribunal go to the Federal Circuit Court, so the government believe that transferring the child support appeals workload to the Federal Court makes more sense. These appeals are first and foremost about the judicial review of government decision making. The Federal Court has expertise in administrative law matters across a wide variety of subjects and will capably handle these appeals within its existing resources. This will free up the Family Court to focus on more complex and intractable disputes between parties in relation to property and the care of children, and ultimately that is where their core expertise lies.

This bill represents a sensible return to a more coherent merits review framework while retaining the most successful aspects of each of the individual tribunals. The amalgamation simplifies the Commonwealth merits review system. Tribunal users will benefit from an accessible one-stop shop for external merits review, better services and a more consistent user approach. Members and staff of the new tribunal will benefit from opportunities for a broader range of work and enhanced career pathways.

The bill will also provide better value for the Australian taxpayer. The amalgamation will produce savings of $7.2 million over the forward estimates, mostly from a reduction in property costs once the tribunals are co-located and the consolidation of corporate services into a single agency. It is time to return to the original intention of our merits review system with a commitment to a pre-eminent Australian merits review tribunal. I, therefore, with the support of the opposition, commend this bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

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