Wednesday, 5 December 2018
Questions without Notice
Administrative Appeals Tribunal
My question is to the Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education representing the Minister for Home Affairs, concerning the Callinan review of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The Minister for Home Affairs has been a strident critic of the AAT for overruling departmental decisions to deport assorted terrorists, paedophiles, drug smugglers, Iranian holiday-makers and criminals.
The minister also asserted that individual AAT members' decisions reflected which government appointed them to the tribunal. The government commissioned a statutory review by the Hon. Ian Callinan, AC, QC, which was due on 31 October. The News Corp media reported yesterday that the review scorches the AAT as a bloated bureaucracy, bogged by refugee advocates gaming the system and, among other reforms, proposes restricting the production of late evidence. When will we and the Australian people see the Callinan report?
I thank Senator Bernardi for his question. I will actually respond, though, in my capacity as the Minister representing the Attorney-General, as the AAT actually sits within the Attorney-General's portfolio and, Senator Bernardi, you have referred to the statutory review by the Hon. Ian Callinan.
You are correct, Senator Bernardi: a review of the AAT has been conducted by former Justice of the High Court Ian Callinan, QC. It was actually the Attorney-General who announced the review. In July he stated as follows:
The review seeks to identify whether the operations of the Tribunal can be further improved to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the Commonwealth merits review jurisdiction and support high quality and consistent government decision making.
And that the review provides:
… a timely opportunity to ensure that the Tribunal is meeting its statutory objectives, in particular that it is promoting public trust and confidence through its decisions and that decisions reflect community expectations.
Senator Bernardi, I'm sure you would be aware that the government is committed to ensuring that the integrity of Australia's migration policy is maintained.
In relation to the status of the review itself: I understand, and I'm instructed, that Mr Callinan will provide his report to the Attorney-General in early December 2018, and at that time the government, or the Attorney-General, will carefully consider recommendations made by the review.
I thank the minister for identifying the area to which it should have been directed. There are 50,000 active cases in the AAT's Migration and Refugee Division, with 43 per cent more applications over the last year. In the refugee division, an increasing number of cases are being overturned. I acknowledge that last month the government made a host of new part-time appointments but, given there are tens of thousands of appellants waiting to be sent home for Christmas, when will the government put an end to the bloated bureaucracy bogged by refugee advocates gaming the system? (Time expired)
Again, Senator Bernardi, I can confirm that the government is committed to ensuring that the integrity of Australia's migration policy is maintained. But you are actually correct: the volume of applications in the Migration and Refugee Division of the AAT has increased significantly since 1 July 2015. So the statutory review of the AAT that was required and commissioned by the Attorney-General is, in fact, timely.
Whilst not pre-empting any of the recommendations of the review, it is critical that government ensures the AAT is as efficient as it can possibly be, both for the people who appear before it and also for the broader community. In that regard, I acknowledge the appointments that have been made by the Attorney-General to improve the efficiency by which decisions are being made.
I thank the minister again, and for indicating when the Callinan report would be received by the Attorney-General. But given that, potentially, we have just two sitting weeks until the new Senate is sworn in due to an election, will the government prioritise and produce legislation in February to align the AAT to uphold the community's safety and expectations?
Again, Senator Bernardi, once the Attorney-General has received the report he and the government will consider the report, and any recommendations of the review that suggest reform will be considered by the government. Obviously, it is then a decision for the Attorney-General as to whether or not a response is required that would require legislation. I can take that on notice for you.