Read our submission here.
Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA) welcomes the opportunity from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs to provide a submission regarding the Administrative Review Tribunal Bill 2023 (ART Bill) and the Administrative Review Tribunal (Consequential and Transitional Provisions No.1) Bill 2023 (Consequential and Transitional Bill).
The ART Bill represents a significant step towards improving the efficacy and fairness of administrative decision-making. By introducing an independent Tribunal tasked with reviewing government decisions, the ART Bill establishes a solid foundation for an independent, transparent, and accountable system. The ART Bill demonstrates the Federal Government’s commitment to expeditious and efficient proceedings, aligning with the overarching objective of enhancing the quality of government decision-making.
While WLSA welcomes the ART Bill and Consequential and Transitional Bill and the Federal Government’s commitment to advancing a more progressive administrative framework, there are a range of shortfalls which must be addressed. The ART Bill does not take a human-centred approach to the review of government decisions which has far-reaching implications and can have dangerous consequences, particularly for victim-survivors of domestic, family, and sexual violence, migrant women, as well as other vulnerable or marginalised people. There are also a range of changes that should be made to make the Tribunal more accessible and affordable, and likely to lead to better outcomes for people who are experiencing financial disadvantage or vulnerability.
WLSA makes recommendations to improve the Bills to ensure the Tribunal appropriately considers the experiences of women and children, particularly victim-survivors of domestic and family violence, to increase accessibility of review of government decisions, and to enhance the efficacy and fairness of administrative decision-making.
- The ART Bill should list general principles to guide the administrative review process, including human-centred approach; accessible and affordable; inclusive, diverse, and culturally safe; trauma-informed and family violence-informed; and informed by lived experience.
- The ART Bill should list examples to explain how provisions apply in the context of domestic and family violence where relevant.
- The administrative review process should be made more accessible by providing free legal assistance and non-legal support services to all people experiencing financial hardship and vulnerable applicants.
- There should be a full fee waiver for applications to the Tribunal in cases of domestic and family violence, or compassionate and compelling circumstances, and a lower fee for applicants facing financial hardship.
- The time limit for applications to the Tribunal should be at least 60 days to allow time for applicants to seek help, information and legal advice or representation, and there should be additional flexibility where there is compassionate and compelling circumstances, including domestic and family violence. The time limit for appeals should be at least 90 days.
- The ART Bill should explicitly clarify that “special circumstances” include where a person has been experiencing, or is at risk of, domestic or family violence.
- The application process should be flexible, accessible, affordable, simplified, and non-punitive.
- The Minister should be required to take into account the need for a diversity of backgrounds within the Council to ensure the Tribunal reflects the diversity of the Australian community.
- The performance standard and relevant processes should take a continuous improvement approach whereby members’ performance is systematically reviewed on a regular and continuous basis.
- The Explanatory Memorandum for the ART Bill should list training on domestic and family violence as an example of training for Tribunal members.
- All documents relied on to make decisions should be made available to the applicant, and the Tribunal should not be able to compel the production of documents.
- The Tribunal should not have the power to dismiss an application without holding a hearing unless a positive decision can be made or in circumstances where an applicant is unable to participate in a hearing.