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29 August 2021

Senator Patrick will next week call for the Senate to end the appointments of government ‘mates’ to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT).

“The AAT is the place Australians go to address wrongs in administrative decision making through a process which is fair, just, economical, informal and quick,” said Senator Patrick. “They don’t need to turn up and find that the matter will be heard by someone without legal qualifications and who are only sitting on the bench because they were a former politician or staffer or friend of a Government Minister.”

Very recent appointees with no legal qualifications to the AAT include former Liberal National Party Federal member, Jane Prentice and former Labor Party Victorian State member, Philip Dalidakis. There has been a litany of others over the years.

“Political appointments undermine the public trust and confidence in the AAT."

Most appointments to the AAT are Federal Court judges or experienced legal practitioners. However, section 7 of the AAT Act provides for appointment of members that, in the opinion of the Governor-General, have special knowledge of skills relevant to the duties of a senior member or member.

“That special knowledge shouldn’t be the phone number of the Attorney-General, whose advice the Governor-General must follow”.

In a 2018 statutory review of the AAT conducted by former High Court Justice, Ian Callinan AC QC, Judge Callinan recommended amending s 7 stating, "There is, in my opinion, no necessity to appoint professionals other than lawyers to the AAT (except perhaps for accountants to the Taxation and Commercial Division).”

The Courts and Tribunals Legislation Amendment (2021 Measures No 1) Bill 2021 is listed on the Senate’s order of business for next week. Senator Patrick will be moving an amendment to modify section 7 of the AAT Act in accordance with Judge Callinan’s recommendation.

“I have not discussed the amendment with the opposition because the amendment has not been finalised,” said Senator Patrick. “Labor politicians have made a big deal about these political appointments, but in August 2019 the party refused to support Senator Patrick’s motion calling on the Government to alter section 7. “They talk the talk, but often don’t do the walk. Let’s see which direction their moral compass is pointing next week.”

“It’s time to end the rot.”