I rise today to speak in support of the government’s amendments. These bills represent the biggest reform to administrative law in a generation; it’s hard to overstate the importance. The success or failure of the tribunal will impact thousands of Australians every year, whether accessing our social services, migration, health care or tax systems. At the core of the government’s administrative reforms is a commitment to be rid of the crony jobs-for-mates culture that pervaded the AAT in its later years. Delivering on this promise starts with getting the appointment process right, with no room for dodgy deals or political nepotism.

Australians were promised a transparent selection process that would see only the most qualified and experienced people appointed to the tribunal. But this was not what was proposed in the bills first introduced to the House, and I had significant concerns, and I made these clear to the Attorney-General. So let me be clear now: there were significant flaws in the bills. There was no requirement to use selection panels and no clear requirement for the Attorney-General to refer to the panel’s recommendations. Without amendment, the bills were quite simply incomplete, with inadequate safeguards against politicisation. And, with such a stumble at its biggest hurdle, I was disappointed with that first iteration, to say the least, because, as Professor Mary Crock has said, the success of the new tribunal will be marked by the quality of the individuals appointed to adjudicate actual cases. So I commend the government for responding to the crossbench’s calls, and in particular the calls from the member for Mackellar.

These amendments will not only require the use of selection panels but also ensure that the Attorney-General can only recommend a candidate for appointment if they have been found as suitable by a selection panel through a merits based process. I am hopeful that these amendments will deliver on the merits based process that this government promised, but only time will tell.

In coming years, we will want to know if the ART has delivered for Australians and whether the goal of creating a fairer and more accountable decision review system has indeed been achieved. To answer these questions, first we need to ask them, which is why I am supportive of amendments requiring a review of the ART in five years time. This review will be conducted by experts in administrative law and must include public consultation. This crucial review clause was missing when the bill was first introduced into this place. I found that concerning and, frankly, also very disappointing. But in this 47th Parliament we have a crossbench who won’t settle for incomplete legislation. We have held the government accountable to its commitments and called for it to do better. Without the strong advocacy of the crossbench, and particularly the member for Warringah, this amendment would not have seen the light of day.

While I would have preferred a legislative review within three years of the act’s operation, I recognise the importance of having this review locked down in the calendar so we can look back in five years time and ask whether the new ART truly is the once-in-a-generation reform that we’ve been promised. Yet again, the introduction of this amendment shows the power that community Independents can have in the parliament. With the government having responded to crossbench calls, I now feel I am able to give these bills my full support. I commend these amendments to the House.

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