I am very pleased to be speaking today on the Administrative Review Tribunal Bill 2023 which will legislate our government’s decision to abolish the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and replace it with a new federal administrative review body. This is a significant reform. Make no mistake, we are here because the former Liberal and National government fatally compromised the AAT. They did that by appointing as many as 85 former Liberal MPs, failed Liberal candidates, former Liberal staffers and other close Liberal associates without any merit based selection process, including some individuals with no relevance, experience or expertise, to the AAT. They fatally compromised it. In doing so, they undermined the independence of the AAT. They eroded the quality and efficiency of its decision-making. When this government came to power, we inherited an AAT that was not fit for purpose, that was not on a sustainable financial footing and that has been beset by delays and an ever-growing backlog of applications, operating multiple and ageing electronic case management systems, a legacy of the former government’s mismanagement of the amalgamation of the AAT with the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, the Migration Review Tribunal and the Refugee Review Tribunal.

That this situation became as bad as it did is another demonstration of the many ways that those opposite, when they were in power, neglected the parts of government and the parts of administration that should be there to support people in our community, that should be there to uphold integrity and trust in systems and processes and governments, all things that those opposite thought were not important. The failure to support a modern fit-for-purpose tribunal is part of a long list of issues that come from the nine years of drift and denial we had under successive coalition governments.

These issues with the AAT come at a very real cost to the tens of thousands of people who rely on the tribunal each year to independently review government decisions that do have major and sometimes life-altering impacts. These are decisions of everything from whether an older Australian will receive the age pension, whether a veteran is compensated for a service injury or perhaps whether an Australian with disability receives an NDIS package for essential support. I have seen far too many of these people in my office, struggling to work out a system that was not supported by those opposite, struggling to navigate a system that they should be able to navigate without assistance from their federal member’s office. These are the situations our government is trying to fix on behalf of the Australian people with this bill. People go to the AAT quite often as a last resort. Those people have been let down and let down badly by a system that has not been working as it should be.

So it is important that our government are taking this significant reform, reform that we are undertaking in a sensible, considered manner. We have consulted widely. We are putting in place systems that have been through processes, that have been reviewed, that are the result of consultation. We are determined that we will not find ourselves in the situation that those who came previously have left us in—where we have a tribunal stacked with Liberal mates, a tribunal that’s not fit for purpose, a tribunal that should have been there to make the lives of people who often need support clearer, a tribunal that should have been there as a last resort. That tribunal was clearly not fit for purpose.

It is entirely appropriate that the Attorney-General has consulted widely and that the Attorney-General has taken action to put together what will be a new reformed body. In passing this legislation through this House, we, as a parliament, are saying that Australians should expect better, that Australians should be confident that this type of institution is free from political interference and is set up to serve the interests of people who most need it, and that is what people will get through this bill and through this work that the government is doing.

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