The Federal Government has announced it will abolish the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) and replace it with a new body.
AAT reviews of National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) and other Government decisions, such as on Centrelink and migration, have ballooned in recent years, with the Federal Government blaming the former Liberal Coalition for the issues.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus says the former Government “irreversibly damaged” the AAT’s public standing over the past nine years.
“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 relevant experience or expertise – the former Government fatally compromised the AAT, undermined its independence and eroded the quality and efficiency of its decision-making,” he says.
The AAT is also not financially sustainable, is “beset by delays”, has a growing backlog of applications and is using multiple old case management systems, according to Attorney-General Dreyfus.
“This comes at a very real cost to the tens of thousands of people who rely on the AAT each year to independently review Government decisions that have major and sometimes life-altering impacts on their lives,” he says.
“Decisions such as whether an older Australian receives an Age Pension, whether a veteran is compensated for a service injury, or whether a participant of the NDIS receives funding for essential support.”
The current Government pulled the pin on the AAT on Friday and says it is committed to restoring trust and confidence in the country’s administrative review system.
To reform the system the Government will spend:
- $63.4 million over two years for an additional 75 members to address the current backlog of cases and reduce wait times while the new body is being set up
- $11.7 million over two years for a single, streamlined case management system
Attorney-General Dreyfus insists the new body to replace the AAT will be “user-focused, efficient, accessible, independent and fair” and the Government will be consulting with stakeholders over the design of the new organisation during the coming months.
Key to the appointment of any AAT members in the new organisation will be a merit-based selection process and current staff of the AAT will transfer over to the new body.
While the reform of the AAT is occurring, any cases currently before the tribunal will continue to be heard.
Expert panel has worked to address 60 percent of inherited NDIS tribunal cases
In May, the number of AAT appeals over decisions made by the NDIA peaked at 4,501, costing the agency $28 million in legal fees over the prior six month period.
The appeals process has also been criticised for causing distress to National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) participants and their supporters as it forced too many to fight for their funding and cases were taking too long to process.
In September, NDIS Minister Bill Shorten announced an independent committee, the Independent Expert Review Pathway pilot, focused on clearing the backlog of AAT cases for people with disability.
Last week, Minister Shorten announced 60 percent of the appeals cases started under the previous Government had been cleared.
“The radical reduction in legacy cases is one of the most positive achievements since becoming Minister for the NDIS,” he says.
“The progress of the Expert Review pilot means NDIS participants’ voices can be heard through a faster process when appealing an NDIA decision about their supports.”
As the AAT is abolished and replaced, the Independent Expert Review Pathway is set to be expanded with 16 new members joining the expert panel.
A Participant Support Hotline is also being established to provide advocacy and legal support to people with a case before the panel.