Administrative Decisions Tribunal Amendment Bill
Debate resumed from 1 September.
Mr ANDREW TINK (Epping) [10.50 a.m.]: The purpose of this bill is to amend the Administrative Decisions Tribunal Act 1997 to make further provision with respect to interlocutory matters and to amend certain Acts to provide direct rights of appeal to the Supreme Court from the Administrative Decisions Tribunal [ADT] instead of to an appeal panel of the tribunal. The ADT was established to provide a central, cost-effective, and convenient way for the people of New South Wales to obtain a review of administrative decisions and to have certain general complaints resolved. A number of specific changes are proposed in the bill. The first is to provide that any appeal against an interlocutory decision of the tribunal to an ADT appeal panel may proceed only with the leave of the panel. That provision will promote the finality of interlocutory decisions and will give the tribunal the power to control the number of interlocutory matters that proceed to appeal.
That is an important development, because interlocutory issues should be kept within tight parameters. Otherwise, endless problems of trials within trials within trials can follow and there could be a complete blow-out in what is and what is not relevant in costs and other matters. The goal is to keep relevance and costs tight, and that is entirely consistent with the just, cheap, and quick disposal of matters of that type.
The second major amendment is to enable the President of the ADT to direct that an interlocutory matter, both in the first instance and at the level of the appeal panel, can be dealt with by a single presidential judicial member. That will mean that those matters can proceed more quickly and at a reduced cost to the ADT. Again, the themes that come through are supported by the Coalition. Plainly the nature of interlocutory matters is such that it is quite appropriate that they be dealt with by a single member rather than a panel. By their nature, panels can have a difference of opinion, majority and minority views, and other disparities. At the end of the day I am not sure that that would be helpful or desirable in interlocutory proceedings. I welcome the proposal that a single presidential member can constitute an appeal panel in those circumstances.
The third major amendment is to remove any right to appeal decisions involving architects, surveyors, and veterinary surgeons to an ADT appeal panel. Instead, those appeals will have to be made directly to the Supreme Court. Currently most professional disciplinary matters appealed to the ADT are then appealed to the Supreme Court. Abolishing the intermediate level of appeal will expedite the appeal process for the applicant and will produce both administrative and financial savings for the ADT. That is probably unarguably true for the parties also, because double handling, which is what current the arrangements provide, simply provides more opportunities for one party or the other to delay, dissemble, run up costs, or take up the time of the tribunal, and that is to be avoided. Personally, I believe that the Supreme Court is the appropriate place for the appeal.
Alternatively, such matters could have been left with the ADT, but if there is a choice as to whether the final forum be the ADT or the Supreme Court, I believe that the Supreme Court is the appropriate forum. In reaching that view the Coalition sought comment from the New South Wales Law Society, the Australian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, the Australian Veterinary Association, and the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, and none of them expressed any concern about the proposal. The Coalition does not oppose the bill. It hopes that as a consequence of it the ADT is able to carry out its important work with greater efficiency and effectiveness, and also at less cost and with quicker decision-making for the parties.
Mrs BARBARA PERRY (Auburn) [10.55 a.m.]: The Administrative Decisions Tribunal Amendment Bill amends the Administrative Decisions Tribunal Act 1997 to improve the operational efficiency of the Administrative Decisions Tribunal [ADT]. The ADT was established to provide a cost-effective and convenient way for the people of New South Wales to obtain a review of administrative decisions and resolve general complaints. Since the tribunal was established by this Government its jurisdiction has been expanded and it now reviews a wide range of administrative matters. The ADT has been one of the Government's less-heralded success stories: it provides fast, affordable justice in areas as diverse as the discipline of legal practitioners and other professionals, guardianship decisions, revenue decisions, and anti-discrimination and privacy matters.
The bill implements a number of recommendations by the tribunal to improve procedures to bring greater efficiencies, particularly in relation to certain interlocutory and professional disciplinary matters heard on appeal. The bill contains four amendments affecting the jurisdiction of the Administrative Decisions Tribunal. The bill will ensure that, in any interlocutory matter, whether at first instance or appeal panel level, the tribunal may be constituted by a single judicial member of the tribunal appointed by the president. This will expedite the interlocutory process and reduce the cost and inefficiency of panel hearings of matters that could be effectively dealt with by a single member. The bill provides also that appeals against interlocutory decisions of the tribunal at first instance may proceed only with the leave of the appeal panel. The aim is to promote the finality of interlocutory decisions and reinforce the authority of the judicial member hearing matters at first instance.
The bill also removes the right of appeal to an appeal panel in professional discipline matters involving architects, surveyors, and veterinary surgeons, so that parties may appeal direct to the Supreme Court. This amendment recognises the tribunal's practical experience that most professional disciplinary matters appealed to appeal panels are subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court. Removing the intermediate level of appeal means that these matters will therefore reach the Supreme Court more quickly.
Finally, the bill expands the jurisdiction of the tribunal to enable it to hear appeals concerning decisions involving family day care services. The bill enables regulations to be made under the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 to provide for certain decisions in relation to family day care children's services to be reviewed by the ADT. Reviews are presently restricted to the Supreme Court. The amendment allows for such reviews to occur at a more practical, less resource-intensive level, to the benefit of all parties involved. The bill is further evidence of the Government's commitment to ensuring fast and affordable resolution of administrative disputes, and I commend it to the House.
Mr PAUL LYNCH (Liverpool) [10.58 a.m.]: I support the Administrative Decisions Tribunal Amendment Bill. The establishment of the Administrative Decisions Tribunal [ADT] in 1997 was a significant step in the legal history of this State. It realised a demand that had been made for some considerable time by those supportive of law reform and those supportive of traditional labour law reform. The originating bill was introduced some 24 years after it was originally recommended by the Law Reform Commission in 1973. I recall that when the Administrative Decisions Tribunal [ADT] was first introduced a number of people said, "It's about time." I should add that my interest in the bill stems from a statutory review of the jurisdiction and operation of the ADT that was completed in November 2002 by the Committee on the Office of the Ombudsman and the Police Integrity Commission, which I chair.
The bill contains a number of comparatively minor amendments that focus on increasing the operational efficiency of the tribunal and also saving money. One of its provisions removes the right of appeal to an appeal panel in what are described as professional discipline matters that include architects and veterinary surgeons. Effectively this involves the removal of an intermediate level of appeal, affected professionals still being able to appeal directly to the Supreme Court. I understand that it is rare for an appeal to an appeals panel to result in a different decision to that being appealed. As well, most appellants also appeal in any event to the Supreme Court. The second reading speech predicts not insignificant financial savings from that change. By itself, that would not be enough to justify such a change; however, as an extra by-product, obviously it has attractions.
Another amendment that will have useful financial consequences is the provision that in interlocutory matters a single judicial member, rather than a panel, may constitute the ADT, whether it is in the first instance or on appeal. This is hardly an extraordinary provision, and it is paralleled in other jurisdictions. Another provision introduced in this legislation that is echoed in other jurisdictions is that appeals against interlocutory decisions of the tribunal at first instance may only proceed with the leave of the appeal panel. Encouraging the finality of interlocutory decisions must, I would have thought, be regarded as desirable. A further amendment involves changes to section 245 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act. The amendment will provide for a review by the ADT of decisions to suspend or cancel a family day carer's registration. This change has the useful advantage of providing an option apart from the current option of appealing to the Supreme Court.
The restricted nature of the amendments does not allow for any greater changes. I would like to think that at some stage in the future some of the recommendations of the committee report I referred to earlier might be looked at. The amalgamation of various other tribunals within the ADT would be a significant and useful measure to be introduced in law reform. When the previous Attorney introduced the original bill in 1997, he said that over the next 18 months the Government would review all administrative decisions to see which of them should be reviewed by the ADT. That review has not occurred. I would have thought there are good reasons why the jurisdiction could be expanded, and I look forward in hope to that occurring at some stage in the future.
Mr BOB DEBUS (Blue Mountains—Attorney General, and Minister for the Environment) [11.02 a.m.], in reply: I thank the honourable members representing the electorates of Epping, Auburn and Liverpool for their contributions to the debate. As I said in my second reading speech, the amendments proposed will bring real benefits to our system of administrative review. They will allow the tribunal to utilise its resources more effectively to hear matters more quickly. Improved access to justice is a measure I am sure all honourable members would support. At the same time, amendments providing for a direct right of appeal to the Supreme Court in professional disciplinary matters can only speed up the process of disciplinary review, to the benefit of all concerned.
I reiterate the great benefit of these reforms. The benefit is not about money, though saving public money is to be applauded. It is not even about administrative efficiency, although that is also helpful. The real benefit of these reforms is that more people are able to have more matters heard by the tribunal. In many cases, because of the better allocation of resources, matters will proceed more quickly. For these reasons I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.