- On 1 July 2015, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (Cth) became a new ‘mega tribunal’ with jurisdiction over administrative review, migration and refugee appeals, social security appeals and the review of certain child support decisions.
- A new specialist stream has also been created within the AAT for consideration of Freedom of Information appeals.
- The current Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill 2014, is however a counterpoint to the generally positive reform in the AAT. Among other things, the Bill proposes to abolish the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. If passed, it threatens to undermine the federal FOI regime.
On 1 July 2015, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (‘AAT’) became a one-stop shop for thousands of review claims in the federal jurisdiction. The Tribunals Amalgamation Act (‘the Amalgamation Act’) amends the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1976 (Cth) (‘the AAT Act’) to create a single tribunal with jurisdiction over administrative review, migration and refugee appeals, social security appeals and the review of certain child support decisions. The Migration/Refugee Tribunal and the Social Security Appeals Tribunal have been abolished.
The new mega-tribunal, which will be known as the AAT, will field over 40,000 applications per year. The decisions made will often be significant, such as whether an individual can access Centrelink benefits, or whether an applicant for refugee status can be reunited with a family member. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) hopes that the creation of this single tribunal will mean a more straightforward path to access justice.
Of particular interest is a specialist stream in the new AAT for the consideration of freedom of information (FOI) appeals. This article considers the significance of this amendment against the background of radical reform proposed in another, more controversial, parliamentary bill – the Freedom of Information Amendment (New Arrangements) Bill 2014 (FOI Amendment Bill). This Bill, if passed, threatens to undermine the federal FOI regime and, accordingly, the ability of individuals and organisations to hold government to account.