The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) and our members welcome the establishment of a new administrative review system. For many years, we have highlighted ongoing concerns with the current Administrative Appeals Tribunal, especially in relation to delays, pollical appointments, consistency in decision making and the lack of transparency. It is imperative that this new review body ensures fairness, transparency, accountability and good decision making, to uphold public confidence in our legal system.
The administrative review system plays a pivotal role in refugee status determination (RSD) for those seeking protection in Australia. It ensures that errors in the high volume of decisions made by the Department of Home Affairs are reviewable by an independent body. This is especially important in cases of refugee claims, when matters of life and death are under consideration. Indeed, the administrative review can provide a critical safeguard against forced return to danger by helping to ensure accuracy and fairness in decision-making. Robust mechanisms for independent merits review are also in the best interests of the Australian Government as they ensure the correct decision is made and help to ensure high-quality and consistent administrative decision making. A proper review system is vital in order for Australia to uphold its obligations under the Refugee Convention. The merits review process also ensures that many broader aspects vital to a healthy democracy are upheld, including affording natural justice, upholding the rule of law and contributing to open and accountable government.
A new administrative review system must remain independent, adequately resourced and appoint members who are highly skilled and qualified to assess refugee status determinations. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the current AAT. The AAT is significantly under resourced, with a backlog of 39,353 refugee cases, and only about 583 cases decided each month. This backlog is not only due to under-resourcing of the AAT, but also due to the lack of expertise from some AAT members. This is due in part to the politicisation of appointments to the AAT, and the lack of appropriate qualifications of some appointees.
The following is our response to the discussion questions, set out according to topic as per the discussion paper.