Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 11 Hansard (25 September) . . Page.. 3245 ..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
In place of that scheme, the government proposes an option that we believe will maintain the integrity of the proposal of Ms Tucker. Accordingly, the government proposes a simple amendment to Ms Tucker's amendment, which moves the financial burden resulting from the appeal, small though it might be, to the losing party.
It is important that the tribunal deal with the issue of whether the proceedings have ended in a particular party's favour contemporaneously with its decision on the matter in dispute. I am pleased to note that Ms Tucker supports this approach and that this will be included in her amendment to her bill. The government supports Ms Tucker's proposals in relation to costs in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
MS DUNDAS (4.53): I rise to strongly support this bill and to endorse the points Ms Tucker made in her introductory speech. Access to the courts is a fundamental part of our democratic system. Voters entrust the government with the power to govern but on the condition that the government acts within the law.
The courts are there as a forum where a citizen can obtain an independent determination about whether the government has in fact acted within the law. In an ideal world, access to the courts for appeals against government decisions that adversely affect a citizen would be entirely free.
However, experience has led parliaments around Australia to introduce lodgment fees to reduce the number of frivolous appeals with no prospect of success. If lodgment fees were abolished entirely, we might have to increase the number of tribunal members and judges to cope with demand from vexatious litigants, and this would not be the best use of taxpayers' money.
However, it is important to keep the impediments to lodging court cases to the absolute minimum necessary to discourage frivolous cases. Where an appeal case has been proven to the satisfaction of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, there is no apparent reason why the territory should retain any money from a citizen who appealed the government decision that the tribunal has then overturned.
Appellants often bear substantial costs in preparing appeal documents, even where they do not stand to benefit financially if they are successful. Arguably, our statute book should go further and provide that the territory always be required to pay any costs incurred by the appellant in preparing their case, if the appellant does then succeed. This goes beyond the scope of Ms Tucker's bill, which certainly restores fairness to the current administrative appeals process.
MR STEFANIAK (4.55): The opposition will also be supporting Ms Tucker's amendment to the Magistrates Court Act. We think it is a sensible amendment. In fact, this amendment and her bill bring the provisions for the ACT AAT into line with the federal AAT. That is sensible and very consistent, and that is why we will be supporting her bill and her amendment. I have some sympathy for the government amendment, in that it will invariably be an agency that loses in the appeals court and will pay for its own stupidity.