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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 11 Hansard (25 September) . . Page.. 3246 ..

MR STEFANIAK (continuing):

Most recently, I assisted a person who had allegedly been stuffed around by PALM for several years. He went to the AAT and seemed to have quite a good hearing. I am not sure how it went, but that person told me that he and his wife had lost about $20,000 through problems caused by a government agency. We are now waiting to see whether his appeal to the AAT is upheld, but at the very least he should be entitled to have his application fee refunded, which I understand is $260 in the ACT. It might have gone up.

Ms Tucker's bill will have that fee refunded. The fee is paid to the registrar, hence the registrar is the one who has to refund the money. That is logical: basically a straight in/out. The citizen who is successful is therefore not out of pocket. With Mr Stanhope's amendment it would be the other party who would pay the application fee to the applicant.

That is also a nice, clever way of ensuring that the applicant is not out of pocket and that the initial money paid in for the application stays with the government and the territory gets a little bit of extra money-although, given that most of the agencies who would be at fault here are government run, they would have to pay. So there is a bit of robbing Peter to pay Paul there. It would invariably come out of government coffers anyway-except for occasions when someone else was at fault-albeit from a different agency.

At the end of the day, it does not matter a huge amount but, for the sake of consistency with other AATs and especially the federal AAT, what Ms Tucker is proposing by her amendment is preferable. At the end of the day, it will be the person who takes their grievance to the AAT who will benefit from this. It is only fair.

What the government is proposing is a similar sort of situation to that in the Small Claims Court-it is a different court, but a similar situation-which, again, is meant to be lawyer free. It is not; you cannot get legal costs if you win there. But at least there is provision in the Small Claims Court for the winning party-the plaintiff-to get the court fees they lodged refunded as well as the judgment debt.

I can see the logic in what the Chief Minister is proposing, but at the end of the day in this court it will still invariably be a government agency that pays. I do not think there will be any real net gain to the community.

I think Ms Tucker proposes something that has been applied before. I think at one stage the AAT did have refundable fees to successful applicants, and that is what the federal AAT does.

I am a little concerned-it is only a minor concern-that in Ms Tucker's amendment the registrar "must" refund the determination fee, as opposed to "may" in the Chief Minister's amendment. "Must" could include situations where the applicant might win but win on such a technicality that, in terms of the substantive issue, the agency may be ordered to pay the fee.

At 5.00 pm, in accordance with standing order 34, the debate was interrupted. The motion for the adjournment of the Assembly having been put and negatived, the debate was resumed.

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