Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 13 Hansard (21 November) . . Page.. 3973 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
I support the idea of encouraging mediation, as in many cases this may be a more effective way of reaching an agreement between the parties. I am concerned, though, about the implications of the new provision for awarding costs. On the scrutiny of bills committee we commented on this aspect. We stated that the risk of having to meet a costs order might dissuade many people from making an application for review.
The wording of this proposed section is also quite vague, and it could be difficult to determine the circumstances in which a party contravenes a direction. For example, it does not appear to be relevant to assess whether the contravention caused any prejudice to another party or whether it added to the costs to the public. The only guidance given to the AAT is that the making of the order must be "in the interests of justice".
The report also noted that the costs order will be against the party, not against any lawyer who might have been responsible. I think there needs to be an amendment to this proposed section to clarify when costs can be awarded.
It is not in the bill, but the minister in his presentation speech mentioned that the tribunal will get extra resources to enable it to deal more effectively with appeals. Additional tribunal members with expertise in planning-related matters will be appointed. This will allow three members, including two with relevant expertise, to sit on most appeals. There will also be a need for extra mediation resources. It is very important that these resources be made available, as this bill cannot be implemented without them. I look forward to these resources being allocated.
MR CORBELL (Minister for Education, Youth and Family Services, Minister for Planning and Minister for Industrial Relations) (6.28): My colleague the Chief Minister has carriage of this legislation, as he is the minister responsible for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act. I do, though, want to make some brief comments. Whilst this is notionally an area under the responsibility of the Attorney-General, it is nevertheless an important element of planning administration in the territory.
As I outlined earlier in my speech on the Planning and Land (Consequential Amendments) Bill, the changes to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal are aimed at streamlining decision-making. More importantly, they are fundamentally aimed at trying to deliver better outcomes and achieving outcomes rather than a strict black letter law interpretation of the land act.
We have seen some AAT decisions in recent times which, whilst undoubtedly correct and thorough, have led to confusion as to exactly what the outcome should be in development terms. Through these changes we are implementing a regime which allows for parties to discuss matters in a much more informal way as often as possible, by placing a positive obligation on the tribunal to consider and to undertake mediation.
The government is conscious that this will require resources, not only in the appointment of additional panel members to the AAT but also in the engagement of professional mediators to assist with the mediation process. That is an issue the government will consider in the context of the coming budget.