Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 03 Hansard (Thursday, 3 April 2008) . . Page.. 919 ..
supporting Mr Stefaniak’s amendment. I expect that he will be here soon to add his contribution to the debate. I covered some of the ground in the in-principle debate. My concern was about fairness in particular, given that when legal proceedings are complex it is often necessary to rely on the expertise of legal professionals.
We all know that these cases run more smoothly and are likely to have good and clear outcomes when the person conducting the case is able to have access to legal professionals. That is particularly so when the other side—in this case the government—has unlimited legal resources. Because Legal Aid and the Welfare Rights Centre are unlikely to take complex housing issues to the AAT, you should still be able to apply to the Attorney-General in those cases. I have no doubt that there have been numerous housing, planning and access to information cases where the public interest would have been served by allowing the applicant to access proper legal advice.
I believe this amendment will have the support of the Assembly. The support of the Attorney-General is particularly important, as the proposal to remove section 62 is much more than a simple technical amendment. This is particularly the case because it comes so soon after amending the Human Rights Act to give people the right to take action in the Supreme Court against ACT government agencies which have contravened their human rights. Unless we support Mr Stefaniak’s amendment, we may now, in effect, be taking away the right for people to ask for legal assistance when they are appealing some government decisions at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
We know that government agencies have unlimited legal resources. I am sure Mr Corbell would contest whether they are unlimited, but in relation to most ordinary citizens they have much greater resources when they appear before the AAT. So it is ironic that we are giving people a right of action in the Supreme Court with one hand and taking away their opportunity to be legally represented at the AAT with the other. After all, the sacrifice of human rights for administrative convenience is particularly offensive. Human rights are not abstract things; they boil down to concrete decisions and outcomes. I know that the model litigant rules and the philosophy of the AAT ought to support individuals when dealing with government agencies. But in our view that is not the way in which it necessarily works. Particularly when we are dealing with a range of complex issues or when government agencies are clearly tired of their complainants, it would seem that the full legal armoury can be brought to bear in the AAT, as elsewhere—model litigant rules or not.
I hope the ACT government will now reconsider this matter carefully, with the aim of ensuring that its internal practices and its management of the territory’s legislation conform to the ambition of the Human Rights Act.
MR CORBELL (Molonglo—Attorney-General, Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (10.43): The government will be supporting this amendment. Indeed, I foreshadowed in my earlier comments my intention to move such an amendment in any case. So the government is pleased to support Mr Stefaniak’s amendment. I think it is fair to say that this issue has arisen in an interesting context recently in relation to an application made by an individual to me, in my role as Attorney-General, seeking legal assistance.