Page 3278 - Week 09 - Tuesday, 19 August 2008
I had some concerns about this, and some concerns were relayed to my office some weeks ago about this initiative. Let me say, however, that there is good reason to suppose that this bill will achieve some efficiency in this regard. We currently have a system in which administrative tasks and tribunal facilities are duplicated across 16 different areas. The Attorney-General has noted the difficulties in properly serving parties that go to the current tribunals because of difficulties in providing adequate waiting rooms, administrative assistance and other services and facilities. One would expect that, with a single body, these facilities could be provided at a higher level, while at the same time costing ACT taxpayers less. I do hope that the government will look very critically at the staffing requirements of the new tribunal and that this will not simply become a bloated organisation that retains all of the existing staff that have been required under the 16 different areas to date.
Since the government have presented this bill on the rationale of achieving efficiency and economies of scale, it is incumbent on them to deliver these and they will need to make sure that this new system results in savings to ACT taxpayers. I understand that governments are often reluctant to cut the number of public servants in their employ, but there is also some natural attrition in the public service that can do the job if we cast a critical eye over our staffing needs. I would imagine that a new body of this kind could run perfectly well with far fewer staff than currently occupy the 16 existing tribunals.
Another valuable aspect of this bill is to achieve greater administrative and procedural uniformity across the different tribunal matters. Currently, we have a system where the rules, procedures and forms are very different, depending on whether you have a dispute about liquor licensing, adoption, boxing control, tree protection or the host of other issues which can come before ACT tribunals. This also adds costs in terms of the time spent by applicants and others in familiarising themselves with the different rules and procedures. By running these matters through a single body, I hope that we are able to achieve a single procedural system which is sufficiently flexible to handle the different matters, but also sufficiently standardised to ensure that tribunal users and staff are able to quickly and easily deal with administrative matters.
Some additional concerns were raised with me about this bill with respect to the specialisation of tribunal officials, and I think it is worth speaking about this aspect of the new tribunal. It is important that we do not lose the required specialist knowledge that tribunal members possess in order to make sensible legal determinations on regulatory issues pertaining to specialised subjects. While I do not doubt the ability of the legal fraternity to make sensible determinations on legal issues with regard to a wide range of issues, it is certainly advantageous for arbiters in regulatory issues to be familiar with the specialised areas over which they are making determinations.
Tribunal members that practise in the existing tribunals naturally gain experience and knowledge of the areas over which they make their determinations. An understanding of the industry or specialty involved in a determination is advantageous for tribunal members and ensures that determinations sensibly apply the law. For this reason, I hope that we retain tribunal members who have specialist knowledge and experience in dealing with matters that are covered by the existing tribunals. I note that this kind