Page 3281 - Week 09 - Tuesday, 19 August 2008
as crucial in establishing these kinds of bodies include the appointment of a core of full-time members and the creation of an open institutional culture which facilitates the sharing of information.
Attention to resources, staff development, lines of accountability and organisation need to be thoughtfully addressed. There have been tensions and mistakes made in the past regarding the relationship between the government and the judiciary. Members will remember that just recently I tabled the report of the public accounts committee on its inquiry into the Auditor-General’s report into courts administration, and during that inquiry committee members heard some of these concerns. From the changes that have occurred since in relation to the Auditor-General’s report, it is clear that some lessons have been learned from these conflicts. But I have not yet seen a very thorough evaluation of the tribunal system as it exists at present. I think that should be done before we see such far-reaching legislation as this.
What are the shortcomings that we are attempting to overcome, and what are the strengths that we are going to have as a result of this legislation? Hopefully—we do have to have hope and we do have to have trust, because we do not have full information—this tribunal will benefit from the more harmonious relationship and understanding that appear to have evolved over the past year or so.
I welcome the government’s assurance that current tribunal members will be encouraged to fill positions in the new tribunal. At least in the transitional period, it will be essential to maintain continuity and to retain the expertise and corporate knowledge that have developed in the individual tribunals. This is as important for the protection of the interests of the clients of the tribunal as it is for educating tribunal members who will be exercising power in subject areas that they have hitherto had little, if any, exposure to. On the other hand, some tribunals will have evolved evidential standards and procedures that differ markedly from the more formalised and standardised procedures that apply in more mainstream review and disciplinary tribunals. While it is desirable that they will now have a greater level of judicial oversight, which should ensure greater conformity with standards of procedural fairness and natural justice, it is also important that, in some areas, greater informalities and assistance which is currently given to applicants is allowed to continue.
The public needs to have trust in the fairness and impartiality of the tribunal, which for most people will be the most intimate point of contact they have with the operation of the rule of law. To get to this point, values of independence, accountability and integrity of the tribunal system need to be addressed in a practical way. Tribunals cannot maintain public trust and confidence if any one of these principles is neglected. These points were raised in a paper by Dr Gabrielle Fleming, Deputy President of the Workers Compensation Commission of New South Wales. She said:
In recent years there have been instances where jurisdiction is returned to, or duplicated, in the courts, because of a perceived failure of Tribunals to demonstrate an ability to meet their statutory objectives. Experience also suggests government is not adverse to abolishing, restructuring or amalgamating tribunals that do not remain relevant, flexible and responsive.