Wed, 05 Jun 2024 - 00:16

Consideration In Detail - Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2024-2025

I rise to speak on the consideration in detail stage of these appropriation bills. I note that, just last week, the Registrar of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal confirmed in evidence to a Senate committee that tribunal members take very seriously their obligation to make decisions under the law. We know that tribunal members are required by law to implement and give effect to direction 99. The government has been trying to blame the tribunal for the disastrous results of this direction, claiming that the minister has been misinterpreted. That might be remotely plausible if we were talking about a single case, but we know that many different members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal implementing direction 99 have, in case after case, permitted violent offenders and serious sexual offenders to remain in Australia.

The Attorney-General, we know, and his department, for some mysterious reason, did not regard this systemic problem as a significant legal issue, even though the Attorney administers the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, oversees our legal system and has responsibility for community safety. In fact, as far as we can tell—and perhaps the Attorney will enlighten us all—it appears he never even considered the interpretation of direction 99 as possibly being a significant legal issue until that was pointed out by this side of the House. Why would that be? Last week, the tribunal confirmed that, if a minister disagrees with a ruling of the tribunal, there are two pathways open to the minister: to appeal to the courts on a point of law or to use ministerial powers to quash the tribunal decision.

In evidence to the Senate on Friday, the registrar of the tribunal made clear that, to the best of his understanding, the minister has the power to quash every single decision made by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal where a person is permitted to remain in Australia based on direction 99. Despite the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs seeking to blame the tribunal and imply that tribunal members misapplied direction 99, it seems that he completely failed to take any action in relation to decision after decision which, on his version of events, misapplied his direction. He did not use the powers that the registrar says he has to quash those tribunal decisions. He did not systematically launch appeals in relation to those directions.

Let me turn now to the question of the new tribunal that the Attorney is imposing on the Australian people. We know from the budget papers that the government intends to spend $1 billion of taxpayers' hard-earned money to change from the AAT to the ART. This is an extraordinary level of expenditure. In judging whether this is appropriate, we should

ask: what did Australians have before these bills and what will they have afterwards? Before these bills, Australians had an administrative tribunal that reviewed government decisions. After these bills, Australians have an administrative tribunal that reviews government decisions. They're also a billion dollars down in terms of money remaining available to taxpayers because this government is spending $1 billion. Why is this costly rebranding exercise being indulged? Where does this money come from? Some of it comes from the National Disability Insurance Agency, Veterans' Affairs or social services—from agencies dealing with vulnerable Australians. Why has the government decided that it's better to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a new tribunal rather than, for example, deploy this money to support women fleeing family and domestic violence?

One of the other features of this government's unconstrained spending spree is $168 million over the forward estimates on an anti-money-laundering and counterterrorism financing reform. What's the government now proposing to expand this framework to cover real estate agents, accountants, law firms, conveyancers and the like? Will these entities, I ask the minister—the Attorney—now need to prepare detailed AML/CTF programs, potentially at the cost of many thousands of dollars and many hours of lost time? Will these many businesses that are now going to be caught in this regulatory web need to deal with competing regulation, in that, on the one hand, they will be required to destroy personal information under the Privacy Act but, on the other hand, they will be required to retain personal information under the AML/CTF Act? I ask the Attorney for clarification on that matter.

I further ask: How many new businesses around Australia will be dragged into his expansive new regulatory net? How many real estate agencies are there in Australia that will now be dragged into this regulatory net? How many accountancy practices and how many law firms will be within the remit of these new laws?