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Tasmanian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Bill 2020

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 27 August 2020

Tags: Justice, Legislation

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Deputy Speaker, the Greens are very pleased to support this bill which will finally bring into being a body that has been, as the minister said, decades in gestation -and the birthing, as we are seeing here, is being welcomed by all the different tribunals around Tasmania that are being incorporated through this bill into a single tribunal.

A single one-stop shop which will, we hope and expect, from the structure that has been proposed, provide for far more efficiencies in the delivery of the administrative and civil decisions that are made by tribunals, and provide better access to justice for people in Tasmania who seek to have their matters heard by the range of tribunals listed here.

Looking at every single one of those nine tribunals makes it clear that these are very weighty matters that are being considered. These are matters I have personally advocated on behalf of people who have contacted our office asking questions, seeking more information, and seeking more clarity - and I can tell you that each of those people has had serious issues and concerns about how justice is being delivered in their case.

There are serious and complex issues to negotiate about what is appropriate, and how matters are heard - particularly about how people can be supported in a tribunal, and whether they think the evidence that is being presented from the other party has been properly scrutinised.

The circumstances leading people to come to these tribunals to have matters decided are usually enormous, and very personal, particularly the Guardianship and Administration Board, for example, and the Resource Management and Planning Appeal Tribunal, as we mentioned last night in the Major Projects bill debate. I note that the Rosny Hill Friends Network, that group of people in the community, are spending all of their spare time fundraising, selling tea towels and doing a whole range of things so that they can afford to appear and make a case before that tribunal.

As the Leader of the Greens said last night in her experiences with Ralph Bay, the effort that members of the public typically make to bring their case to a tribunal and be heard is usually all-consuming. They were not planning on doing that in their life. They did not choose to have to go down that pathway; it was not in their life plan. No-one really takes something to a tribunal without a massive amount of effort and personal and emotional cost. There is often a big burden for people.

I am mindful about the importance of getting the details of bringing these bodies together. I thank the minister's staff who provided an excellent briefing and good, clear responses to the questions we asked the other day.

From what the minister said, and the briefing I had from the staff, it does seem that this first stage will be about the new president writing the rules, and deciding on the structure and the personnel that will be required for the new TasCAT. The premises are already functioning. The bodies are functioning. They are all there.

Ms Archer - They were very keen to move in in July.

Dr WOODRUFF - So they are all functioning, but they are all functioning, minister, as separate tribunals at the moment.

Ms Archer - They are, but there is a big admin area, so they are all in together, so they are progressing towards that way. Being on the one site makes the transition much easier.

Dr WOODRUFF - In principle, that is a really good approach. It sounds tremendous, and I would welcome a walk-through to have a look at how it functions at some time. That would be useful.

Given that this bill empowers a president to write the rules, and develop the structure and the personnel, and given that those bodies are together, I assume they will be very actively discussing how that looks and how that is going to function.

Ms Archer - We have had a steering committee. I referred to it in the second reading speech, and a reference group.

Dr WOODRUFF - That is right. They already do have the steering committee and the reference group, which have been looking at these issues for some time.

The second bill - which will be coming, as I understand it, by 1 July 2021 - does put some more detail into the important matters that would govern the way in which enhanced services could be provided by the single tribunal - particularly alternative disputes resolution mechanisms, and the way in which access to justice is improved.

I have a couple of questions for the minister about the rationale for doing this in the first place. Why bring it together? Minister, in your speech, you said other states all do this. In itself that is not a good enough reason - and I know that was not your reason; it is just a statement of fact. The underlying reason seems to be that it allows for better utilisation of administrative support and resources, which is the words you said for tribunal matters. That could be boiled down into efficiencies of staffing, and efficiencies of costs. There is also another matter about co-location, and the physical benefits for people not having to walk and travel between different places and find out which tribunal they should be having their matter heard before.

In relation to efficiencies, minister, I did not hear anything explicitly in your second reading speech, which talked about access to justice. I think what ought to be the main benefit for Tasmanians is that it will improve access to justice. It will improve access to justice already by co-location. That is obvious. I just wonder, minister, if you could talk about how those efficiencies will be used to provide extra benefits, above the services that are already provided by each separate tribunal.

I am thinking about advocacy, and literacy support, and what principles the single tribunal staff - who will principally be the first point of contact for members of the public - will be working under that will guide their engagement with the public.

It struck me that if there are efficiencies, and I understand speaking to people in the briefing, the first point of contact when people come into the single tribunal would be through - I think the word was reception - it might be a registrar -

Ms Archer - A registry reception.

Dr WOODRUFF - A registry reception that is right. That is a very important person. That person is one of the most important people in the single tribunal because that person will be responsible for deciding and helping a person go through a process of working out whether they should go to Guardianship, Administrative, or should they go to Mental Health, or Anti-Discrimination. That person is very important.

Given that Tasmania has a very high level of low literacy, and given that the Government is committed to 26Ten principles, I wonder whether there will be an explicit statement from the president. I hope there might be, to require that the registry reception staff have that skill training and are expected to have as part of their job description that they have a skill in speaking to people, communicating with people with low literacy, and communicating to people potentially with low comprehension. The tribunal will be dealing with people with disabilities, people with mental health illnesses, people in great distress. Having the skill set for that first contact will ensure the first interaction a person would have is one of kindness, clarity and understanding. I am not in any way saying that the staff who are there at the separate tribunals do not have that, but starting afresh that would be a great way and something we could really wave the flag on, learn from other jurisdictions, do it better than anywhere else. We have a population that needs that level of particular support. We all need things to be explained in the most simple and loving language when we are in a stressful situation, which a lot of people will be.

The website will be the key portal. People will often start there first. We need to have 26Ten language on websites, and not just the language but the layout. That will be a really key interface for people to get information.

Regarding advocacy, I have a question about when would a person get access to an advocate, or when would a person get access to someone to help them through the process of working out where they go? Is it at the first port of call in the registry reception? If this is truly a one stop shop this seems to be a role for Advocacy Tasmania, formally or informally, or other suitable advocates, to be there in the first instance so a person can have that advocacy support rather than having to go to the single tribunal and not be really clear about what they need to do, then go off to somewhere else to Advocacy Tasmania, and come back. I am wondering if there could be a way of joining those two together. I know that Flourish already has a formal relationship with the Mental Health Tribunal in terms of advocacy. They are already doing that in hearings. You would expect that to be maintained in hearings but it really is question of whether it can be incorporated into all the stages that people interact with the tribunal.

I note that an alternative disputes resolution is going to be something that will appear in the second bill next year and that is going to be so essential. Could the minister talk about who will do that review and whether it is something the president will be working on, or if the staff of the single tribunal will do that review, or is it going to be done externally within the department?

Ms Archer - Do you mean that second bill?

Dr WOODRUFF - Yes. The alternative perhaps, that is going to be fleshed out in that bill.

Madam Speaker, it is nearly 1 o'clock and I have asked the main questions. The last question I have is in relation to the tribunal's stream composition. I note in Schedule 2 that the specification of the health practitioner matters and a tribunal for forestry matters, but there is no tribunal for -

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, my question to the minister was why there was no specification of the composition of tribunals under Schedule 2 for personal compensation, resource and planning, anti-discrimination -

Ms Archer - Could you start that again please, Dr Woodruff? My advisers have only now walked in, and they are interested in this question as well.

Dr WOODRUFF - Okay. I noted when I was reading Schedule 2 - General Division, and proposed section 4 has the appointment of members in the health practitioner stream. Proposed section 5 has the composition of the tribunal for health practitioner matters. Proposed section 6, the composition of the tribunal for forestry matters.

There are a number of other tribunals within that stream. I wondered why there was no specification of the composition for personal compensation, for resource and planning, and for anti-discrimination. In similar fashion, within the protective division, there is no specification of the composition of a guardianship tribunal.

These are all the questions that I wanted to raise with you, minister. We will not be seeking to go into Committee, because I am sure you will be able to manage those things in the second reading response.

Thank you to all the people who have been involved in bringing this single tribunal into being. It is about to pass its first stage, and there are two more stages to go. I sincerely look forward to hearing the comments from people who will contact me about their experiences with that process. It is at an important place, and there is an opportunity to craft something really special here. It has clearly started off on a fantastic footing. It sounds as though the premises are good - everyone is cohabiting; it has different mediation spaces.

The next stages will really be where the president can shape the rules, structure, and later the dispute resolution processes, and hopefully other processes and principles guiding the conduct of the tribunal.