Written by: UNSW Media

UNSW Law & Justice shares its 50th anniversary with a landmark in Australian administrative law.

The Commonwealth Administrative Review Committee, chaired by Sir John Kerr, published a report in August 1971 (the “Kerr Report”), which led to the establishment of a series of institutions and laws designed to improve the transparency of executive decision-making and its accountability to the public. 

To mark the 50th anniversary of the Kerr Report, the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law, along with the NSW Chapter of the Australian Institute of Administrative Law, hosted an online symposium on 21 and 22 October. . The system of government oversight established in Australia following the Kerr Report was recognised as ground-breaking around the world. The symposium explored the question of whether those then ground-breaking reforms remain fit for purpose to meet the challenges of modern Australian government. 

The symposium began with keynote address by the Hon Justice John Griffiths, of the Federal Court of Australia. His Honour’s address focussed on “some of the problems which have emerged with the package of Commonwealth reforms,” including: the limited ambit of the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 (Cth); case backlogs and bureaucratic processes in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (“AAT”); the appointments process to the AAT; and the abolition of the Administrative Review Council. 

“Hopefully, when the Government finally gets around to responding to the Callinan Report, it adopts Mr Callinan’s strong recommendation that the ARC be reinstated in accordance with existing statutory requirements,” Hon Justice Griffiths said.

The symposium continued over the second day with a series of panels considering how the system of administrative law is currently faring, and what reforms might be needed to make it fit to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. How, for instance, can the state continue to be held accountable as government shifts towards automation and increased outsourcing? How do we address the current lack of political commitment to important democratic values of transparency and accountability? There is also a need for the constitutional change requested in the Uluru Statement to begin to address the fundamental and structural ways the state in Australia has denied administrative justice to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  

Speakers included the Hon Justice Melissa Perry of the Federal Court of Australia, the Hon Justice John Basten of the NSW Court of Appeal, Bernard McCabe, Deputy President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Penny McKay, Acting Commonwealth Ombudsman, as well as Dr Janina Boughey and Dr Chantal Bostock, UNSW Law & Justice, Dr Lynsey Blayden, Fellow, Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law and Mr Eddie Synot, Indigenous Law Centre, UNSW.

The timing of the symposium proved to be prescient, as just the day beforehand, the Senate referred an inquiry into the performance and integrity of Australia’s administrative review system to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee. 

Throughout 2021, the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law’s Administrative Law & Justice Project has been running a special blog series, on auspublaw.org and administrativelawmatters.com, which explores these themes further.