Hearsay ... the Journal of the Bar Association of Queensland
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Issue 30: October 2008
Administrative Appeals Tribunal - Book Review Print E-mail

book-administrative_appeals.jpgEdited by Dennis Pearce
Publisher: LexisNexis Butterworths

Reviewed by Gary Coveney 


The Administrative Appeals Tribunal was established by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975 (Cth), and commenced operation on 1 July 1976. It was not an instant success. Sir Gerard Brennan, the Inaugural President of the AAT, recalled the opening day of the Tribunal:1

“The doors of the AAT were opened without ceremony. The bare space was interrupted by the occasional desk and power point. The AAT name was on the notice board downstairs but months would pass before anybody needed to find it.”

It has since become a thriving institution with a total of 87 members. The AAT now reviews a range of administrative decisions of Commonwealth Government ministers, public servants and other tribunals.

The review undertaken by the AAT is a merits review, involving a reconsideration by the AAT on the facts before it.  As Bowen CJ and Deane J observed in Drake v Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs:2

"The question for the determination of the Tribunal is not whether the decision which the decision-maker made was the correct or preferable one on the material before him. The question for the determination of the Tribunal is whether that decision was the correct or preferable one on the material before the Tribunal”.

The jurisdiction of the AAT is confined to review of decisions where a legislative instrument specifically provides that the decision is subject to review by the AAT. At present, there are approximately 400 Acts and other legislative instruments which confer jurisdiction on the AAT.

Speaking extrajudicially, Sir Gerard Brennan outlined the functions and objectives of the AAT as follows:3

“The AAT was intended not only to give better administrative justice in individual cases but also to secure an improvement in primary administrative decision-making. This had to be achieved by the quality of the AAT’s reasoning. Departments, like any organised human activity, tend to have an inward focus and the corporate culture tends to be the most powerful influence on the conduct of individuals engaged in that activity. External review is only effective if it infuses the corporate culture and transforms it. The AAT’s function of inducing improvement in primary administration would not be performed merely by the creation of external review. Bureaucratic intransigence would not be moved unless errors were clearly demonstrated and a method of reaching the correct or preferable decision was clearly expounded. AAT decisions would have a normative effect on administration only if the quality of those decisions was such as to demonstrate to the repositories of primary administrative power the validity of the reasoning by which they, no less than the AAT, were bound. Any effect that the AAT might produce in primary administration would depend upon the reasoning expressed in the reasons for AAT decisions.”

And that brings us to Dennis Pearce’s excellent book, now in its second edition. This latest edition includes commentary on the significant changes made by the 2005 amendments to the AAT Act. The law in the book is current as at April 2007.

The book is no mere compendia of annotations and commentary to the AAT Act. It is a comprehensive guide to the organisational, procedural and legal workings of the AAT. The book also looks to the performance of the Tribunal and its future.

Chapter 1 outlines the AAT’s establishment by the AAT Act, along with its organisational structure. Chapter 2 discusses its jurisdiction. The question of standing is separately addressed in Chapter 4 while Chapter 5 deals with practical considerations such as applications and time limits.

The procedure followed by the AAT at hearing is comprehensively canvassed in Chapter 7, with the powers of the Tribunal whilst conducting a review being covered in Chapter 9. Appeals from the AAT are dealt with in Chapter 10.

There is extensive reference to case law throughout the book. However, meaningful content is not compromised by excessive quotes from cases or legislation. The references are generally used to support pithy summaries of the legal conclusions contained therein, making further research considerably simpler.

Usefully, the book also contains a complete copy of the AAT Act, making for simple referencing when looking to marry up the discussion in the main text with the relevant statutory provisions.

Overall, the book provides a sufficiently detailed analysis of practice and procedure in the AAT, whilst remaining accessible and manageable in its content. It would be a useful starting point for anyone briefed to appear in the AAT who was not otherwise familiar with that jurisdiction.

The publishers’ recommended retail price is $180.00.

Gary Coveney


  1. The Hon Sir Gerard Brennan, Chief Justice of Australia, ‘The AAT – Twenty Years Forward’ delivered at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Twentieth Anniversary Conference (21 July 1976 - 21 July 1996).

  2. (1979) 24 ALR 577 at 589.

  3. Above,n1.

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