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Frequently asked questions

Australian Government Attorney General's Department - Administrative Review Council

Frequently asked questions

What is the Administrative Review Council?

The Administrative Review Council is responsible for overseeing and monitoring the Australian system of administrative review.

It was established to provide advice to the Attorney-General on strategic and operational matters relating to that system. The council's statutory charter is set out in section 51 of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975. The council was established under Part V of that Act. A more detailed overview of the powers and functions of the council is available on the About Us page.

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Who are the members of the council?

The council presently comprises five ex officio members (members who gain membership automatically by virtue of their position) and two appointed members.

In order to be appointed, members must have had extensive experience at a high level in industry, commerce, public administration, industrial relations, the practice of a profession, or the service of a government or of an authority of a government; or, an extensive knowledge of administrative law or public administration; or direct experience and direct knowledge of the needs of people, or groups of people, significantly affected by government decisions.

For more information, visit the Members of the council page.

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How does the council do its work?

The council meets on a regular basis throughout the year to discuss issues arising in administrative law and public administration. The council is assisted in its work by staff from the Commercial and Administrative Law Branch of the Attorney-General's Department.

The council provides its advice to the Attorney-General in the form of reports and letters of advice. Reports are tabled in the Parliament by the Attorney-General, and are always published. The council's reports are discussed in more detail, in the Administrative Review Council Reports page. Prior to preparing a report, the council undertakes extensive research and consultation, which may, where appropriate, involve the preparation of an issues paper, discussion paper or exposure draft report.

The council also makes submissions to Parliamentary Committees and other government bodies. The council may also be called upon to provide advice to government and parliamentary bodies, and provides an input into government legislative proposals that have administrative law implications.

The council publishes its letters of advice in its annual reports. While its project reports are tabled and published, it is only by inclusion in its annual reports that the council's letters reach the broader community.

A list of all the council's letters that have been published, or summarised, in the council's annual reports are available on the Index of Letters of Advice and Submissions page.

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Can the council give legal advice to individuals or review government or court decisions?

The Administrative Review Council is a Commonwealth advisory body which provides advice to the Attorney-General regarding the administrative law system. It does not provide legal advice to individuals. The Administrative Review Council cannot decide applications for visas or social services. It does not have power to review decisions of the Australian Government or the outcome of legal proceedings.

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Where can I get council publications?

Electronic versions of the council's more recent reports are available on the Publications page. Hard copies of some of the council's publications can be obtained on request. For contact details please see the Contact us page.

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What is merits review?

Merits review is the process by which a person or body:

  • other than the primary decision-maker
  • reconsiders the facts, law and policy aspects of the original decision
  • determines what is the correct or preferable decision.

The process of review may be described as 'stepping into the shoes' of the primary decision-maker. The result of merits review is the affirmation or variation of the original decision.

Merits review of Commonwealth decisions is chiefly undertaken by administrative tribunals. The process of merits review will typically involve a review of all the facts that support a decision.

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What are the objectives of merits review?

The principle objective of merits review is to ensure that those administrative decisions in relation to which review is provided are correct or preferable:

  • correct—in the sense that they are made according to law
  • preferable—in the sense that, if there is a range of decisions that are correct in law, the decision settled upon is the best that could have been made on the basis of relevant facts.

This objective is directed to ensuring fair treatment of all persons affected by a decision.

Merits review also has a broader, long-term objective of improving the quality and consistency of the decisions of primary decision-makers. Further, merits review ensures that the openness and accountability of decisions made by government are enhanced.

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What are the elements of the Commonwealth system of administrative review?

One of the key elements of the federal system of administrative review is a system of merits review by independent tribunals, and in particular the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, of many statutory decisions, together with a requirement to provide reasons for such decisions.

Other elements of the federal system of administrative review include:

  • Judicial review of the actions of Commonwealth officers by the High Court under section 75(v) of the Constitution, and by the Federal Court under section 39B of the Judiciary Act 1903
  • a codified and simplified system of judicial review of the lawfulness of most statutory administrative decisions under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 (AD(JR) Act)
  • a requirement that reasons be given for most administrative decisions covered by the AD(JR) Act
  • an Ombudsman to investigate complaints of government maladministration, and
  • broad rights of access to government-held documents, and the right of an individual to update or correct government-held personal information under the Freedom of Information Act 1982.

For more detailed information about the federal system of administrative review, visit the Overview page.

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How many Commonwealth merits review tribunals are there?

One of the key elements of the federal system of administrative review is a system of merits review by independent tribunals, of many statutory administrative decisions, together with a requirement to provide reasons for such decisions.

The federal tribunals are: the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Social Security Appeals Tribunal, Migration Review Tribunal, Refugee Review Tribunal, and Veterans' Review Board.