I, Sian Leathem, as the accountable authority of the AAT present the 2018–19 annual performance statement of the AAT, as required under paragraph 39(1)(a) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. In my opinion, this annual performance statement is based on properly maintained records, accurately reflects the performance of the entity and complies with subsection 39(2) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act.
The role of the AAT is to provide independent review on the merits of a wide range of administrative decisions made under the laws of the Commonwealth of Australia and of Norfolk Island. Merits review of an administrative decision involves considering afresh the facts, law and policy relating to that decision. We decide what is the correct or preferable decision based on the material before us and may affirm, vary or set aside the decision under review.
The AAT’s objective is set out in section 2A of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act. In carrying out our functions, the AAT must pursue the objective of providing a mechanism of review of administrative decisions that:
- is accessible
- is fair, just, economical, informal and quick
- is proportionate to the importance and complexity of the matter, and
- promotes public trust and confidence in the decision-making of the AAT.
The AAT provides administrative justice for individuals and organisations seeking to challenge decisions that affect their interests and, more broadly, contributes to improving the quality of government decision-making.
Performance measure 1: Number of applications finalised
This measure is an indicator of the scale of the AAT’s activity in carrying out our role of reviewing decisions that affect the interests of individuals and organisations.
45,600 applications finalised in 2018–19
AAT Corporate Plan 2018–19 (page 7) and Program 1.1, 2018–19 Portfolio Budget Statements, Attorney‑General’s Portfolio (page 46)
The AAT finalised 44,413 applications in 2018–19, 11 per cent more than the 40,040 applications finalised in 2017–18. In relation to the two divisions with the highest volume of work, the Migration and Refugee Division finalised 20,892 applications (16 per cent more than in 2017–18), and the Social Services and Child Support Division finalised 16,097 applications (seven per cent more than in 2017–18).
Our seven other divisions finalised 7,424 applications (six per cent more than in 2017–18).
Despite these increases, the number of applications finalised in 2018–19 was three per cent lower than the target set out in the Portfolio Budget Statements. This is due to the fact that the AAT’s ability to finalise applications is primarily dependent on the resources, particularly the number of members, available to deal with our caseload. The number of reviews completed reflects what we were able to achieve with our members and staff during the reporting year. Importantly, the number of applications finalised was above the number we expected to complete, reflecting the appointment of additional members during the year and measures put in place to improve our effectiveness and efficiency.
Further information relating to workload by division and major areas of work within divisions, including the number of applications finalised, can be found in Caseload overview, 2017–18 to 2018–19 – FOI, General, NDIS, Security, Small Business Taxation, Taxation and Commercial, and Veterans’ Appeals Divisions, Caseload overview, 2017–18 to 2018–19 – Migration and Refugee Division and Caseload overview, 2017–18 to 2018–19 – Social Services and Child Support Division.
Performance measure 2: Proportion of applications finalised within a time standard
This measure is an indicator of the extent to which the AAT is providing a mechanism of review that is quick.
75 per cent of applications finalised within 12 months of lodgement
AAT Corporate Plan 2018–19 (pages 7–8) and Program 1.1, 2018–19 AAT Portfolio Budget Statements, Attorney-General’s Portfolio (page 46)
In 2018–19, 66 per cent of applications were finalised within 12 months of lodgement, nine percentage points below the target. This result is 11 percentage points lower than the 77 per cent achieved in 2017–18 and 16 percentage points lower than the 82 per cent achieved in 2016–17.
The time taken to finalise applications varies between the AAT’s divisions and for different types of cases based on a diverse range of factors, including the nature and complexity of the cases, differences in the procedures that apply to the review of decisions, the priority given to certain types of cases and the overall level of resources available to deal with applications. The 75 per cent target for the AAT as a whole takes into account these variations.
We finalised 75 per cent or more of applications within 12 months of lodgement in the General, National Disability Insurance Scheme, Security, and Social Services and Child Support Divisions in 2018–19. Timeliness improved in the Taxation and Commercial Division and remained relatively steady in the Freedom of Information and Veterans’ Appeals Division. Our timeliness performance declined significantly, however, in the Migration and Refugee Division, which has the largest workload.
The growth in the volume of applications received by the AAT in recent years, particularly in the Migration and Refugee Division, without a corresponding increase in the number of members and staff to deal with that workload is the key factor that contributed to the poorer result in relation to this performance measure. Caseload management strategies adopted in the Migration and Refugee Division during the reporting period, to target older cases, also influenced the result.
Further information relating to the timeliness of the review process by division and major areas of work within divisions can be found in Caseload overview, 2017–18 to 2018–19 – FOI, General, NDIS, Security, Small Business Taxation, Taxation and Commercial, and Veterans’ Appeals Divisions, Caseload overview, 2017–18 to 2018–19 – Migration and Refugee Division and Caseload overview, 2017–18 to 2018–19 – Social Services and Child Support Division.
Performance measure 3: Number of AAT decisions published
This measure is an indicator of the extent to which the AAT is providing a mechanism of review that is accessible and promotes public trust and confidence in our decision-making.
At least 5,000 decisions published
AAT Corporate Plan 2018–19 (pages 8–9)
5,905 AAT decisions made in 2018–19 were published.
The AAT is authorised to publish our decisions and the reasons for them by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act, subject to the requirement not to publish information the disclosure of which is prohibited or restricted by legislation or by an order of the Tribunal. The AAT publishes decisions in accordance with our Publication of Decisions Policy. That policy specifies that we will publish a randomly selected proportion of written decisions in the high-volume categories of cases in the Migration and Refugee Division and in child support cases in the Social Services and Child Support Division, and all written decisions in other types of cases, subject to confidentiality requirements. Publishing statements of reasons for AAT decisions promotes the transparency of our operations by informing parties, representatives and the general public about the work of the Tribunal.
The result for 2018–19 exceeds the target and is the highest number of decisions published by the AAT in any year to date.
Further information relating to the publication of decisions can be found later in Chapter 3 Our performance.
Performance measure 4: User experience rating
This measure is an indicator of the extent to which the AAT is providing a mechanism of review that is accessible, fair, informal and quick.
User experience rating is at least 70 per cent
AAT Corporate Plan 2018–19 (page 9)
The user experience rating derived from the results of the user feedback survey conducted in 2018–19 was 73 per cent, exceeding the target by three percentage points. The result for 2018–19 is also three percentage points higher than the user experience rating achieved in the survey conducted in 2017–18.
All parties and representatives involved in cases finalised by the AAT between 1 December 2018 and 31 March 2019 for whom we had an email address or mobile telephone number were invited to complete an online questionnaire. The survey, administered by an independent market research organisation, asked users for their views on a range of matters, including the process of applying for a review, our website and written communications, dealings with staff, conferences and hearings as well as perceptions of the process overall. Surveys were completed by 1,010 parties and 510 legal and other representatives.
The user experience rating is calculated by computing the average proportion of positive ratings given in responses to questions relating to the accessibility, fairness, informality and timeliness of the AAT’s mechanism of review. The result for 2018–19 reflects that parties and representatives were positive overall in their assessment of the services provided by the Tribunal and more satisfied than in the previous year.
Further information relating to the survey can be found later in Chapter 3 Our performance.
Performance measure 5: Proportion of appeals against AAT decisions allowed by the courts
This measure is an indicator of the extent to which the AAT is providing a mechanism of review that is fair and just and that promotes public trust and confidence in the AAT’s decision-making.
Number of appeals allowed is less than five per cent of all AAT decisions that could have been appealed
AAT Corporate Plan 2018–19 (pages 9–10)
The number of appeals allowed in 2018–19 amounted to 2.3 per cent of decisions made by the AAT in 2017–18 that could have been appealed to the courts.
Our decisions may be appealed to the courts and an appeal may be allowed if the AAT has made an error of law in relation to how the review was conducted or in reaching the decision. This measure looks at the number of appeals allowed by the courts in the most recent financial year against the number of appealable decisions made by the AAT in the previous year on the basis that a majority of appeals lodged in relation to decisions made in a year are finalised in the following year.
The result for the AAT as a whole in 2018–19 is nearly three percentage points better than the target and an improvement on the results in recent years which equalled or exceeded three per cent. The vast majority of appeals finalised related to decisions of the Migration and Refugee Division, or the former Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal. The result for the Migration and Refugee Division for 2018–19 on this indicator (2.6 per cent) is a one percentage point improvement over 2017–18. The result for the Social Services and Child Support Division remained low (0.2 per cent in 2018–19 compared with 0.1 per cent in 2017–18), while the combined result for the remaining divisions in 2018–19 (2.4 per cent) increased from the previous year (1.8 per cent) but remained well within the target. The number of appeals against decisions made in these divisions continued to be relatively low.
Further information relating to outcomes of appeals by division can be found in Court appeals lodged and finalised, 2017–18 to 2018–19 – By division and Court appeals lodged and finalised against decisions of the AAT – By division and major areas of work within divisions, 2018–19.
Analysis of performance against our purpose
The AAT operates in a complex and dynamic environment. We review administrative decisions that can be made under more than 400 pieces of legislation and do not control the type or volume of applications we receive. Having ended the 2017–18 financial year with 53,282 cases on hand, 60,595 further applications were lodged in 2018–19 with 44,413 applications finalised, and 69,488 cases on hand at 30 June 2019, 30 per cent more than the year before. Following significant growth in the demand for AAT services over recent years, particularly in the Migration and Refugee Division, the largest of the AAT’s divisions, our backlog has been increasing over time. While we were able to increase the number of applications finalised in 2018–19 with the appointment of more members and the application of improved case management strategies, we remain constrained in our ability to respond to the scale of the increased demand for our services. This requires additional member, staff and financial resources as well as legislative and technology changes that will assist us to operate more effectively and efficiently.
During the reporting year, the AAT made further progress on our significant change agenda to improve our operations for the benefit of users in accordance with the strategic priorities set out in our Strategic Plan 2015–20: creating an integrated and national tribunal, improving how we work and maximising our use of technology, engaging with stakeholders and building public trust and confidence, and building our capacity and making best use of our resources. Key achievements included: development of a new registry model for migration and refugee cases with a greater focus on early case assessment and resolution approaches and improved support for members; ongoing implementation of, and innovation in the use of, enhanced case management strategies; and release of a refreshed website which enables users to more easily find information that relates to the type of decision they want reviewed. We refined our framework for engaging with stakeholders and also focused on building the capabilities of our people and organisation, including development of a leadership capability framework for the AAT, introduction of a new learning management system with a diverse range of training modules, creation of a dedicated registry procedures and training team and better coordinated planning, budgeting and reporting processes to improve the strategic management of the Tribunal. These and other projects required the involvement of members and staff across the AAT while we continued to carry out our core function of reviewing decisions.
Within the context of our current operating environment, we provided a mechanism of review of administrative decisions in 2018–19 that accords with our statutory objective. While marginally below our target for the year, the number of finalisations did increase significantly compared with the previous year. Our overall timeliness performance was below what we would like to achieve but we were able to provide timely review of decisions in many areas of our work. We exceeded our other performance targets relating to the quality of our processes and decision-making, and the publication of our decisions. Despite the challenges, the AAT enabled a significant number of people and organisations to exercise their right to challenge administrative decisions, contributing to the accountability and transparency of government.