The Administrative Appeals Tribunal is in crisis following multiple allegations of bullying from members the registrar doesn’t seem to know are still serving.
A deputy president of the AAT is among 17 current members with one or more complaints made against them since 2016.
But in a senate estimates hearing on Monday (7 November), tribunal officials said they were unaware that the accused members were still serving on the AAT.
One member had five complaints made against them during a single term of appointment.
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has called for an urgent meeting with the AAT, saying he was disturbed to learn that so many complaints were against members still in their roles.
“We are still seeking the detail but let’s be clear about this, our government is committed to making all workplaces free from bullying and harassment. We are serious about this,” he told the ABC.
“I don’t know what the former government knew, and I don’t know what information was provided, but what I can say is that now this has come to light, we need to do something about it.”
Labor has long accused the former government of stacking the tribunal with people closely associated with the Coalition.
Mr Dreyfus has promised reform at the AAT, saying the allegations of bullying, harassment and discrimination there will be treated seriously even though some instances allegedly occurred years ago.
Labor senator Nita Green used the hearing to grill AAT officials about the allegations.
She said the complaints went to the culture of the tribunal.
“I would suggest it is a pretty serious step for an employee to make a complaint against an AAT tribunal member as they are people with incredible power and standing,” Senator Green said.
AAT registrar Michael Hawkins said that while there was a process for dealing with complaints, enforcement was a more difficult task.
“The options available to the president in any circumstance is to seek either an apology or an acknowledgement from the member involved,” he told the hearing.
“There may be counselling or the president may consider changing the member’s work area or practice.
“Unfortunately, our code of conduct is not supported by legislation and consequently there is very little the president can formally do.”
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal conducts independent merit reviews of administrative decisions made under Commonwealth laws.