The government has refused to renew the terms of close to 80 Administrative Appeals Tribunal members, mostly former Labor government appointees to the Migration and Refugee Tribunal, after weeks of controversy over the AAT’s overturning of decisions made by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton.
Last month the AAT came under criticism from News Corp papers and Dutton for overturning 39% of Dutton’s visa decisions in the past year, in particular controversial cases including six people declared to be refugees who had returned home to visit Iran, and Jagdeep Singh, a Melbourne taxi driver who pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting a woman. Dutton overturned the AAT’s decision to set aside the Immigration Minister’s original decision and ordered Singh to be deported.
Crikey understands that close to 80 appointees to the AAT whose terms are due to expire at the end of this month were told yesterday that their appointments would not be renewed by Attorney-General George Brandis, in what appears to be a clearing of the decks. It is widely expected that they will be replaced by much more Coalition-aligned appointments, similar to those Brandis previously announced.
A total of 65 of the 77 AAT members with terms expiring at the end of June this year are in the migration and refugee division. Crikey understands one of those to lose her position is senior AAT member Miriam Holmes, who was the member who made the Singh decision. Brandis appointed Holmes to the AAT in 2015.
As Crikey had previously reported, almost all of those in the migration and refugee division were either appointed or reappointed by the Abbott-Turnbull government, and the statistics actually point to a decline in the number of minister’s decisions being overturned.
There is a significant backlog in cases for the AAT to process, and the government has announced that 7500 asylum seekers in Australia have until October to lodge their claim for asylum, which will likely boost the number of cases the AAT will have to deal with, as dozens of new people will be tasked with processing the backlog of cases.
Brandis last week refused to confirm in Senate estimates that the vast majority of the refugee and migration division members were appointed or reappointed by the Abbott-Turnbull government. He told Labor Senator Louise Pratt that Crikey was not a “serious source”. A spokesperson for Brandis’ office did not directly respond to Crikey‘s questions on the number of members leaving, but confirmed that “a large number” would have their terms expire this month.
“The terms of large number of current members of the AAT expire on 30 June 2017. Appointments to the AAT are for a fixed term, usually five or seven years. The Government will be announcing appointments to these vacancies in the ordinary course.”
UPDATE: Added comment from the Attorney-General’s Office.