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The Hon. Justice Garry Downes AM

Administrative Appeals Tribunal's 30th Anniversary Dinner, Canberra
2 August 2006

Chief Justice Gleeson, Attorney-General Ruddock, Sir Gerard Brennan, Justices Gummow, Kirby, Hayne and Crennan, Chief Justice Black, Chief Justice Martin, Chief Justice Bryant, Chief Justice Higgins, Shadow Attorney-General Roxon, other Justices and Judges, Solicitor General Bennett, Mr Cornall, other distinguished guests, members and staff of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a pleasure for me to welcome you here today. You do the Administrative Appeals Tribunal a great honour by being here. I might perhaps have shortened the conventional opening address to guests, but I wanted to recognise publicly the number of distinguished persons who have honoured the Tribunal today.

A little more than 30 years ago, in this very Chamber, the Attorney-General, Keppel Enderby, introduced the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Bill. He said:

"The establishment of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal will be a significant milestone in the development in the administrative law of this country. It will provide an opportunity to build up a significant body of administrative law and practice of general application, as well as providing the machinery to ensure that persons are dealt with fairly and properly in their relationships with government."

The opposition spokesman was its Shadow Minister for Consumer Affairs, one John Howard. Our present Prime Minister said this:

"This legislation and the companion legislation to establish the office of an Australian ombudsman are both extremely significant phases in the development within Australia not only of our administration law: they are also momentous events in the evolution of our system of government."

The Parliament knew that it was passing important and far reaching legislation. The intervening 30 years have confirmed that understanding.

It accordingly seems appropriate for the 30th anniversary of the Tribunal to be marked by an occasion such as this. The Tribunal was unique when it was established. However, its model has now been followed in a number of states and the Australian Capital Territory. A Unified Tribunals’ Service has been established in the United Kingdom. New Zealand is looking at proposals for a general tribunal. All of these developments can be sourced to the far sighted decisions of successive Australian Governments to establish and sustain the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. Because of the continued support it has received over the last 30 years the Tribunal is now an integral part of the process of administrative decision-making in government. Government is to be congratulated for introducing and supporting, in the interests of the people, a review process which surrenders executive power to an independent body.

We are greatly honoured by the presence here today of the leader of the judicial arm of Government, the Chief Justice of Australia, the Honourable Murray Gleeson AC. His agreeing to deliver a major speech is itself recognition of the importance of the occasion. He was Australia’s outstanding advocate and he is now Australia's outstanding jurist.

It is a double pleasure for me, because I count the Chief Justice as a colleague and friend. For many years we had rooms opposite one another on the Seventh Floor of Wentworth Chambers in Sydney. We were assiduous attendees at a Floor lunch every Friday. I appeared with him and against him. I appeared before him. Now, I am below him. I hesitate to add that at the moment, along with other guests here, he is carefully scrutinising a decision of mine for error.

It gives me great pleasure to ask you to join me in welcoming the Chief Justice of Australia, Murray Gleeson.