Section 13: Federal tribunals

Administrative Appeals Tribunal

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) was established by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975 (Cth) to hear applications for review of a wide range of administrative decisions made by Commonwealth Government Ministers, officials, authorities and other tribunals, and some other decisions made by non-Commonwealth Government bodies. On 1 July 2015 the Migration Review Tribunal (MRT), Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) and Social Security Appeals Tribunal (SSAT) were merged with the AAT.

The AAT has the following divisions:

  • Freedom of Information
  • General
  • Migration and Refugee
  • National Disability Insurance Scheme
  • Security
  • Small Business Taxation
  • Social Services and Child Support
  • Taxation and Commercial
  • Veterans' Appeals.

The Migration and Refugee Division deals with applications previously made to the MRT-RRT. The Social Services and Child Support Division deals with applications previously made to the SSAT.

There are several hundred statutes that give review jurisdiction to the AAT. Its jurisdiction covers areas such as taxation, social security, veteran’s affairs, Commonwealth employees’ compensation and superannuation, civil aviation, customs, freedom of information and bankruptcy.

Social Services and Child Support Division

Applications for review of decisions by the Department of Family and Community Services were previously heard by a separate Social Security Appeals Tribunal, established in 1975. Since the tribunal merged with the AAT in 2015, decisions are reviewed in the AAT’s Social Services and Child Support Division. The AAT has jurisdiction to review decisions about pensions, benefits, allowances and student assistance, among other matters.

Migration & Refugee Division

Prior to 2015, separate tribunals existed for Migration Review and Refugee Review under the Migration Act 1958. These tribunals had responsibility for reviewing decisions relating to migration and protection visas made by the Minister for Immigration, or a delegate of the Minister. Since the tribunal merged with the AAT, these decisions are now reviewed in the AAT’s Migration and Refugee Division. 

Decisions that can be reviewed include:

  • some decisions to refuse visas to applicants in Australia or overseas 
  • visa cancellations within Australia (other than cancellations on character or conduct grounds
  • certain business nomination and sponsorship decisions
  • refusal to grant a protection visa, or cancellation of a protection visa, for a person who claims onshore in Australia to be a refugee.

Fair Work Commission

The Fair Work Commission is the national workplace relations tribunal which began operation on 1 July 2009 under the Fair Work Act 2009. It is an independent body with power to carry out a range of functions relating to workplace disputes and industrial action, minimum wages and employment conditions safety net, enterprise bargaining and more.

The Fair Work Commission also has responsibilities relating to the registration of unions and employer associations and their financial accountability. This work is governed by the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009.

The new tribunal assumed the functions of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and the Australian Industrial Registry (both date back to 1904) and the Australian Fair Pay Commission (established in 2005) and some of the functions of the Workplace Authority (established in 2007).

The Fair Work Commission is part of Australia’s national workplace relations system which also includes the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Fair Work divisions of the Federal Court of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. 

Federal tribunals