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Administrative Appeals Tribunal members will be forced to reapply for jobs after Labor stacking claims

Members of the soon-to-be-axed Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) will be asked to reapply for their jobs if they wish to continue on a new federal merits review body, after Labor complained the old tribunal was stacked with Liberal mates.

On Friday the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, will open recruitment for the new Administrative Review Tribunal (ART), promising a “transparent and merit-based selection process for all members”.

In December the Albanese government promised to axe the AAT, arguing it had been “irreversibly damaged” by partisan appointments, citing claims the Coalition appointed 85 AAT members from the ranks of its former MPs, failed candidates, staffers and other “close associates”.

The AAT is responsible for reviewing government decisions, including those related to Centrelink andwelfare, the national disability insurance scheme (NDIS) and migration. Its senior members earn in excess of $400,000.

Guardian Australia has reported that taxpayers could be on the hook for up to $10m in compensation for spilling the membership of the AAT, depending on how many current members reapply and are successfully appointed to the new body.

Dreyfus said in a statement: “This is an opportunity for appropriately qualified individuals to make a significant contribution to the most important reform of the federal system of administrative review in decades.

“Current and former members of the AAT who are interested in serving on the new tribunal are welcome to apply.”

The government intends to introduce legislation in 2023 for the new tribunal to begin operations in 2024.

As part of the restructure, Labor has promised more clearly delineated roles for people in leadership positions and “clear qualification requirements and role descriptions for each of the four levels of membership”.

In April 2022 the then attorney general, Michaelia Cash, appointed Fiona Meagher as a judge of the federal court and president of the AAT. She resigned from the AAT in December.

In answers on notice to Senate estimates, the attorney general’s department revealed it did not advertise or run a selection process for the role and was “not aware” how Meagher was selected. Cash said she was “well qualified” for the role.

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In July 2019 a scathing review of the AAT by the former high court justice Ian Callinan recommended that only qualified lawyers be appointed to the tribunal. Callinan’s report warned that requests from members to the tribunal’s library to review or give advice on draft decisions were not acceptable.

In the final round of appointments before the May 2022 election, the Coalition appointed the former New South Wales minister Pru Goward and Anne Duffield, a former chief of staff to Scott Morrison, as senior members of the AAT.

In May 2022 Guardian Australia revealed allegations that an AAT member believed he was benched from hearing social security cases because he decided too many against the government and warned of systemic errors in departmental welfare calculations.

The member, Michael Manetta, said the decision was “completely incompatible with the rule of law” and warned it “undermines the impartiality and independence of the tribunal”. The AAT deputy president, Karen Synon, denied acting improperly.

The new ART will have “clear mechanisms for the tribunal to identify, escalate and report on systemic issues in administrative decision-making”, according to the government.

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