The Administrative Appeals Tribunal – whose President, Justice Fiona Meagher, today departed after just eight months in the job – made over 1,200 illegal payments to unnamed senior officials, it can be revealed.
AAT “members” – its top officials – received 1,293 payments, totalling $448,223, that were illegal under the Remuneration Tribunal Act, The Klaxon can exclusively reveal.
The payments were made between mid-2015 and June 30 this year and have been disclosed as “payments reportable under s16C of the Remuneration Tribunal Act” following an AAT review “of remuneration of certain members”.
The AAT repeatedly refused to say how many members received the illegal payments, who those members were, or how much, if any, of the money has been recovered.
It can also be revealed the AAT is “actively considering” a separate case where a part-time AAT member was also, for five-and-a-half years, paid for a separate full-time government role.
Under the Remuneration Tribunal Act it is illegal – with some limited exceptions – for full-time government employees to also be paid for part-time government roles.
In a four-sentence statement the AAT today announced Justice Meagher, who was appointed AAT President by the former Coalition Government on April 1, had “resigned”.
The Federal ALP has publicly raised concerns over the AAT, including that under that under the previous Coalition Government at least 79 former Liberal Party politicians, former staffers, party associates and candidates were appointed to the Tribunal.
Last month a Senate estimates committee was told 19 AAT members or deputy presidents had multiple bullying, discrimination or harassment complaints made against them since mid-2016.
The 1,293 overpayments to AAT officials are among multiple cases where senior public officials have been paid more than they are entitled under Remuneration Tribunal laws.
Yesterday The Klaxon revealed the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) had identified seven appointments “dating back to 2015” where “individuals may have held concurrent full-time and part-time positions”.
The Commonwealth Ombudsman on December 2 last year, in a secret report, directed PM&C to conduct a “review” of all appointments over the preceding seven years over concerns some full-time officials had also been paid for part-time roles.
In a statement to The Klaxon, the AAT said the 1,293 illegal payments did not relate to officials being paid for multiple jobs, but it did not disclose the reasons for the overpayments.
Under Remuneration Tribunal law, if illegal payments have been made, an agency’s “accountable authority” must publish a disclosure “in such a manner as the accountable authority thinks fit” reporting the number and total amount of the payments.
Until today the AAT’s accountable authority was Justice Meagher.
The AAT issued no press release about the illegal payments, instead the information appears on a page of the AAT’s website titled “Payments reportable under s16C of the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973”.
The page makes no mention of “overpayments”, only that they are “payments falling within s16A(1) of the Remuneration Tribunal Act”, which are payments that “although made bona fide, were not made consistently with the requirements of relevant determination of the Remuneration Tribunal and are recoverable”.
Since August 24 The Klaxon has been unsuccessfully seeking from the AAT and Justice Meagher answers to: which AAT members received the overpayments; how many AAT members received the over payments; and whether the AAT had sought to recover any of the money, and how much (if any) had been recovered.
(The AAT did not respond to those same questions today.)
In August, AAT Senior Communications Officer Theepa Puvanachandran said: “The payments made refer to overpayments of wages and superannuation (with each payments being so reported) which were in the nature of miscalculations of wages and superannuation”.
“A small number remain in the process of being finalised, and do not relate to payments for secondary employment.”
Justice Fiona Meagher. Source: Supplied
As revealed yesterday, PM&C Secretary Glyn Davis on Monday last week wrote to the bosses of multiple Federal departments regarding the review it had conducted at the request of the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
It found seven cases where individuals “may have held concurrent full-time and part-time positions for which remuneration was payable”.
Of those, PM&C said two cases had been “remediated”, although it did not say whether any of the money had been repaid.
The other five cases were “still being investigated”.
PM&C has not identified the officials involved.
Officials who have been illegally paid for two jobs can be forced to repay the money and agency heads who authorise illegal payments may face action under the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability (PGPA) Act.
“On 21 November 2022, Secretary Davis wrote to relevant departmental Secretaries identifying the five specific cases and advising that the responsible agency head should undertake further investigations and, if necessary, seek legal advice, PM&C said in a statement to the Klaxon on Tuesday night.
As AAT President, Meagher was the AAT “agency head”.
The Klaxon on September 3 revealed that the former long-time head of the Federal Government’s Professional Services Review (PSR) agency, Professor Julie Quinlivan, had also been paid as a part-time member of the AAT for four-and-a-half years.
Quinlivan strongly denies any wrongdoing.
She said her AAT and PSR positions “were authorised and approved as required by law”, she had not been asked to make any repayments, and her “conduct has been beyond reproach”.
How The Klaxon broke the Quinlivan story on September 2.
Since August the AAT and Meagher have failed to answer questions about the payments to Quinlivan, who remains an AAT member, including whether it considered the payments were legal or whether the AAT had sought to recover any of the money.
IIn a statement to The Klaxon last night, AAT assistant director public affairs Lauren Tanfield said: “The Administrative Appeals Tribunal is actively considering this matter and is not able to provide further information at this stage”.
“The Administrative Appeals Tribunal is actively considering this matter” – AAT
Quinlivan has been employed as a “part-time member” of the AAT since July 2015.
Between February 2017 and July this year she was also the full-time boss of the PSR, the agency responsible for policing medical practitioners who rip-off Medicare.
Payments to Quinlivan while she held both positions totalled over $2 million.
In a statement through her lawyers, Quinlivan said she “does not consider her employment to have been in breach of the Remuneration Tribunal Act” and her appointments to the AAT and PSR “were authorised and approved as required by law”.
“Neither the AAT nor the PSR have made any enquiries of Professor Quinlivan nor (so far as she is aware) investigated any of the payments made to her,” the statement says.
“Professor Quinlivan has not been asked to repay any amounts. Nor does she intend to do so.”
Quinlivan was “not a political appointee” and had “been consistently appointed by both ALP and Liberal Governments to the SSAT (the AAT’s predecessor) then AAT since 2004”, the statement says.
Justice Meagher would “continue to serve as a Judge of the Federal Court, now on a full-time basis”, the AAT said today.
AAT presidents are simultaneously appointed to the Federal Court and Meagher was appointed when she became AAT president.
Federal Court judge Berna Collier has been appointed interim AAT president.
Meagher is the daughter of former High Court justice Ian Callinan.
“Coalition favourite Ian Callinan…undertook a statutory review of the AAT in 2019,” the Australian Financial Review reported in March.
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