Reviewing Government Decisions

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Commonwealth, State, Territory and Local Government laws affect us all in many ways. There are laws regulating occupational licensing and discipline, planning permission, the list goes on!

When a decision is made which you do not agree with, you will have the ability to review the decision.  This calls into question administrative law principles.  While each government decision will be based on a specific law, there are general principles and tips which apply to reviewing all decisions.

Our experienced administrative and government lawyers have the expertise to efficiently advise you on your rights, prospects of success and act for you in review of government decision.

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Did the government have the power to make the decision?

It sounds obvious, but government can only make a decision it is authorised to make. Sometimes a decision will be made that actually exceeds government power. If this happens, the decision was unlawful.

Whenever we act for a client affected by a government decision, we examine:

  1. What exactly is the decision that has been made?
  2. What power did the decision-maker rely on to make the decision?
  3. Was the decision-maker authorised to make the decision using the power they relied on?

Reasons for the decision

Laws require governments to provide notice of the decision and the reasons for it. This is a fundamental aspect of administrative law. A party must be told about:

  1. The decision made;
  2. The power relied on to make the decision; and
  3. The facts the decision-maker relied on in reaching their decision.

Depending on who has made the decision, if a party does not get adequate reasons, they can ask the decision-maker to provide a statement of reasons. If the decision-maker does not provide a statement of reasons, an application may be made to a Court for an order compelling a statement of reasons to be given.

It is easy to see why adequate reasons must be given. A party cannot know whether or not they can challenge the decision unless they know why it was made. The requirement to provide reasons is an incident of procedural fairness. A failure to provide procedural fairness may make the decision unlawful.

Reviewing a decision

There are several types of review available:

  1. An internal review, where another government decision-maker remakes
    the decision. The reviewer must have regard to all the evidence that the initial decision-maker had, plus any new evidence provided. The reviewer is not looking at whether the initial decision-maker made the correct decision. Rather, they are remaking the decision.
  2. A merits review at a Tribunal. This is where an Administrative Tribunal (eg Administrative Appeals Tribunal, ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal), remake the decision. The Tribunal must have regard to all the evidence that the initial decision-maker had, plus any new evidence provided. They are not looking at whether the initial decision-maker made the correct decision. Rather, they are remaking the decision.
  3. A judicial review at a Court. Unlike in an internal or merits review, the Court does not take new evidence. Rather, they examine the decision and consider whether it was lawfully made.

In most cases, an internal review must be conducted before a merits review at a Tribunal can be attempted. Also, a judicial review will not be permitted if an internal or merits review can be chosen first.

Was the decision lawful?

A good way of overturning a decision is to show it was unlawful. There are various reasons why a decision will be unlawful, including:

  1. The decision-maker exceeded their power;
  2. The person who made the decision did not have the power to do so (known as delegated authority);
  3. The decision-maker failed to take into account a relevant consideration (such as something required by law);
  4. The decision-maker took into account an irrelevant consideration (relied on evidence not relevant under the legal test);
  5. There was no evidence to justify the decision;
  6. The decision made was so unreasonable that no reasonable decision-maker would have made it; or
  7. The decision-maker failed to afford procedural fairness or natural justice.

How good is your evidence?

You can’t fake facts. The stronger evidence you have, the better chances of success.

What evidence you need will depend on what the decision involves. For example, if an application for registration as a nurse or working with vulnerable people was denied on the basis of poor character, get character references and tackle head on the concerns raised about bad character.

The sources of evidence we commonly obtain are:

  1. A witness statement for our client addressing the specific issues in the dispute.
  2. An expert report, which may deal with a medical condition or discuss evidence relied on by the decision-maker.
  3. Documentary evidence, such as government documents. For example, we can change the validity of a decision by using the government’s own records to show a decision was unlawful.


We have experienced administrative lawyers who challenge government decisions.  If you have had a decision you are not happy with, here are some tips:

  1. Make sure you understand exactly how and why the decision has been made.
  2. If you do not understand how or why the decision was made, ask for better reasons.  You have a right to that information.
  3. If you need stronger evidence, get it.  Do not rely on emotive arguments.  Think about what you need to prove and how you can do this.

Our services

We have lawyers experienced in conducting review of Federal, State and Territory and Local Government decisions for individuals and businesses.  This includes obtaining better reasons for decisions, negotiating resolutions before litigation, collecting evidence for internal and merits reviews and litigating before Tribunals and Courts.

Our expertise in property, commercial, energy, planning, environmental and health law, in addition to administrative law, means we can quickly advise on prospects of success, risks and strategy to succeed.

For more information or to make an appointment in either our Canberra or Queanbeyan office please do not hesitate to contact Matthew Bridger or Thomas Maling:

p: +61 2 6206 1300 | e:

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