Are traditional administrative law doctrines still fit for purpose in the digital age?

Dr Anna Huggins

Dr Anna Huggins considers the implications of a recent Full Federal Court decision in AusPubLaw.

Dr Anna Huggins examines the case of Pintarich which she says will have implications for the reliance that Australian taxpayers can place on computer-generated correspondence from the Australian Tax Office. It raises interesting and complex questions about when an authorised officer makes a decision, and whether traditional conceptions of what constitutes a ‘decision’ are still appropriate in the digital era.

Automated processes hold promise for enhancing the efficiency and consistency of administrative decisions, particularly in high volume decision-making contexts. However, these advantages need to be weighed against the risks to public trust in government decision making caused by computer-generated errors, for which traditional administrative law doctrines thus far appear to provide limited protection.

As alluded to by Kerr J in his dissenting judgment in Pintarich, legal conceptions of what constitutes a decision and other administrative law doctrines need to evolve to reflect the reality of how decisions are made in practice in the digital age. Mr Pintarich’s unsuccessful appeal to the High Court represents a missed opportunity to further consider what constitutes a decision in an evolving administrative decision-making context.

Find out more about Dr Anna Huggins and her research outputs in e-prints.

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