Giving reasons for decisions
Statement of reasons
The requirement that decision-makers give reasons for their decisions is one of the most important reforms to public administration in the last decades of the 20th century.
- Statements of reasons provide fairness by enabling decisions to be properly explained and defended.
- A statement of reasons helps a person who is affected by a decision to understand the decision even if it is not the decision they would have preferred.
- A statement of reasons assists the person affected by a decision to decide whether to exercise their rights of review or appeal.
- Statements of reasons improve the quality of decision-making.
- Statements of reasons promote public confidence in the administrative process.
- Statements of reasons assist courts and tribunals to better perform their review functions.
Legal requirements to give reasons for decisions
- Section 85-3 of the Aged Care Act 1997 states: “If this Act requires the Secretary to notify a person of the making of a reviewable decision, the notice must include reasons for the decision”.
- Decisions made by ACAT members as delegates of the Secretary are reviewable decisions (see table of reviewable decisions in section 85-1 pf the Act).
- Section 22-6 of the Act requires the Secretary to notify, in writing, the person who applied for approval (or, where relevant, a person who is already approved) of the delegate’s decision.
- Section 25D of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901, which applies to all Commonwealth legislation, states: “Where an Act requires a tribunal, body or person making a decision to give written reasons for the decision…the instrument giving the reasons shall set out the findings on material questions of fact and refer to the evidence or other material on which those findings were based”.
Use of templates for writing decision letters
- Templates assist the decision-maker to meet the legal requirements for a statement of reasons without having to 'reinvent the wheel'.
- Templates can be modified by the decision-maker, for example:
- to use language that the decision-maker is more comfortable using
- to adapt to the level of comprehension of the reader
- to use a language other than English
- to include additional information about other community, health or social services, etc.
- as long as all the necessary elements of a statement of reasons for the reviewable decision(s) are maintained.
- It is important to go back to the template each time a decision letter is being prepared, rather than editing a letter that has been prepared previously from the template by simply changing the name of the applicant, etc.
- Courts and tribunals have ruled that a one-size-fits-all, tick-a-box style of notice is not a statement of reasons.
- Courts and tribunals accept that the use of a template to draft a statement of reasons is appropriate as long as the template is completed in a way that gives the real reasons for the decision rather than simply stating the conclusion.