Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) is Australia’s busiest civil and administrative tribunal. Along with the courts, it is part of the justice system in Victoria.
VCAT (pronounced ‘vee-cat’) resolves about 90,000 disputes per year and provides Victorians with a low-cost, accessible and independent dispute resolution service, which is deliberately informal and encourages self-representation. Its orders are enforceable by law. The Tribunal is established under the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998 (Vic), and began operating on 1 July 1998, amalgamating 15 smaller boards and tribunals.
The President of VCAT is a Supreme Court Judge, and County Court Judges serve as Vice Presidents. Applications are heard and determined by Deputy Presidents (appointed full-time), as well as Senior Members and ordinary Members, who may be appointed on a full-time, part-time or sessional basis. Members have a broad range of specialist skills and qualifications, enabling VCAT to hear and determine cases of considerable complexity and varying subject matter.
VCAT has jurisdiction to hear and determine disputes under over 200 enabling provisions. VCAT has three divisions: Civil, Administrative and Human Rights. Within these divisions, the various types of matters are allocated to what are referred to as ‘Lists’. For example, domestic building matters are heard in the Domestic Building List.
The Civil Division hears and determines a range of civil disputes relating to:
- consumer matters
- domestic building works
- owners corporation matters
- residential and retail tenancies
- sale and ownership of property
- use or flow of water between properties.
The Administrative Division deals with applications from people seeking a review of government and other bodies’ decisions that affect them. These include decisions relating to:
- local council land valuations and planning permits
- Transport Accident Commission decisions
- state taxation
- legal services
- business licences and professional registrations
- Freedom of Information applications
- WorkSafe assessments
- disciplinary proceedings for a range of professions and industries.
The Human Rights Division deals with matters relating to:
- guardianship and administration
- equal opportunity
- racial and religious vilification
- health and privacy information
- the Disability Act 2006 (Vic)
- decisions made by the Mental Health Review Board.
About 67 per cent of VCAT applications relate to residential tenancy matters, with 12 per cent relating to guardianship matters and 10 per cent involving civil claims. Planning matters comprise about four per cent of matters taken to VCAT. Applicants can apply online using VCAT’s website or over the counter at 55 King Street, Melbourne. Application fees are payable in relation to most matters that are brought to VCAT. Hearing fees will also be payable on the day of the hearing in some circumstances. VCAT is a leader in alternative dispute resolution. To resolve disputes without the need for a full hearing, VCAT employs compulsory conferences, mediations, and a program known as ‘SMAH’, which involves short mediations followed by an immediate hearing if the mediation is unsuccessful.
The Tribunal’s main CBD hearing venue is 55 King Street, Melbourne. It also sits in many metropolitan and regional Victorian locations including Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong, Mildura, Wangaratta and Warnambool. Guardianship hearings are frequently conducted beside hospital beds or in residential care facilities to avoid the need to transport ill or elderly people to hearing rooms.
VCAT is required to make its decisions in accordance with the law, and can only make a decision based on the specific matter before it. For example, if the application to VCAT is to dispute whether a land use needs to provide a certain number of car parks, then VCAT cannot make a decision about other matters such as whether the land should be used in the proposed manner (it can only consider the car parking issue).
In planning matters, VCAT must make its decisions based on the law and the requirements of the individual council’s planning scheme, balancing competing objectives such as neighbourhood character or urban consolidation. The content of a council’s planning scheme is determined by the individual council, with the approval of the Minister for Planning. VCAT has no say in what goes into a planning scheme and has nothing to do with the making of planning laws. It is, however, required to apply them.
VCAT decisions can be appealed to the Supreme Court on questions of law. For example, if a party believes there has been an absence of procedural fairness or natural justice, or a failure to comply with the law such as a council planning scheme, then the party can make application to the Supreme Court to have the decision of the Tribunal overturned.