Unreasonable Decisions





A decision can be rendered wrong because it is unreasonable  – see Minister for Immigration and Citizenship v Li [2013] HCA 18 (8 May 2013). Here the MRT refused to grant an adjournment to enable the review applicant to finalise a separate review before Trades Recognition Australia concerning her skill assessment. In the absence of a successful review before the TRA her application before the MRT was doomed to fail.  After the MRT rejected her application the TRA pending internal review was successful. Had the MRT waited the review before the MRT would have been successful.

The essence of the decision is found in the joint judgment of HAYNE, KIEFEL & BELL JJ:

…in Minister for Aboriginal Affairs v Peko-Wallsend, Mason J considered that the preferred ground for setting aside an administrative decision which has failed to give adequate weight to a relevant factor of great importance, or has given excessive weight to an irrelevant factor of no importance, is that the decision is “manifestly unreasonable”.  Whether a decision-maker be regarded, by reference to the scope and purpose of the statute, as having committed a particular error in reasoning, given disproportionate weight to some factor or reasoned illogically or irrationally, the final conclusion will in each case be that the decision-maker has been unreasonable in a legal sense.

French CJ added (at paragraph 30) :

A distinction may arguably be drawn between rationality and reasonableness on the basis that not every rational decision is reasonable[81]. It is not necessary for present purposes to undertake a general consideration of that distinction which might be thought invite a kind of proportionality analysis to bridge a propounded gap between the two concepts[82]. Be that as it may, a disproportionate exercise of an administrative discretion, taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut[83], may be characterised as irrational and also as unreasonable simply on the basis that it exceeds what, on any view, is necessary for the purpose it serves. That approach is an application of the principles discussed above and within the limitations they would impose on curial review of administrative discretions.

  1. The decision of the MRT to proceed to its determination was not, on the face of it, informed by any consideration other than the asserted sufficiency of the opportunities provided to the first respondent to put her case. The MRT did not in terms or by implication accept or reject the substance of the reasons for a deferment put to it by the first respondent’s migration agent. It did not suggest that the first respondent’s request for a deferment was due to any fault on her part or on the part of her migration agent. It did not suggest that its decision was based on any balancing of the legislative objectives set out in s 353. Its decision was fatal to the first respondent’s application. There was in the circumstances, including the already long history of the matter, an arbitrariness about the decision, which rendered it unreasonable in the limiting sense explained above.
Barbara Davidson