Good administrative decision-making: providing reasons
Providing reasons behind decision-making is not always required, however it will often be appropriate to provide reasons as a matter of fairness.
Decision-makers are often called upon to provide reasons for a decision.
The requirement to provide reasons arises pursuant to legislation. In some circumstances, legislation requires a decision-maker to provide reasons at the time of making the decision. In other circumstances, decision-makers will only be required to provide reasons in response to a request by a person affected by the decision.
There is no common law obligation for a decision-maker to provide reasons for an administrative decision. However, even where a decision-maker is not legally required to provide reasons, as a matter of fairness, it will often be appropriate to provide the reasons sought.
With that in mind, it is important that, during the decision-making processes, decision-makers record sufficient information to enable a statement of reasons to be easily produced.
Content of a statement of reasons
Absent any specific legislative requirements, best practice requires a statement of reasons to specify:
- the decision-maker and, if applicable, the authority to make the decision (for example, identifying that the decision was made pursuant to an instrument of delegation)
- the date the decision was made
- the decision that was made, with reference to the person and/or thing the decision relates to
- the legislative provision the decision was made under
- the evidence the decision-maker took into account before reaching the decision. If evidence was placed before the decision-maker that was considered to be less credible, this should be noted and explained
- the decision maker’s findings on material questions of fact, being those facts that had some bearing on the outcome of the decision
- the reasons for the decision
- contact details for a person who is familiar with the decision
- information regarding any appeal or review rights regarding the decision.
A statement of reasons should be clear and expressed in terms the reader can understand. It should not include jargon or be unnecessarily technical.
Expressing your 'reasons'
When providing reasons, you should set out all the steps in the reasoning process that led to the final conclusion – that is, the decision.
The Supreme Court of New South Wales in Housing Commission of New South Wales v Tatmar Pastoral Co Pty Ltd observed:
…stated reasons do not need to be lengthy or elaborate, but they should go so far as is necessary to indicate why the decision was made and to allow the parties to exercise such rights as may be available to them in respect of it.
It will generally be insufficient to simply refer to a decision-maker having “considered all circumstances of the matter”.
Rather, the decision-maker’s reasoning process and the basis for the decision should be clearly set out.
Benefits of a well written statement of reasons
A well written statement of reasons clearly identifying the matters the decision-maker took into account, and the decision maker’s reasoning process, has a number of important benefits. Specifically:
- It provides an explanation to those impacted by the decision about how the decision was reached. In this regard, providing reasons can assist in promoting acceptance of a decision that was adverse to a person’s interests. This can reduce instances of misunderstandings and misplaced applications for review.
- It provides background and context for the people implementing the decision. This increases the likelihood the actions taken in implementing the decision accurately reflect the decision maker’s intent.
- It improves the transparency and accountability of decision making. This improves public confidence and promotes consistency in decision-making.
  3 NSWLR 378 at 386
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