Women crucial to statutory decision making bodies

Friday, 4 March 2016

Rachel Westaway

This article is part of a series celebrating International Women’s Day and the difference that women make. As part of this celebration, ACU will be hosting five free events across our campuses on 8 March.

When your decisions could be saving a life, you need to retain some perspective.

“Every single case is important, because it represents an individual,” says Rachel Westaway, Tribunal Member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT). Each day she’s tasked with hearing the appeals of people who have been denied refugee or protection visas by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

“I look at it with fresh eyes and reach a new decision. It’s an opportunity for the applicant to have their case reviewed.”

Fairness and compassion

It’s comforting to know the person in this role is the inverse of the stereotypical cold bureaucrat. Rachel’s quick to laugh and speaks with warmth and careful consideration, each phrase weighed carefully to convey the exact meaning she’s looking for. She’s passionate but composed – necessary traits, given the emotional consequences of her decisions.

“It’s wonderful when you’re able to find in an applicant's favour and tell them face to face and just see the relief. That’s very, very special. But it’s hard when the decision isn’t favourable.”

Despite the challenge, she knows her role is important – to the individuals involved and Australian society as a whole.

“I look at this type of work and think I’m very privileged to be involved in it because it ensures fairness in how the Government determines whether someone is eligible for a protection visa.”

Representing the community

Rachel’s role is especially important considering that women make up approximately 40% of AAT Tribunal Members. She not only brings a woman’s perspective but also a multicultural one: she is half Chinese-Thai on her father’s side and is part of a growing contingent of intelligent and capable women that the public service is realising it needs.

“I’ve held several statutory positions across a range of areas and I’m seeing much more of a presence of women in these types of roles,” she says. “You want decisions being made by a true representation of the community.”

An important skill set

It’s evident that Rachel’s not only proud of the work that she does but also the work she’s done, including her studies. Rachel began a Graduate Diploma of Education as a mature-age student at Australian Catholic University in 2009. It’s not hard to imagine her in a tutorial, chatting and sharing a laugh with students half her age. Rachel is convinced that without the skill sets she learned at university she would not be an AAT tribunal member today.

“You need to be an effective communicator when you’re a decision maker,” she says.

“Teaching is in every aspect of life. It’s not just with K to 12, it’s across the board. Every interaction we have if we’re working with an individual, we’re sending information to them, we’re getting it back, and hopefully it’s staying in our brain.

“Everybody takes in information in different ways and teaching teaches you that there’s not one best way to communicate and work with people. And that is a skill set that is invaluable in every aspect of work and life.”

Making a difference

Paired with a wealth of life experience, Rachel knows she can carry out her work in a way that ensures her three young children will grow up in a country where the law is applied fairly but compassionately.

“I think it’s about approaching your work with integrity and kindness and empathy. I think they’re the things that make a difference. That’s what people remember.”

Celebrations for International Women’s Day are gearing up across ACU on a national scale with major events planned for 8 March in Ballarat, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney. This is a great opportunity for ACU alumni to reconnect and celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.