Since QCAT began operation on 1 December 2009, amalgamating 18 tribunals and 23 jurisdictions into one tribunal, there has been a raft of decisions questioning the limits of QCAT’s jurisdiction. Perhaps one of the most important jurisdictional questions that has arisen is whether QCAT has the power the enforce its own orders and the recent Appeals Tribunal decision in Goldfield Projects Pty Ltd v Queensland Building and Construction Commission  QCATA 101 confirms that the answer is in most cases “no”.
Goldfield Projects Pty Ltd (“Goldfield”), a building contractor, sought a review by QCAT of a Direction to Rectify issued by the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (“QBCC”). The parties reached an agreement to resolve the dispute at a compulsory conference convened at QCAT the terms of which were recorded in writing (“the settlement agreement”) and an order was made by QCAT giving effect to the settlement agreement.
Goldfield contended that it carried out its obligations under the settlement agreement and the QBCC did not. As a consequence of the QBCC’s non-compliance, Goldfield applied to QCAT for an order to remove the Direction to Rectify. The application was dismissed by the QCAT Member on the basis that QCAT has no powers to enforce its own orders and that, because the matter had been finalised, it no longer had jurisdiction to make the order sought.
On appeal to the Appeals Tribunal, Goldfield contended that the QCAT Member erred in finding that QCAT had no jurisdiction as there would be a substantial injustice if there were no consequences of a breach of the settlement agreement and that it was in the interests of justice to make sure parties comply with agreements reached at QCAT. The QBCC argued that, regardless of any breach, QCAT had no jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement as a matter of law.
Significantly, the Appeals Tribunal came to the view that the QBCC was in breach of the settlement agreement and its actions were “inappropriate” and “not befitting its role as a model litigant”.
The Appeals Tribunal, acknowledging that QCAT is a creature of statute and must find its powers within the QCAT Act or a relevant enabling Act, held that section 84 of the QCAT Act allowed QCAT to exercise its discretion to record the settlement agreement and make an order giving effect to the settlement which has the same effect as if it was an order made by QCAT after deciding the proceeding. The order giving effect to the settlement agreement was a final non-monetary decision only capable of being enforced by filing in the Supreme Court a certified true copy of the decision and an affidavit as to non-compliance pursuant to section 132(2) of the QCAT Act and, as such, the Appeals Tribunal found that the QCAT Member did not err in finding that QCAT had no jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement.
Accordingly, Goldfield’s appeal was dismissed.
The decision is a timely reminder that when pursuing a matter in QCAT, it will not always be possible to “wrap it up” within the auspices of QCAT and, in the event that a party breaches a final order, it may be necessary to seek recourse in the Supreme Court. As Goldfield discovered, in the absence of appropriate statutory powers, QCAT may be unable to enforce its own orders regardless of how serious the breach of order may be.