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Secretary’s review

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I am pleased to present my first annual report as Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department and to reflect on the department’s achievements during 2014–15.

The department’s first responsibility in its service to the nation is to provide timely and effective support to the Attorney-General and Minister for the Arts, the Minister for Justice and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Counter-Terrorism, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Attorney-General.

We deliver programmes and policies to strengthen Australia’s national security and emergency management arrangements, maintain and improve our law and justice framework, and provide support for the arts and culture. Through the Australian Government Solicitor (AGS), we now also provide legal services to the Commonwealth.

A flourishing society is protected by the rule of law. Its citizens are safe and secure, have access to a sound justice system and enjoy a rich cultural life. Delivering these building blocks of a thriving nation is the responsibility of the Attorney-General’s Department. The 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta was a reminder of the importance of the work we do to maintain the rule of law.

The year in review: 2014–15

The consolidation of AGS into the department on 1 July 2015 was an important achievement. The consolidation project commenced in early 2015 and included significant legislative, financial and organisational change. It was a testament to our strong collaborative partnership that this important priority was achieved seamlessly, with great good will, and in a way that maintains and enhances AGS’s continued commercial success and service excellence.

A key continuing priority has been responding to the evolving threat of terrorism, which has grown in an unpredictable and disturbing manner. To address the threat of terrorism, the department has developed and implemented a range of important national security measures, including:

  • initiatives to prevent and disrupt violent extremism
  • legislative reform to address the security risks posed by foreign fighters
  • improvements in the technical capabilities of our agencies and international partners.

In June 2015, Australia hosted the Regional Summit to Counter Violent Extremism. The department organised the summit, which provided regional leaders and Australian community partners with an opportunity to exchange ideas and discuss lessons learned in countering violent extremism.

The department led development of the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015, passed in March 2015, to ensure telecommunications data is available into the future to support the investigation of serious offences and security threats.

During 2014–15 the department led work to achieve one of the most significant reforms to Commonwealth administrative law in 40 years: the amalgamation of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Social Security Appeals Tribunal, Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal into a single body, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, from 1 July 2015. The new Administrative Appeals Tribunal will improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the merits review system by simplifying and modernising the existing framework.

The department supported international efforts to combat money-laundering and corruption through Australia’s Presidency of the Financial Action Task Force, the international body responsible for global standards on combating money-laundering and the financing of terrorism, and as co-chair of the G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group.

The department implemented landmark reforms for Australia’s creative industries through the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Act 2015, which enables copyright owners to make applications to block access to infringing sites operating outside Australia.

To improve access to justice for disadvantaged people and enable integrated evidence-based decisions about where funding is directed, we negotiated a new National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services and new funding arrangements for Indigenous Legal Assistance.

The year ahead: 2015–16

In 2015–16 we will respond to significant changes in our operating environment. The department will capitalise on the opportunities presented by the consolidation of AGS into the department to strengthen its support to the Attorney-General as First Law Officer and provide high-quality legal services to the Commonwealth. I will undertake a Review of Commonwealth Legal Services, in line with the government’s Efficiency through Contestability Programme, to examine options to ensure the quality, alignment, consistency and efficiency of legal services to government.

National security and addressing the evolving threat of terrorism remain key priorities. We will focus on delivering and maintaining effective national security policies, laws and programmes and continue working with Australian communities to counter risks posed by terrorist narratives and violent extremism. The department will work closely with its Commonwealth, state and territory partners to implement effective national responses to organised crime.

To help ensure the Commonwealth’s justice institutions and associated legal architecture operates efficiently and serves the needs of Australian communities, we will lead work to amalgamate the corporate functions of the Federal Court of Australia, Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia from 1 July 2016.

Through the Ministry for the Arts, we will establish and deliver the National Program for Excellence in the Arts, including the smooth transfer of Visions of Australia and festivals programmes to the Ministry, to deliver a wide range of quality arts and cultural experiences for audiences throughout Australia and internationally.

Like all Commonwealth departments, we will continue to implement efficient and well-targeted policies and programmes throughout 2015–16 and into the future, with reduced financial and human resources. A Functional and Efficiency Review of the department will assist in ensuring we are using our resources in the best way, in line with the drive for smaller, more efficient government.

As always, I am grateful for the energy, service and expertise displayed by the staff of my department and, together with them, look forward to tackling the challenges in the year ahead to deliver on the government’s priorities and serve the people of Australia.

Chris Moraitis PSM

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