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 Programme 1.1: Attorney-General’s Department operating expenses—Civil justice and legal services

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Programme objective

This programme contributes to Outcome 1 by protecting and promoting the rule of law and building a safe, secure and resilient Australia.

Portfolio Budget Statement programme deliverables

  • Provide timely and quality legal and legal policy advice to the Australian Government through the Attorney-General on major government initiatives through the Cabinet process, particularly in the areas of constitutional law, administrative law, international law, native title, human rights, secrecy, privacy, freedom of information and private international law.
  • Coordinate whole-of-government activities and provide legal and legal policy advice in relation to the constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians.
  • Provide timely and quality international law advice and legal services to the Australian Government through the Attorney-General.
  • Conduct international litigation and arbitration on behalf of the Australian Government, including defending international actions brought against tobacco plain packaging, and defending arbitration and litigation brought by Timor-Leste.
  • Better coordinate the provision of legal services throughout the Commonwealth.
  • Ensure copyright law and regulation provides a framework that supports and promotes commercial activity.
  • Develop and implement reforms to the National Classification Scheme, to ensure better provision of more consistent classification information across platforms, particularly in the context of the digital environment.
  • Support the efficient functioning of the economy through fair and effective legal frameworks for personal insolvency, electronic transactions and personal property securities.
  • Implement reform of the legal system to maximise innovation, productivity and efficiencies in business and government, streamlining civil procedures with other countries and progressing domestic choice of law reforms.
  • Improve collaboration between the Commonwealth family law system and the state and territory child protection systems to contribute to achieving the best outcomes for children, including initiatives to share and enhance effective and promising practice.
  • Improve the operation of federal courts and tribunals, and support an independent judiciary including through reforms to administration, structure and funding arrangements and consideration of cost-recovery models to assist federal courts to make more efficient use of available resources, including through the use of technology.
  • Develop streamlined and integrated family support services to ensure that support for separated families and their children is responsive and accessible, and that those families and their children with more complex needs receive early and appropriate interventions.
  • As the Australian central authority for intercountry adoption under the Hague Convention, establish and manage Australia’s intercountry adoption arrangements, including through supporting reform of the model for intercountry adoption and establishing new country programmes (as appropriate).
  • Improve the operation of the Commonwealth Marriage Celebrants Programme through the implementation of cost recovery, an online celebrant portal, a dedicated phone service, enhanced education and guidance materials and strengthened application, performance review and complaints handling mechanisms.
  • Build capability to resolve legal issues, without resort to litigation, by increased access to coordinated education, information, support services and representation across the justice system.
  • Informed by the relevant findings of the National Partnership Agreement review and the Productivity Commission report into access to justice arrangements, ensure that legal assistance is of a high quality, targeted to those most in need, cost-effective, coordinated with other service provision and done in collaboration across the legal assistance sector.
  • Protect and promote human rights and freedoms, including through reforms to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and through facilitating a review of Commonwealth laws for consistency with common law rights.
  • Ensure federal privacy and information law and regulation is appropriate, particularly in relation to the digital environment.
  • Achieve faster and better outcomes in native title including through improvements in agreement-making, promoting good governance and economic sustainability in agreements and improving the efficiency of the native title system.
  • Contribute to improving community safety and strengthening the rule of law in Indigenous communities through cooperation with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet as lead agency.
  • Support the independent Defence Abuse Response Taskforce, including appropriate secretariat, operational and legal support.
  • Provide administrative support to Royal Commissions.

Achievements contributing to deliverables

Strengthening the provision of Commonwealth legal services

The work to consolidate the Australian Government Solicitor (AGS) into the department was completed in June and the new arrangements took effect on 1 July 2015. They will strengthen our capability and capacity to support the Attorney-General as First Law Officer and chief legal adviser to the Cabinet by providing a comprehensive source of authoritative advice on key Commonwealth legal and legal policy issues. The consolidation project was a significant legislative, financial and organisational change for both the department and AGS. AGS continues to have its own independent functional identity within the department and to operate as a self-funded trading enterprise, providing legal advice and representation to the Commonwealth on a fee-for-service basis.

Protecting and promoting the rule of law

The department is responsible for protecting human rights across government, including strengthening the awareness of and focus on traditional common law rights and freedoms. Over the past year, the department played a key role in commemorations marking the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta, by coordinating a whole-of-government approach to public events, lectures, ceremonies and exhibitions. These events were held in the week of 15 June 2015 to celebrate the liberal democratic values and traditions symbolised by the Magna Carta.

Ensuring the accuracy and accessibility of Australia’s laws

The department, in conjunction with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, contributed to six legislative housekeeping measures for the 29 October 2014 and 18 March 2015 repeal days. The measures repealed more than 650 amending Acts made in the 1970s across all portfolios, as well as more than 400 spent or redundant legislative instruments. Measures introduced into Parliament in March 2015 will repeal a further 870 amending Acts made in the 1980s across all portfolios. The measures also include two further Statute Law Revision Acts to make technical improvements and corrections to legislation and repeal spent or redundant provisions and Acts. These measures ensure that legislation does not remain on the statute books when it is no longer required and improve the accuracy and efficiency of use of the Commonwealth statute book.

Improving legislative frameworks

The Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) Act 2014 commenced on 1 October 2014. Consistent with the Australian Government’s deregulation agenda, the Act is intended to simplify and streamline Commonwealth regulatory powers across the statute book. This will provide regulatory agencies with the opportunity to use more uniform powers and will increase legal certainty for business and individuals who are subject to those powers. The department will continue to work closely with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel to assist portfolios to amend their legislation, to implement the provisions in the Act.

The Acts and Instruments (Frameworks Reform) Act 2015 was passed by Parliament in early 2015 and will commence in early 2016. The Act improves the usability and efficiency of the existing legislative instruments framework and brings the registration and publication of Commonwealth Acts into that framework. This will improve the accessibility of Commonwealth laws, ensuring that businesses, community organisations and individuals continue to have reliable and easy-to-navigate access to current, accurate and comprehensive information about our laws.

Native title

The department supported the Attorney-General for two Native Title Ministers’ Meetings held in 2014 in which Australian Government, state and territory native title ministers considered the state of, and possible improvements to, the native title system. The next meeting is planned for late 2015.

The department has been working closely with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on the Council of Australian Government (COAG) investigation, initiated on 14 October 2014, into Indigenous land administration and use. The purpose of the investigation is to enable traditional owners to attract private sector investment and finance to develop their own land with new industries and businesses, to provide jobs and economic advancement for Indigenous people. Among other things, the investigation is considering the extent to which the native title system can support economic development for Indigenous people. It is due to report to COAG in late 2015.

The department monitors the status of applications and determinations in the native title system to identify and address systemic issues. In the last decade, the number of applications has decreased by over a third, and the increased number of consent determinations shows the willingness of parties to negotiate outcomes in appropriate claims leading to speedier resolutions. For example, in the 2014–15 financial year, the Federal Court handed down 20 consent determinations.

Improving the effectiveness of the justice system

Legislation implementing the amalgamation of federal merits review tribunals

Legislation to implement the amalgamation of four federal merits review tribunals was passed by Parliament on 13 May 2015 and commenced on 1 July 2015. The Tribunals Amalgamation Act 2015 amended the Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975 and other enabling legislation to create the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) as a single review body incorporating the existing jurisdictions of the AAT, Migration Review Tribunal, Refugee Review Tribunal and Social Security Appeals Tribunal. Many of the key practices and procedures of the separate tribunals have been retained, with most changes occurring in the tribunal’s internal corporate operations.

Collaboration between Commonwealth family law and state and territory child protection

The department has been working with the states and territories, the family law courts and legal aid bodies to improve collaboration between the child protection and family law systems to achieve the best outcomes for children. This included an amendment to section 121 of the Family Law Act 1975, which seeks to confirm that any pleading, transcript of evidence or other document relating to a family law proceeding can be shared with state and territory child protection authorities.

Intercountry adoption reform

The department is prioritising investigations into the possibility of establishing new intercountry adoption programmes with Vietnam, the United States and Latvia, and
re-establishing programmes with Poland. Discussions with Bulgaria are also continuing.

The department continues to enhance existing intercountry adoption programmes through close liaison with overseas authorities, including in Chile, Colombia, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Delegation visits in 2015 supported and strengthened the department’s existing relationships with adoption stakeholders from these countries and allowed us to clarify operational issues relating to adoption applications, time-frames and processes.

The department’s participation in the fourth meeting of the Special Commission on the practical operation of the 1993 Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption in June 2015 provided an additional opportunity to enhance relationships with country partners, other receiving countries and adoption experts. It also provided an opportunity to discuss technical and operational matters relating to intercountry adoption.

Implementing marriage celebrant cost-recovery arrangements

Cost-recovery arrangements for the Marriage Celebrants Programme commenced on 1 July 2014. The programme regulates marriage celebrants and provides them with access to support and guidance to ensure that professional, knowledgeable and legally-correct services are provided to marrying couples in Australia.

Freedom of information

The government announced in the 2014–15 Budget that the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) would be disbanded and the functions of the OAIC would be transferred to other agencies. External merits review of freedom of information (FOI) decisions will be undertaken by the AAT. The Commonwealth Ombudsman will be responsible for investigation of complaints about FOI processing by agencies. Functions related to FOI guidelines and statistics will be administered by the Attorney-General’s Department. The new arrangements were scheduled to commence on 1 January 2015. However, as the legislative amendments to implement this measure remain before the Parliament, at 30 June 2015 the OAIC continued to operate. The 2014–15 Budget reappropriated privacy funding to the OAIC and included additional transitional funding, recognising ongoing FOI functions, pending implementation of the 2014–15 Budget measure.

Working internationally

Response to the downing of MH17

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was downed near Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine on 17 July 2014 with 298 people on board, including 38 Australian citizens and residents. The department immediately began work with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Defence and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to put in place legal arrangements with Ukraine to facilitate access to the crash site by Australian military and civilian personnel to assist with site security, the recovery and repatriation mission, and provided on-the-ground support to the Australian Mission operating from Kiev.

The department assisted in the drafting of two further agreements with Ukraine and the Netherlands underpinning Australia’s contribution to the Netherlands-led air crash investigation and took a leading role in negotiating an arrangement to underpin the criminal investigation being conducted by the Joint Investigation Team States (Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine). The department is also working with DFAT and the AFP on legal issues associated with the selection and/or establishment of a prosecution mechanism which will ensure accountability for the downing of MH17 and justice for the victims and their families.

Engagement with the UN on human rights

The department leads Australia’s engagement with the UN human rights treaty body system. This work helps to protect the rule of law by facilitating international scrutiny of Australia’s compliance with its treaty obligations. It is also an effective mechanism by which Australia can engage with, and influence, UN member states, to promote the rule of law internationally. The department developed Australia’s National Report for presentation to the United Nations Human Rights Council for Australia’s second appearance at the Universal Periodic Review, to occur in November 2015, at which Australia’s human rights record will be evaluated.

The department also led Australia’s appearance before the UN Committee against Torture in November 2014 and Australia’s report to the UN Human Rights Committee on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Election of Professor James Crawford AC SC to the International Court of Justice

The department was instrumental in securing the election of Professor James Crawford AC SC to the International Court of Justice on 6 November 2014. Departmental officers assisted in the conduct of international advocacy and outreach in support of Professor Crawford’s campaign, including in New York at the General Assembly vote that secured his election. Professor Crawford’s nine-year tenure as one of the court’s 15 judges commenced on 6 February 2015. He is only the second Australian judge on the court, the other being Sir Percy Spender who served from 1958 to 1967.


The Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Amendment (Classification Tools and Other Measures) Act 2014 received Royal Assent on 11 September 2014. This Amendment Act implemented the first tranche of reforms agreed by Australian Government, state and territory classification ministers following the release of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) report into convergent media and classification (ALRC Report 118). Under the reforms made by the Amendment Act, the Minister can approve classification tools for classifying publications, films and computer games. On 1 July 2015, the department commenced a 12-month pilot of a global classification tool called the International Age Rating Coalition (IARC) for classifying online and mobile games such as game ‘apps’ on phones and tablets. Decisions produced by the IARC tool are considered to be decisions of the Australian Classification Board. The tool will enable fast, reliable and cost-effective classification of mobile and online games and ensure communities receive better information about these products.

The Classification Portal went live in June 2015. The portal enables industry to submit applications online, including payment of classification fees through a secure website portal. It will also provide the basis for further online interaction with industry, such as the streaming of media for classification purposes rather than providing physical product. The portal will support future elements of the classification reform agenda, such as the exemption arrangements for festivals and cultural institutions.

Defence Abuse Response Taskforce (DART)

The DART was established in late 2012 to assess and respond to individual cases of abuse in the Australian Defence Force that occurred prior to 11 April 2011. Although the taskforce is administratively housed in the department, Defence provides all funding for the taskforce and its activities.

In 2014–15, the taskforce achieved a number of significant milestones, including:

  • accelerating its progress in delivering the outcomes identified in the amended terms of reference
  • delivering counselling to complainants who suffered abuse in Defence as part of a national counselling programme
  • holding conferences between people who suffered abuse and senior representatives from Defence Australia-wide as part of an innovative restorative engagement programme
  • delivering two major reports on the nature and extent of abuse in Defence and at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA)
  • liaising with the Sex Discrimination Commissioner in relation to her work on Defence culture, including her consideration of whether a royal commission into abuse at the ADFA was required
  • assisting the Department of Veterans’ Affairs by preparing location profiles of aggregated, de-identified data about clusters of abuse based on the taskforce’s findings which involve particular military establishments.

The former chair of the taskforce, the Honourable Len Roberts-Smith RFD QC, completed his term on 30 November 2014. In December 2014, the government appointed Robert Cornall AO as chair of the taskforce and put in place amended terms of reference for the period to 30 June 2015.

As at 30 June 2015, all referrals to police or military justice authorities, all referrals to the Chief of the Defence Force and 1,717 out of 1,725 reparation payments (99.54 per cent) were complete, and one complaint was awaiting assessment.

On 15 June 2015, the government extended the operation of the taskforce until 31 December 2015. It is anticipated that the majority of the remaining outcomes for complainants will be complete by that date. The government is expected to make a further decision about the finalisation of those outstanding matters later this year.

Evaluations and reviews

Review of the Personal Property Securities Act 2009

The Attorney-General tabled Mr Bruce Whittaker’s report on the review of the Personal Property Securities Act 2009 on 18 March 2015. The department provided secretariat support to the review. The review received a total of 171 submissions and responses from a wide range of stakeholders, including industry organisations, individual businesses, law firms and law societies, government bodies representing business, consumer and privacy interests, and academics. The report makes 394 recommendations on a range of technical matters aimed at improving the accessibility and efficiency of Australia’s personal property securities system.

Review of classification processes

The department engaged Kallista Consulting to conduct a Lean 6 Sigma and Value Stream Mapping review of the Classification Board and Classification Branch interface between April and June 2014. Recommendations of the review were implemented to improve the core classification processes.

Independent reviews of the Federal Court, Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia

In December 2014, the department engaged Ernst & Young to identify savings and implementation costs of reform options for the federal courts outlined in a previous independent review by KPMG from March 2014. The Attorney-General considered the findings in developing a package of reform measures to streamline and improve the sustainability of the courts as part of the 2015–16 Federal Budget, alongside the recommendations of the Productivity Commission’s 2014 Access to Justice Arrangements report and the 2013–14 National Commission of Audit. On 23 April 2015, the department engaged Ernst & Young to look at further structural and funding issues in consultation with the federal courts.

Programme 1.1 Results against key performance indicators

Key performance indicator

Accurate, timely and high-quality legal and policy advice


2014–15: Achieved

2013–14: Achieved

The department provided legal and policy advice to support the Attorney-General as First Law Officer in consideration of legal issues in areas including constitutional law, public international law and native title. Legislative housekeeping measures have continued to improve the accuracy, efficiency and usability of the Commonwealth statute book. The department finalised three terms of reference for the Australian Law Reform Commission:

  • review of Commonwealth laws for consistency with traditional rights and privileges
  • review of the Native Title Act
  • equal recognition before the law for people with disabilities.

The department supported the Australian Government in making appointments to federal courts and tribunals. During the year, two judges were appointed to the High Court of Australia, one judge to the Federal Court of Australia, one judge to the Family Court of Australia and four judges to the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. In addition, 28 appointments were made to the AAT and one appointment to the Defence Force Discipline Appeal Tribunal.

The department also worked collaboratively with the federal courts on administration issues, including financial sustainability. Reviews commissioned by the department on the performance and funding of the Federal Court of Australia, Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia have assisted, and will continue to assist, to inform the Australian Government’s consideration of these issues.

Through the Marriage Celebrants Programme, the department responded to 31,741 enquiries, through a dedicated phone line, email, letters and faxes, in relation to marriage law and marriage celebrant obligations.

As the Australian Central Authority for Intercountry Adoption, the department responded to 979 enquiries from members of the public and from adoption bodies. (This excludes communications with the state and territory central adoption authorities.)

As the Australian Central Authority for the Hague Convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, the department responded to 839 enquiries in relation to international family law issues, and dealt with 52 applications where a child had been abducted to Australia and 82 where the child had been abducted out of Australia.

Through the Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) Practitioner Accreditation Unit, the department responded to 5,898 enquiries from prospective and current family dispute resolution practitioners, and stakeholders such as registered training organisations, higher education providers and professional associations. The department received 176 new applications for accreditation: accreditation was granted to 150 applicants, eight applications were withdrawn by applicants and 18 applications were pending at the close of the year. Sixty-eight practitioners ceased to provide FDR services and 197 practitioners are voluntarily suspended. There are 1,810 accredited FDR practitioners providing services across Australia, either through services funded by the government, privately, or both.

The department facilitated the recognition of rights and responsibilities through the provision of accurate, timely and high-quality human rights policy advice, in close collaboration with stakeholders at all levels of government and in the community. This is exemplified by work the department has undertaken in the past year to protect and promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians. The department has continued to drive the implementation of the Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender by Australian Government departments and agencies. Over the last year, we led discussions with state and territory counterparts on the interaction between state and territory laws and the prohibitions on discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

Key performance indicator

Effective management of civil justice and legal services programmes


2014–15: Achieved

2013–14: Achieved

The department’s coordination of government legal services has assisted the effective management of Australia’s law and justice framework. The department funded a broad range of legal assistance services to assist disadvantaged Australians, including Indigenous peoples.

The department continued to provide secretariat services to the Classification Board and the Classification Review Board to enable them to fulfil their statutory obligations. In 2014–15, the Classification Board made 3,694 classification decisions. No classification decisions exceeded the statutory time limit of 20 days for standard applications and five days for a priority application. The Classification Review Board considered one application for review of a decision of the Classification Board and made its decision on the same day.

The department successfully implemented the cost-recovery arrangements for the Marriage Celebrants Programme. The programme has operated in line with forecast revenue and costs and no major implementation issues have arisen. The department has also developed a set of measures, in accordance with the Regulator Performance Framework, to analyse performance and ensure marriage celebrants are regulated efficiently.

The department launched its Register of Authorised Persons for Warrants and other functions. This is a resource designed to assist the department, the federal courts and the AAT to access information about federal judges and AAT members who are authorised to perform functions in their personal capacity. It is also a tool for law enforcement agencies to locate authorised persons by court or AAT registry. The register delivers efficiencies by providing a consolidated online portal with authorisation records, warrant-seeking processes and referral details.

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