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 Chapter 4 - About the Department

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About the department

What we do

The Attorney-General's Department serves the people of Australia by upholding the rule of law and providing essential expert support to the Australian Government to maintain and improve Australia's system of law and justice, its national security and emergency management systems, and natural disaster relief.

The Attorney-General's Department is the central policy and coordinating agency of the Australian Government Attorney-General's portfolio and provides support for the Australian Attorney-General in their role as First Law Officer.

The mission of the Attorney-General's Department is achieving a just and secure society. This mission includes:

  • building a fairer Australia by improving access to justice, protecting and promoting human rights, and promoting Indigenous law and justice
  • strengthening Australia's national security by bolstering Australia's disaster resilience, promoting cyber and identity security, countering violent extremism, and combating organised crime.

The department's 2010-2012 strategic aims are:

  1. improving access to justice
  2. enhancing national security
  3. combating organised crime
  4. improving identity and technology security
  5. protecting human rights and supporting Indigenous communities
  6. strengthening emergency management and building resilience, and
  7. enhancing productivity and service delivery.

The department's outcomes, programs and performance targets are set out each year in the Portfolio Budget Statements and the Portfolio Additional Estimates Statements. This Annual Report responds directly to the performance measures set out in these documents, giving a clear indication of the department's intended and actual performance for the year.

To achieve its objectives, the department works closely and cooperatively with its portfolio agencies, other government agencies, advisory bodies, industry, professional associations, community organisations and citizens.

Our organisational structure

The Attorney-General's Department is structured to support the Australian Government's current and emerging priorities and to provide high quality and well-coordinated portfolio-wide advice to the Attorney-General and the Minister for Home Affairs and Justice.

The department's structure is designed to effectively and efficiently deliver programs against the department's strategic aims and broader portfolio objectives. It comprises the:

  • Strategic Policy and Coordination Group - responsible for whole-of-department priorities and coordination, finance and property services, business planning and governance, human resources, and information technology.
  • Civil Justice and Legal Services Group - responsible for access to justice, social inclusion policies and programs, civil law, legislative drafting and publishing, and international law and human rights.
  • National Security and Criminal Justice Group - responsible for national security resilience policy and capability development, emergency management and disaster relief, national security law and policy, criminal justice, and international crime cooperation.

Figure 4.1: Organisational structure, at 30 June 2012

Figure 4.1: Organisational structure, at 30 June 2012 


Our functions

The functions of the divisions and offices in each of the three groups at 30 June 2012 are outlined below.

Strategic Policy and Coordination Group

The Corporate Division provides financial services to the department by managing the external portfolio budget process, preparing the audited financial statements, providing strategic financial management advice to the Executive Board and to divisions and providing other financial management functions to support the efficient operation of the department including the payment of accounts and maintaining an efficient Treasury function.

It also provides corporate governance activities including maintaining the Chief Executive's Instructions, providing advice on the Government's financial framework and facilitating compliance with various external reporting obligations.

The division provides human resource services that support the department to attract, develop and retain talented staff. It provides advice to the Executive Board on competitive remuneration, learning and development framework and workforce planning and provides professional and supportive work through progressive human resource practices including educating the department on the new work health and safety laws and managing the various workplace diversity initiatives such as the reconciliation activities that recognise the importance of indigenous Australians and the disability action plan. It also provides other human resource functions to support the efficient operation of the department including managing the induction of new employees and managing the payroll function.

It is responsible for managing international travel arrangement for departmental officers - providing an efficient and cost effective service that complies with Government policy.

The division manages facilities, property and environmental services that support the efficient operation of the department through an extensive range of support and strategic advice on building operations, property and environmental management. Activities include responsibility for lease management, facilities management, fitout and relocations, maintenance of information technology and property infrastructure, storage, mail and store room administration, energy and environmental management and managing major projects including the fitout of 4 National Circuit, Barton.

Other services provided include departmental security measures adopted by the department, facilitating compliance with whole-of-government protective security policy and guidelines. The division establishes policy and procedures for the protective security of many departmental activities and initiatives, including the security of personnel, facilities, information, assets, threat and risk assessments, interaction with jurisdictions, and business continuity planning. It also provides training and awareness activities for staff and provides advice to staff. In undertaking these activities, the division helps the department to operate in a safe and secure environment.

The Strategy and Delivery Division provides a strategic focus on whole-of-department and longer-term policy development, maintains broad oversight and coordination of policy initiatives across the portfolio and helps build organisational capability in policy design and ideas innovation.

It coordinates priority work for ministers and Cabinet, manages departmental support for the Standing Council on Law and Justice, processes correspondence for the ministers and coordinates official ministerial overseas travel.

The division provides expert advice on constitutional law reform and policy.

It also provides strategic communication services and advice to the department and ministers, manages communication campaigns and day-to-day media, and coordinates whole-of-government crisis communication.

The Information Division supports the effective operation of the department through providing high quality information technology solutions and support across the agency. Key functions of the division include enterprise and business system support, solutions development, information technology security, policy development, records management and library services.

In 2011-12 the division commenced a project to significantly reform its structure and outputs. Continuing into 2012-13 this project will see the division deliver a more innovation-focused output designed to more effectively shape the information and communications technology (ICT) environment of the department.

The division also continues to provide significant support to partner agencies through technical and user support to key publicly available systems, such as the Personal Properties Securities Register.

Civil Justice and Legal Services Group

The International Law and Human Rights Division provides international law and human rights advice to the Australian Government. This includes legal and policy advice across Government on issues involving public international law, and international litigation involving public international law. The division also develops and implements international law projects within the Attorney-General's responsibilities and conducts treaty negotiations.

In relation to human rights, the division provides legal and policy advice to the Australian Government on domestic human rights matters, anti-discrimination legislation, and implementation of international human rights obligations. The division also oversees implementation of Australia's Human Rights Framework, including administering the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011. It also prepares responses to human rights communications and reports under international human rights treaties.

The division also has administrative responsibilities for the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The Civil Law Division is responsible for supporting the Attorney-General in their role as First Law Officer, including administering the Legal Services Directions 2005.

The division advises the Attorney-General on policy relating to Commonwealth legal services, copyright, classification, personal property securities, bankruptcy and insolvency, and microeconomic reform in the law and justice sector. This includes advice on a range of international legal services policy issues such as intellectual property and e-commerce.

The division is responsible for classification policy and operation, provides secretariat support to the Classification Board and the Classification Review Board, runs the Classification Liaison Scheme and provides classification training for industry and government.

The Office of Legislative Drafting and Publishing works closely with more than seventy departments and agencies to make legislation easier to find, understand and implement. The Office drafts regulations, proclamations and rules of court free of charge, as well other instruments on a fee for service basis, and maintains the Federal Register of Legislative Instruments. The Office also compiles and publishes Commonwealth legislation and related material, including some gazettes, particularly through the whole-of-government ComLaw website www.comlaw.gov.au.

The Access to Justice Division provides legal policy advice on administrative law, alternative dispute resolution, federal courts and tribunals, domestic and international family law, marriage law, intercountry adoption, evidence law, private international law, legislative instruments, and service and execution of process.

The division provides advice to government on reviews of administrative decision making and access to justice, and has policy responsibility for services that assist separating families resolve disputes in the best interests of the children. It also has national responsibility for Australia's intercountry adoption arrangements.

The division promotes international cooperation in civil legal procedure and family law matters and handles requests for judicial assistance in these matters, including parental child abduction and access, and private international law.

It is responsible for applying a transparent policy on appointments to federal courts and tribunals, and fulfilling statutory responsibilities under the Marriage Act 1961, including managing the federal marriage celebrants program. An officer of the division is the Registrar of Marriage Celebrants.

In addition, the division provides support to the Administrative Review Council, the National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council (NADRAC), and the Family Law Council.

The Social Inclusion Divisionis responsible for the delivery of programs that benefit and assist vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians in need, including Indigenous Australians.

The division also administers a number of statutory and non-statutory financial assistance schemes, and provides policy advice and responds to Indigenous law and justice issues and supports the realisation of safer communities through measures such as community night patrols.

It is also responsible for the provision of legal and policy advice in relation to native title issues and for assisting the Attorney-General in the administration of the Native Title Act 1993, and its legislative development.

The division provides policy and legal advice in relation to a number of Commonwealth funded legal assistance programs, which it administers. These are community legal centres, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services, Indigenous family violence prevention legal services and, through the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services, legal aid commissions in each state and territory.

National Security and Criminal Justice Group

The National Security Capability Development Division plays a key role in the Australian Government's development of emergency management and national security capability across all jurisdictions to provide a safer and more secure Australia. The division coordinates a wide range of emergency management and national security capability development activities and projects in conjunction with Australian, state and territory government agencies, local government and industry bodies.

The division works with national and international stakeholders to identify and address gaps in emergency management and national security capability by:

  • leading in emergency management innovation resulting in increased community resilience and emergency management capability in support of the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience
  • playing a pivotal role in the National Counter-Terrorism Committee's operational and policy programs and the development of counter-terrorism capability
  • developing and providing training, education and community awareness resources through the Australian Emergency Management Institute and the Protective Security Training Centre
  • enhancing Australia's critical infrastructure resilience through the Critical Infrastructure Program for Modelling and Analysis (CIPMA).

The National Security Resilience Policy Division plays a key role in delivering the Australian Government's national security and emergency management agenda.

It performs lead agency functions across the Australian Government to better prepare business and the community to deal with a range of threats and hazards.

The division's work strengthens relationships between business and government on a range of policy issues, including cyber security, critical infrastructure resilience, identity security risk management, protective security, and emergency management.

To ensure the delivery of quality outcomes, the division supports a range of coordination and consultation bodies, including the:

  • Business Government Advisory Group on National Security
  • Protective Security Policy Committee
  • Standing Council on Police and Emergency Management and the National Emergency Management Committee
  • Trusted Information Sharing Network (TISN) for Critical Infrastructure Resilience, the Critical Infrastructure Advisory Council, the National Critical Infrastructure Resilience Committee
  • National Identity Security Coordination Group.

The division also manages CERT Australia, Australia's national computer emergency response team, and the national Document Verification Service.

The International Crime Cooperation Division manages international cooperation in criminal matters and related policy issues and is Australia's central authority for extradition, mutual assistance and the international transfer of prisoners. The division undertakes casework, negotiates international treaties, and develops and implements domestic legislative and policy proposals on international crime cooperation. It also leads Australia's engagement with multilateral forums aimed at combating serious and organised crime and corruption. The division is also leading the development of Australia's first National Anti-Corruption Plan.

The division manages Australia's financial obligations to the International Criminal Court and collaborates more broadly with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to build and maintain Australia's relationship with the Court.

The division also works with partner countries in Asia-Pacific and Africa to strengthen laws and processes on transnational crime, people smuggling, people trafficking, terrorism and anti-money laundering; domestic crime and policing (in the Pacific); and international crime cooperation, ie extradition and mutual assistance.

Emergency Management Australia is responsible for national level disaster preparation, coordinating Australian Government multi-hazard and multi-agency crisis response efforts, coordinating financial support to states, territories and individuals impacted by disasters; and coordinating protective security services for Australian high office holders, visiting dignitaries, and Australians attending designated special events. The division undertakes its responsibilities by:

  • managing the Australian Government's Crisis Coordination Centre as the primary source of information and situational awareness, and coordinating responses to crises under the Australian Government Crisis Management Framework
  • managing the National Security Hotline as the primary point of contact to report suspected terrorist or associated criminal activity
  • coordinating Australian support to overseas disasters and supporting the Australian Government's efforts to improve regional disaster response, in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, AusAID and jurisdictional partners
  • coordinating and facilitating whole-of-government security risk assessments and advice for all agencies involved in delivering protective security services for domestic and international dignitaries
  • providing strategic security risk assessments and advice for special events including overseas ANZAC commemorations, Community Cabinet meetings, sporting events and the G20 meeting
  • maintaining Continuity of Government plans and administering measures to protect national security information in relevant court cases
  • managing the provision of financial assistance to individuals, and to states and territories for recovery activities, following natural disasters
  • administering the program of Commonwealth Recovery Assistance and undertaking recovery policy development.

In all these activities, Emergency Management Australia maintains very close relationships with a wide range of stakeholders across the Australian Government, the states and territories and internationally.

The National Security Law and Policy Division provides national leadership and coordination on diverse national security legal and policy issues. This role includes:

  • ensuring there is a national security legislative framework which contains appropriate safeguards to protect the community from security threats, including terrorism offences, and working with the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) to ensure the organisation is able to efficiently protect the Australian community
  • providing the department's central national security policy function (coordinating within the Portfolio and across the Australian Government to advise on traditional and non-traditional national security issues and support the department's senior executive and the Attorney-General)
  • developing and implementing policy in relation to a broad range of existing and emerging national security issues
  • limiting opportunities for the use of chemicals by terrorists through improvements in Australia's capability, monitoring and control mechanisms
  • reducing the risk of home-grown terrorism through programs that strengthen Australia's resilience to radicalisation and assist individuals to disengage from violent extremist influences and beliefs
  • administering Commonwealth legislation regarding the use of surveillance devices and access to communications by national security and law enforcement agencies
  • undertaking background checking services for the Aviation and Maritime Security Identification Card, and National Health Security Check regimes and providing the Government with policy advice on background checking and related matters.

The Criminal Justice Division provides policy and legal advice on criminal law and law enforcement issues including serious and organised crime, cyber crime and crime prevention. The division works closely with Commonwealth law enforcement agencies, including by coordinating implementation of the Organised Crime Strategic Framework. It is coordinating a national response to cyber crime, including through the National Cyber Crime Working Group established under the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General. The division provides advice on reform of criminal law and enforcement powers, including potential amendments to the Crimes Act 1914 and the Criminal Code Act 1995.

Ongoing responsibilities include administering crime prevention grants programs such as Secure Schools and Safer Suburbs, illicit drugs policy, fraud against the Commonwealth, firearms policy and administering firearms import permits and regulation, coordinating and managing people smuggling and people trafficking issues, managing federal prisoners, policy on law enforcement integrity, corruption and foreign bribery, and policy on Australia's anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing regime.


Our people

Getting the APS ready for human rights

improving human rights knowledge in the public sector

The International Human Rights and
Anti-Discrimination Branch and Human Rights Policy Branch have been working together to improve human rights knowledge in the public sector.

Australia's Human Rights Framework was released by the government in April 2010. It focuses on positive and practical change to promote and protect human rights. A key part of the Framework is the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011, which commenced on 4 January 2012.

'The Act introduced the requirement for all new legislation to be accompanied by a Statement of Compatibility with human rights', said James Pender, an acting Senior Legal Officer in the Legislative Scrutiny Unit. 'Agencies are responsible for assessing the compatibility of their own legislation. This ensures that public servants are considering Australia's human rights obligations when developing policy and legislation and will also facilitate the spread of human rights knowledge across the Australian Public Service.'

The Legislative Scrutiny Unit has delivered training on Statements of Compatibility to over 600 policy and legislation officers across the APS. 'This training provides information about the new requirement and the newly established Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, as well as demonstrating how officers should assess compatibility with human rights', said James.

In addition to this extensive training initiative, the Human Rights Framework team have also been working to broaden general human rights knowledge in the public sector.

'Between August and October 2011, general human rights awareness training was delivered to approximately 700 public servants from 35 departments and agencies,' said Jarrad Smith, a Legal Officer in the Human Rights Framework Section. 'This training was about the international human rights system, Australia's human rights obligations and the role of public servants in respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights.'

'We will soon launch a human rights eLearning module called 'Human rights are in our hands'. This module incorporates elements from the general human rights and Statements of Compatibility training, and shows public servants how to incorporate human rights principles in their work regardless of their subject area.

'We are really excited about the module,' Jarrad said. 'We are also developing a program of targeted training for public servants who work on areas where human rights raises particular issues. We hope to pilot this program in late 2012, and roll it out across the Commonwealth public sector in 2013.'

Greater understanding and consideration of human rights in our work will ultimately lead to better human rights outcomes for the people of Australia.

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