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Annual Report 2008-09 Output 1.2

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Support for the Attorney-General as First Law Officer, constitutional policy, personal insolvency and international legal services

Summary

Output 1.2 provides support for the Attorney-General as First Law Officer, advice on constitutional policy and advice on personal insolvency. The output also contributes to advancing Australian legal services and legal cooperation internationally.

The output contributes to this through:

  • maintaining and enhancing the framework for coordination of Commonwealth legal services arrangements
  • maintaining and enhancing the framework for personal insolvency administration, jointly with the Insolvency and Trustee Service Australia
  • providing constitutional and federal policy advice, and
  • providing legal and policy advice within agreed timeframes and to the satisfaction of ministers.

Major achievements

Whole-of-government approach to legal services

The Attorney-General’s Department promotes and reports on compliance with the Legal Services Directions 2005, which provides a framework for delivering legal services to the Australian Government and its agencies.

The Department assisted the Department of Defence implement the Government’s undertaking to engage an appropriately qualified person to review the remaining claims brought by ex-crew members of HMAS Melbourne. All claims have now been settled.

Review of the procurement of legal services by the Australian Government

The Department is providing secretariat support to Mr Tony Blunn AO and Ms Sibylle Krieger, whom the Attorney-General has appointed to conduct a review into the way the Commonwealth procures its legal services. The Attorney-General announced the review on 20 March 2009, with a report due to be provided to the Attorney-General by the end of October 2009. Work up to 30 June 2009 focused on fact finding, including meetings with stakeholders and calling for submissions from stakeholders. Consultations will continue into 2009–10, with the focus turning to analysis of input from stakeholders, and helping the reviewers compile the report for the Attorney-General.

Coordination of the Australian Government’s involvement in the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission

The Department is coordinating the Commonwealth’s involvement in the Royal Commission into the 2009 Victorian Bushfires, established by the Victorian Government on 16 February 2009. The Department is working closely with Australian Government departments and agencies to ensure the Commonwealth assists the Commission to the fullest extent possible. The Royal Commission will provide its interim report on 17 August 2009 and its final report in mid 2010.

International promotion of Australian legal services

The Department continues to work with the International Legal Services Advisory Council (ILSAC) to implement legal cooperation initiatives and advance the interests of the legal services and legal education and training services sectors internationally. Some of the more significant achievements this year included:

  • Developing and launching Australian Legal Services: Strategic Global Engagement, an export strategy to guide policy makers, peak bodies and the wider legal services sector in advancing Australia’s legal and related services interests internationally.
  • Releasing ILSAC’s second benchmark survey of legal services. The survey found that legal services exports and cross-border activity was $675 million in 2006–07 and that Australia’s largest market was North America ($192 million), followed by China and Hong Kong ($105 million), the United Kingdom ($82 million), and Europe excluding the United Kingdom ($66 million). Exports to Asia grew twice as fast compared to exports to the rest of the world since 2004–05.
  • Successfully implementing the third Australia–China Legal Profession Development Program with 10 Chinese legal practitioners undertaking training and work placements across Australia from February to June 2009. This capacity building program is highly regarded in China and by the Australian legal profession.
  • Organising a roundtable discussion between major Australian corporations and leading Australian law firms on the current international reach and capabilities of Australian law firms and the offshore legal services requirements of corporations.
  • Appointing Mr Tim Bugg as the new Chairman of ILSAC to take over from the Hon Sir Laurence Street AC KCMG QC at the conclusion of his 19-year term, on 30 June 2009, as founding Chair.

Personal insolvency policy and legislation

Responsibility for providing advice to the Attorney-General concerning personal insolvency policy and legislation was transferred from the Insolvency and Trustee Service Australia (ITSA) to the Attorney-General’s Department with effect from 1 February 2009. The Department continues to liaise closely with ITSA, which ensures that policy development and legislative reforms are appropriately informed by operational experience.

No amendments were made to the bankruptcy legislation during the year. However, the Department has continued to advance amendments announced by the Attorney-General in March 2008 relating to the effectiveness of offences provisions in the Bankruptcy Act 1966 and amendments announced by the Attorney-General in May 2008 to improve the regime for remuneration of registered trustees.

The Department has also continued to review the overall operation of the Act and the Attorney-General announced proposals to modernise personal insolvency arrangements by recognising that the majority of bankruptcies relate to consumer debts and involve people with relatively few assets and little income.

Constitutional litigation and policy development

The Department provided assistance and advice on constitutional policy and development, litigation and public law issues of federal significance. In particular, we continued to provide advice about harmonisation of federal legal arrangements in the areas of personal property securities, workplace relations, consumer credit, business names, and registration of health professionals. The Department helped develop amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 that will enable States to refer power to the Commonwealth to enact a national workplace relations scheme.

The Department remained pivotal in all questions of intervention by the Attorney-General in constitutional litigation. We prepared the Commonwealth’s case in a wide range of significant proceedings including, for example, in the High Court appeal in Pape v the Commonwealth, where the Court rejected a challenge to the Government stimulus payments to taxpayers. Other significant matters included Wurridjal v the Commonwealth, which overruled previous decisions about the effect of the Commonwealth’s constitutional power to acquire property on just terms, and the Lane v Morrison challenge to creation of the Australian Military Court.

The Department continued to provide technical advice on matters arising from the Clarke Inquiry into the case of Dr Mohamed Haneef.

Outlook

The Department will maintain and improve effective outreach activities to stimulate use of legal services within the parameters of the Legal Services Directions.

The report on the review of Commonwealth legal services procurement is due to be provided to the Attorney-General by the end of October 2009.

The Department will continue to coordinate the Australian Government’s involvement in the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, due to conclude in mid 2010.

We will continue to support the work of ILSAC in taking a coordinated public–private sector approach to advancing Australia’s legal and related services sector interests internationally. This will include direct engagement with public and private sector bodies in countries of priority interest to the legal and related services sector.

We will continue to review the operation of Australia’s personal insolvency system, particularly in light of the continuing high numbers of consumer bankruptcies.

Performance indicators

Table 5: Performance indicators, Output 1.2—Support for the Attorney-General as First Law Officer, constitutional policy, personal insolvency, and international legal services

Key performance indicators 2008–09 target Result

Maintain and enhance the framework for coordination of Commonwealth legal services arrangements

Conclude investigation of 30 alleged breaches of the Legal Services Directions

Achieved

54 investigations of alleged breaches were concluded; 35 of these were established to be breaches and 19 did not involve a breach; 16 remain undetermined. The overall number of breaches remains relatively constant and relatively low.

Conduct 20 outreach presentations

Achieved

Presentations to stakeholders remain a key feature of efforts to ensure compliance with the Legal Services Directions.

Publish six Legal Services Directions Guidance Notes

Achieved

Provide 12 email advices to agencies

Achieved

Arrange tabling of the Australian Government Solicitor’s annual report

Achieved

The report was tabled in October 2008, within relevant timeframes.

Maintain and enhance the framework for personal insolvency administration, jointly with the Insolvency and Trustee Service Australia

Arrange tabling of the Insolvency and Trustee Service Australia annual report

Achieved

Personal insolvency administration jointly maintained and enhanced with the Insolvency and Trustee Service Australia. The Insolvency and Trustee Service Australia’s annual report successfully tabled on 11 November 2008.

Advice provided within agreed timeframes and to the satisfaction of ministers and government departments and agencies

Ministers and key agencies express a high degree of satisfaction as to the quality, effectiveness and timeliness of advice as measured by periodic feedback

Achieved

Secretariat advances the objectives of the International Legal Services Advisory Council to the satisfaction of the council

100% compliance as measured by periodic feedback

Achieved

Chair and Members of ILSAC have indicated satisfaction with the work of the Secretariat in advancing the council’s objectives at half yearly full meetings of the council and in dealings with the secretariat and ILSAC’s stakeholders.

 

Administered items Results

Equine Influenza Inquiry

Achieved

Budget price: $0.134 million

Actual price: Nil

Clarke Inquiry into the case of Dr Mohamed Haneef

Achieved

Budget price: $2.187 million

Actual price: $2.045 million

 

Special appropriations Results

Law Officers Act 1964—former Solicitors-General

Achieved

Budget price: $0.450 million

Actual price: $0.450 million


Our people

A whole-of-government approach to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission

Jo Winter

Jo Winter, Office of Legal Services Coordination, Civil Law Division.

It’s been a great privilege to assist the work of the Royal Commission

Devastating bushfires swept through the Victorian countryside in early 2009, leaving 173 people dead, communities devastated and thousands of homes and businesses destroyed. Shortly after the fires, the Victorian Government established the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission to inquire into all aspect of the fires.

The Commonwealth is a party to the inquiry and the Office of Legal Services Coordination in the Civil Law Division is working closely with Australian Government departments and agencies to ensure the Commonwealth assists the Commission to the fullest extent possible.

‘The Victorian bushfires affected all Australians. It’s been a great privilege to assist the work of the Royal Commission’, said Jo Winter, a graduate legal officer who recently joined the team.

‘Having our area act as the single contact point makes it easier for agencies and departments to interact with the Commission and ensures that the Australian Government has good oversight of the whole process.’

‘The appearance of the Commonwealth as a single entity before the Commission means we need to understand many diverse issues and balance multiple interests,’ Jo explained.

‘I’ve enjoyed working on such a fast-paced and dynamic project with a variety of work. It’s been a fantastic opportunity in my graduate year to understand the intricacies of working effectively in government,’ Jo said.

‘For me the highlight so far has been our team’s coordination of the Commonwealth’s submissions to the Royal Commission’s interim report. In ten days we coordinated a whole-of-government response to the submissions made by Counsel Assisting the Commission. We were able to achieve this result thanks to the hard work of the team and the excellent support we received from across the Department and the Commonwealth.’

The Department’s involvement continues as the Royal Commission works towards publishing its final report in mid 2010.

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