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Chapter 15 - Social equity impacts

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Social equity

Social justice

In pursuing its mission of achieving a just and secure society, the Department is working on an extensive social justice agenda. This is founded on the principles of access and equity and the rights of all citizens to live in a just and secure society.

It accords with the Charter of public service in a culturally diverse society.

A key responsibility of the Department is developing and maintaining a federal system of justice that serves individuals, families, business and the community. The Department is undertaking numerous initiatives to progress particular social justice objectives, which are documented in the performance reports section of this report. Many of the programs and activities undertaken by the Department promote social justice.

Social inclusion agenda

The whole-of-government social inclusion agenda aims to give every Australian the help they need to access the support and opportunities our society has to offer. The Department is responsible for advancing this agenda from a law and justice perspective. Law and justice issues can be both a cause and symptom of social exclusion and disadvantage. The work of many areas in the Department, and portfolio agencies, is aimed at minimising harmful contact with the legal system and maximising its potential to protect people and impact positively on their lives.

The legal assistance sector makes a vital on-the-ground contribution to addressing disadvantage, improving social inclusion and increasing access to justice. Legal assistance can help vulnerable Australians to resolve their problems as quickly as possible to avoid escalation and entrenched disadvantage, or to escape domestic violence and other issues.

The Department provides legal assistance funding through legal aid commissions, community legal centres, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services, Indigenous Family Violence Prevention Legal Services and Commonwealth legal financial assistance schemes.

The national partnership agreement on legal assistance services includes a focus on more appropriate targeting of legal assistance to people who are, or are at risk of, being socially excluded.

Legal assistance providers regularly engage with many of the groups identified by the Government as a priority under the social inclusion agenda, including jobless families, disadvantaged youth, homeless people and those at risk of homelessness, and Indigenous Australians.

The Department’s program and policy responsibility for Indigenous community safety and law and justice matters also contributes to the social inclusion agenda. The Department funds the Indigenous Justice Program which aims to prevent adverse contact by Indigenous Australians with the criminal justice system, along with the socially excluding potential of such interactions and associated negative trajectories of behaviour. In conjunction with the Department’s policy work, these programs seek to increase community safety, and subsequently social inclusion, within Indigenous communities.

From July to December 2010, the Australian Government-funded community night patrol service transported approximately 50,343 people to a safe place including referral to other services.

The Indigenous Justice Program assisted more than 20,000 Indigenous Australians during the past year through services such as prisoner through care, youth prevention and diversion, community patrols and restorative justice.

The Department and the Australian Human Rights Commission are working on a number of initiatives under Australia’s Human Rights Framework aimed at further protecting and promoting human rights. The Framework acts on the key recommendations of the National Human Rights Consultation Committee and complements a number of actions the Government is already taking to encourage greater inclusion and participation in our community. The National Action Plan for Human Rights will also be a key mechanism for improving both the protection and promotion of human rights. See Chapter 7 for more information on the Department’s work in this area.

Under the Australia’s Human Rights Framework, small grants are provided to a wide range of community organisations to deliver practical, grassroots human rights education projects for the community and vulnerable groups. The 2010–11 round of grants awarded $250,000 to 15 non-government organisations to deliver innovative human rights education programs across Australia.

Access to justice

Access to justice is an essential precondition to social inclusion and a critical element of a well functioning democracy. The Government’s Strategic Framework for Access to Justice in the Federal Civil Justice System is about ensuring all Australians have equal access to justice and legal services. To further this agenda, policy making has been directed at activities which make our justice system fair, simple, affordable and accessible.

Key access to justice initiatives that the Department progressed during the year included:

  • commencing the Civil Dispute Resolution Act 2011, which introduces a number of measures to promote the timely, inexpensive and efficient resolution of disputes in the federal civil justice system
  • releasing the National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council’s reports to the Attorney-General on strengthening a culture of dispute management in Commonwealth agencies, enhancing the integrity of alternative dispute resolution processes in Australia and raising awareness of alternative dispute resolution methods across the Australian community
  • enhancing access to the family law system through coordinated family dispute resolution and legally assisted dispute resolution
  • launching a package of initiatives to improve clarity and reduce complexity of Commonwealth laws
  • launching the Administrative Law Policy Guide, which has been developed for Government agencies that are developing, or amending administrative decision making regimes
  • implementing the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services to help Australians resolve legal problems and disputes before they escalate and lead to entrenched disadvantage
  • establishing forums by each State and Territory to consider opportunities for better coordination and targeting of legal assistance services
  • establishing the National Legal Assistance Advisory Body to advise the Government on the best way to deliver legal services to disadvantaged Australians and to help keep the justice system relevant to the community it serves
  • providing an additional $4.0 million over four years to improve access to legal assistance services for people living in regional Australia through the National Broadband Network, and
  • releasing a much faster and smarter ComLaw website in January 2011.

ComLaw continued to provide to the public complete and accurate information on major legislation, free of charge, and was accessed by up to 40,000 people a day in 2010–11. It also links to the access to justice website where they can search for information such as legal services providers.

Civil Dispute Resolution Act 2011

The Civil Dispute Resolution Act 2011 is one of a number of measures that have been introduced to promote the timely, inexpensive and efficient resolution of disputes in the federal civil justice system. The Act reflects the view that not all matters require the determination of a court and that the public resources of the courts should be directed to those matters that most need their attention. When commencing proceedings in a court, parties are required to file a ‘genuine steps’ statement saying what steps they have taken before filing in court, or if no steps have been taken, the reasons why. The Act is deliberately flexible in allowing parties to tailor the genuine steps they take to the circumstances of the dispute.

Release of National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council Reports

The National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council released three major reports during the year aimed at:

  • strengthening a culture of dispute management in Commonwealth agencies (Managing disputes in federal government agencies: essential elements of a dispute management plan, September 2010)
  • enhancing the integrity of alternative dispute resolution processes in Australia (Maintaining and enhancing the integrity of ADR processes: from principles to practice through people, February 2011), and
  • raising awareness of alternative dispute resolution methods across the Australian community, supporting best practice and encouraging consistent use of alternative dispute resolution terms (National principles for resolving disputes and the dispute resolution guide, April 2011).

Clearer Commonwealth laws

Laws that are clear and easy to understand are an essential part of an accessible justice system. The Department, in conjunction with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, has introduced a number of initiatives to improve clarity and reduce complexity of Commonwealth laws. This includes the publication of a Quick reference guide to developing clearer laws, roll-out of a scheme to enable instructors and drafters to work together to reduce complexity in draft legislation, and launch of the Clearer Laws website. The Statute Law Revision Act 2011 and Acts Interpretation Amendment Bill 2011 also improve the readability and usability of Commonwealth laws. These initiatives will ensure that laws can be better understood, complied with and administered.

Administrative Law Policy Guide

The development of this Guide responds to agency feedback from the Commonwealth Administrative Justice Forums held by the Department in June and December 2010. The Guide summarises the key features an administrative decision making framework should include and cites useful Administrative Review Council documents. The Guide should have a flow-on effect to primary decision making, as enhanced decision making frameworks should lead to better primary decisions.

Legal assistance programs

The Department administers five legal assistance programs to provide disadvantaged Australians with access to the full range of legal services: information, advice, advocacy and minor assistance, family dispute resolution, duty lawyer services in the courts, and legal representation, as well as community legal education and referral. These legal assistance programs are:

  • The Legal Aid Program, which funds legal aid commissions in each State and Territory. The commissions provide comprehensive legal aid services to help resolve problems and disputes on matters arising under Commonwealth laws and in accordance with the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services.
  • Financial assistance schemes, which provide funds to individuals and organisations for legal costs and related expenses where legal aid is not available from legal aid commissions or any other source. Funds are available for legal matters that give rise to a special Commonwealth interest. Grants of financial assistance are provided in a broad range of matters across all States and Territories and in relation to overseas legal costs in special circumstances, including to Australians facing serious charges overseas and to parents resident in Australia seeking the return of abducted children to Australia.
  • The Indigenous Legal Assistance and Policy Reform Program, which funds Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services to provide high quality, culturally sensitive legal assistance services including duty lawyer, advice, case work and representation in criminal, civil and family law matters.
  • The Commonwealth Community Legal Services Program, a dedicated program within the Department which supports and funds community legal services as part of the Commonwealth’s contribution to the maintenance of effective systems of justice and legal assistance. The program funds generalist as well as specialist community legal services. Specialist sub-programs include services for women (including Indigenous and rural) and youth, as well as child support, disability discrimination matters, welfare rights and environmental issues.
  • The Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Program, which funds culturally sensitive family violence prevention legal services for Indigenous Australians in rural and remote Australia who are victims and survivors of family violence or sexual assault. The program also funds early intervention projects to prevent family violence and sexual assault.

Family law

The Department is making significant progress in implementing a family law system which contributes to a safer society. The Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011, which aims to combat family violence and child abuse, was introduced into the House of Representatives on 24 March 2011 and passed by the House on 30 May 2011. If enacted, the Bill will change the definitions of ‘family violence’ and ‘abuse’ to better capture harmful behaviour, prioritise the safety of children, remove disincentives to disclosing family violence, strengthen adviser obligations, and make it easier for State and Territory child welfare authorities to participate in family law proceedings where children are at real risk. The Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is conducting an inquiry into the Bill and is expected to report later in 2011.

The Department has also developed a number of non-legislative responses to family violence in the family law system to assist vulnerable families, especially children. The AVERT training package, launched by the Attorney-General in March 2011, is a multi-disciplinary tool for professionals in the family law system to help them better understand family violence and its impacts and identify ways to improve information sharing to better protect families in the system.

The Attorney-General also launched the Coordinated Family Dispute Resolution Pilot—a distinct new model of family dispute resolution in family violence cases that builds on and enhances family dispute resolution practice. It involves a wide range of professionals, such as legal and support services for victims and perpetrators, in a collaborative, case managed process. The aim of the pilot was to test whether the model is workable in practice and provides families where there is violence with a safe option of dispute resolution outside the courts. The Department has also commissioned development of a common risk identification framework for family violence across the broader family law system. The main purpose of screening is to identify clients who are at risk of harm, including the currency and extent of the risk. These measures highlight the Department’s continuing work to ensure vulnerable members of our society, especially children, can access and are protected by the family law system.

Rights for people with disability

The Department has continued work to enhance the rights of people with disability through projects that will have a significant positive impact on their rights to access essential community services and infrastructure. These projects include:

  • the Disability (Access to Premises—Buildings) Standards, which commenced on 1 May 2011. These provide minimum national standards for accessibility requirements to ensure dignified access to, and use of, buildings for people with disability. The standards play an important role in enabling people with disability to access employment, services and the community on an equal basis with other Australians. They also deliver greater regulatory certainty for those providing for non-discriminatory access
  • the release of the first five year statutory review of the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport 2002, and the Government’s response. Allen Consulting Group was commissioned to conduct the review, which found that the standards have significantly changed the way Government and public transport operators and providers deliver access to public transport for people with disability, and
  • ongoing work under the auspices of the National Forum on Emergency Warnings to the Community to develop guidelines that address the communication needs of people with disability during emergencies. The Department will work with the disability sector and emergency managers to finalise these guidelines by 2012.

Indigenous specific programs and services

Indigenous Legal Assistance and Policy Reform Program

The Indigenous Legal Assistance and Policy Reform Program funds Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services to provide high quality, culturally sensitive legal assistance services including duty lawyers, advice, case work and representation in criminal, civil and family law matters. The majority (88 per cent) of service outlets are located in regional, rural and remote locations. Outreach service models are employed to ensure legal assistance services are available at court circuits and bush courts. The Program assists young Indigenous Australians, with almost half of its clients (approximately 40 per cent) aged 25 and under.

Funding is also provided to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services to undertake law reform and advocacy activities that identify and aim to lessen the adverse or disproportionate impact of laws, policies and practices that have the effect of discriminating against Indigenous Australians. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services also deliver a range of community legal education activities, such as information sessions, advice brochures and outreach visits to remote communities, to advance and protect the rights of Indigenous people under Australian law.

The Indigenous Law Centre within the University of New South Wales is funded to produce the Indigenous Law Bulletin and the Australian Indigenous Law Review. These publications are designed to advance the legal rights of Indigenous Australians through public policy and law reform, and community education.

Funding is available for Indigenous test cases that meet relevant eligibility criteria. The aim of test case funding is to benefit Indigenous Australians through the review and resolution of ambiguities in law, which may be discriminatory, and that have not previously been tested before a court.

The Australian Government also funds relevant national projects and conferences relating to Indigenous justice. The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services Forum is funded to conduct quarterly national meetings and undertake advocacy and law reform work.

Indigenous Justice Program

The Department provides funding through the Indigenous Justice Program to help respond to the urgent challenge of reducing the accelerating rate of Indigenous offending and incarceration. Funding is provided across four key areas: youth prevention and diversion, prisoner through care, restorative justice, and community patrols. In 2010–11, 49 projects, including nine Petrol Sniffing Strategy projects, were funded.

Youth prevention and diversion projects seek to reduce the number of at risk Indigenous youth having adverse contact with the criminal justice system. Prisoner through care projects seek to motivate and support the rehabilitation of juvenile Indigenous detainees and adult prisoners while incarcerated, and provide positive pathways on release to support successful reintegration in the community as law abiding citizens. Restorative justice projects provide early intervention cultural justice alternatives to the mainstream criminal justice system for Indigenous people. Community patrols are locally driven, culturally relevant early intervention services that help prevent crime and victimisation.

Petrol Sniffing Strategy

The Department continued its involvement in the Australian Government’s Petrol Sniffing Strategy to address the negative effects of substance misuse and petrol sniffing in Indigenous communities. This cross-agency approach includes demand reduction activities in the areas of education, justice, and community support and supply reduction activities, namely the rollout of low aromatic fuel. The Department’s role is to fund activities for youth under the Indigenous Justice Program. Projects are in designated regions of Central Australia (Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory), the East Kimberleys in Western Australia, and Mornington Island and Doomadgee in Queensland. Nine projects were funded in 2010–11.

Night patrol services in the Northern Territory

The Department funds night patrol services across 80 communities in the Northern Territory. The services focus on increasing both personal and community safety through intervention strategies that prevent community disorder and divert Indigenous people from contact with the criminal justice system.

Northern Territory Aboriginal Interpreter Service

In 2010–11, the Northern Territory Aboriginal Interpreter Service received total funding of $1.8 million, including $1.2 million under the ongoing appropriation and $0.6 million under the Closing the Gap initiative. Closing the Gap funding supports the Service to meet the increased demand associated with the Northern Territory Emergency Response and in particular matters relating to law and justice measures. It also contributes to training and professional development for interpreters.

Native title

The Department ensures that its approach to native title is consistent with, and contributes in meaningful and practical ways to, the Government’s broader social inclusion agenda and the National Indigenous Reform Agenda agreed by the Council of Australian Governments. Throughout 2010–11, the Department focused on achieving practical outcomes that contribute to Indigenous economic participation by helping to develop the Government’s Indigenous Economic Development Strategy and Action Plan and through the leadership and governance building blocks that underpin the Council of Australian Governments’ Closing the Gap reform agenda. Resolution of native title issues enhances spiritual well-being and cultural identity, provides recognition of people’s ongoing connection to land, and facilitates reconciliation with the wider community. Native title also provides the opportunity to create sustainable, long-term outcomes for Indigenous Australians, including economic development opportunities.

Other social justice issues

The Department is involved in the whole-of-government social inclusion agenda from a law and justice perspective. Among other work, it is responsible for access to justice with respect to Commonwealth law (including funding for legal assistance services), Indigenous law and justice, human rights and family law.

During the year the Department worked with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) to produce a report regarding consumer credit legal services. In late 2009 ASIC commissioned a research project to assess and report on the demand for credit-related legal services in the context of the then new National Credit Code. The Code came into force from 1 July 2010 as part of the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 and related legislation. The new credit laws replaced current State and Territory legislation and altered the legal rights of consumers, credit providers and others. The Code also established new administrative responsibilities for Commonwealth agencies, particularly ASIC, and new dispute resolution arrangements.

The Department hosted the Legal Assistance Data Collection Workshop on 23 March 2011. Representatives attended from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service, National Legal Aid, the National Association of Community Legal Centres, and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services . The workshop was an important first step in the process of developing a nationally consistent, sector-wide approach to data collection through consistent definitions for use across all legal assistance service providers.

In support of the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness, the Department funds a range of legal assistance services which target the precursors of homelessness and provide early intervention and prevention support for problems that trigger homelessness, including domestic and family violence, mental illness, tenancy, credit and debt problems, and family breakdown.

Community Legal Services Program funding includes $2.24 million over four years specifically to enhance access to legal assistance for people at risk of, or experiencing homelessness. One-off funding of $70,000 was also provided to the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre to enhance awareness about youth homelessness.

Disaster resilience in culturally diverse communities

The Department manages a national program to strengthen disaster resilience in culturally and linguistically diverse communities, with a focus on promoting engagement between the community and emergency services agencies to enhance collaboration and coordination.

Triple Zero website enhancements

The Triple Zero (000) emergency call service assists Australians in life threatening or emergency situations by linking them to police, fire or ambulance services. The Triple Zero website, <www.triplezero.gov.au>, provides information on when to call Triple Zero and provides additional national and jurisdictional information.

The Department and the Triple Zero Awareness Working Group (which brings together Government agencies, industry and the jurisdictions) have enhanced the Triple Zero information website to ensure it is an accessible information source on the appropriate use of the service for vulnerable groups, such as young people, older people, those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and people with a disability. The revamped Triple Zero site went live on 16 December 2010. Key enhancements include:

  • an updated website layout and design using accessibility software to help screen readers to identify and interpret Triple Zero information
  • additional information on how to use the 106 Text Emergency Relay Service for people with hearing and speech impairments
  • the new Triple Zero Kids Challenge safety computer game <http://kids.triplezero.gov.au> which is available in seven languages: English, Arabic, Vietnamese, Native Chinese, Thai, Hindi and Dinka
  • Triple Zero posters from the Australian Communications and Media Authority in 12 languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, Greek, Italian, Korean, Russian, Serbian, Somali, Spanish, Turkish and Vietnamese, and
  • radio advertisements which reinforce when to call Triple Zero. These are now on the website in nine languages: Arabic, Cantonese, Greek, Italian, Korean, Serbian, Mandarin, Spanish and Vietnamese.

The Department plans to further enhance the Triple Zero site with audio translations in more languages and closed captioning for people with hearing impairments.

 


Our people

Combating copyright piracy and counterfeiting worldwide

New standard of intellectual property enforcement

Copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting are serious problems. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) establishes a new standard of intellectual property enforcement to combat the high levels of commercial-scale trade in counterfeit and pirated goods worldwide.

The work done by the Department on the agreement will lead to better international protection from pirated and counterfeit goods for music, films, computer software, games, pharmaceuticals and leading brand names, as well as for creators and consumers.

Peter Treyde, Principal Legal Officer in the Copyright and Digital Economy Section, led the Australian delegation at the first two rounds of the ACTA negotiations. Peter also provided expert advice during the negotiations on the copyright related provisions of the Agreement, particularly those relating to civil remedies for infringement, criminal enforcement, protection in the digital environment, and border measures.

‘The goal of the negotiations was to establish a new standard of intellectual  property rights enforcement to combat global counterfeiting and piracy,’ Peter says. ‘Our work ensured that Australia’s law and policy in the copyright area was accommodated in the development of the Agreement.

‘The teamwork within the Branch and with the Office of International Law, as well as with other agencies and at the negotiations, has been a highlight. It was rewarding to work with experts to develop suitable text that accommodates the Government’s policy settings in the copyright area.

‘Meeting senior government officials from the various countries also provided a valuable network of contacts that assists with our domestic policy work,’ he says.

The ACTA was negotiated by 37 countries: Australia, Canada, the European Union (representing 27 European Union Member States), Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the United States.

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