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 Chapter 1 - Secretary's review


Secretary's review

The role of the Attorney-General’s Department is to promote and preserve Australia’s system of law and justice and to provide advice on a range of national law and security policy issues, all of which help realise our mission of achieving a just and secure society.

The Department’s core role and activities underpin the priorities established by the government of the day. Our focus and direction for 2010–11 was aimed at achieving our mission through:

  • promoting an all-hazards approach to national security
  • promoting access to justice
  • tackling the causes and outcomes of organised crime
  • providing national leadership on emergency management, and
  • protecting and promoting human rights.

Progress towards these priorities can be seen through the achievements outlined below.


2010–11 was marked by one of Australia’s worst disaster seasons. The Department’s efficient and effective response to nationwide flooding and storms, such as Cyclone Yasi, included coordinating a whole-of-government approach to the response and recovery efforts. The Department also supported the Australian Government response to a number of international disasters including the Christchurch earthquake and the Japan earthquake and tsunami.

To build the nation’s resilience to disasters, the Department led development of the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience, which was adopted by the Council of Australian Governments during the year. The Strategy provides high-level guidance on building disaster resilience to a range of bodies, both government and non-government.

During the year, the Department led the Australian component of a large-scale cyber security exercise called Cyber Storm III sponsored by the United States Department of Homeland Security. This exercise provided a valuable opportunity to test our interim crisis management arrangements. The Department also led the counter-terrorism exercise Mercury 10.

The development of the multi-agency Commonwealth Organised Crime Response Plan to address three critical risks to the Australian community was a priority in 2010–11. We are also working with international partners to combat organised crime. In October, the Department led a meeting with officers from New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada to progress work under the Declaration to Cooperate in Combating Organised Crime.

The Department continued to implement recommendations from the Access to Justice Taskforce as part of an effort to improve access to justice for all Australians.

Work was also progressed on the Clearer Laws initiative, resulting in the development of a Quick reference guide to developing clearer laws and launch of a Clearer Laws website. These tools will make accessing and interpreting Commonwealth legislation easier for all Australians.

We continued to advance alternative dispute resolution through the Civil Dispute Resolution Act 2011, which encourages parties to take ‘genuine steps’ to resolve disputes before entering proceedings in the federal courts.

The Department coordinated Australia’s first Universal Periodic Review before the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2010–11. Australia received a range of recommendations from this review and has accepted a large number of these.

We continued to progress the Human Rights Framework and have begun preparing a national action plan on human rights.

Within the Department, we continued to progress reform through initiatives such as the Future Focus program, which looked at Engaged government. The Department began to address the Gov 2.0 report, Engage: getting on with government, by increasing the use of online tools and platforms for internal collaboration. Further, an electronic system was implemented to manage ministerial and parliamentary correspondence, which has led to a significant reduction in the number of overdue items.

Other initiatives progressed in 2010–11 included:

  • implementing the Document Verification Service
  • developing a nationally coordinated response to cybercrime through the National Cybercrime Working Group
  • establishing the Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce
  • improving the family law system’s response to family violence
  • preparing written submissions on Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v Japan)
  • redeveloping ComLaw to provide faster access to Commonwealth legislation
  • facilitating reform in the legal assistance sector through the National Partnership on Legal Assistance Services, and
  • implementing a more flexible approach to resolving the Government’s involvement in native title claims.

Our people

Organisational changes

Machinery of government changes

The Department was affected by broad machinery of government changes to better align related policy and projects across government. On 1 October 2010, Territories Division staff transferred to the Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government.

Responsibility for the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment was formally transferred to the Attorney-General’s Department from the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs on 14 October 2010. The new arrangements centralise Australian Government disaster recovery arrangements in our portfolio, and will improve coordination of our response to disasters.

Staff achievements

The achievements I have outlined above could not have been accomplished without the dedication and hard work of Department employees, working with stakeholders and ministerial staff. Through formal awards and informal mechanisms, employees are celebrated and acknowledged for their exceptional contributions and achievements. The Department continues to celebrate the achievements of staff through the annual Departmental Awards, including the Secretary’s and Deputy Secretaries’ Awards, and the Australia Day Awards. Ten deserving staff members were presented with Australia Day Awards in 2010–11. Employees undertaking further study were also acknowledged for exceptional results through academic awards.

Staff survey

In 2010–11, a staff survey was conducted to seek feedback on the Department. The survey achieved an 85 per cent response rate and results showed that as an organisation we are improving. This is greatly encouraging.

The Department will continue implementing measures to ensure that we provide staff with challenging and rewarding work, as well as a supportive workplace.

Learning and development

Providing opportunities for further learning and professional growth is an important priority.
We have continued to provide staff with the opportunities and flexibility to undertake further study, and a number have undertaken study at the new National Security College – a partnership between the Australian Government and Australian National University.

Through the Department’s Talking Heads program, staff have had the opportunity to listen to, and engage with, experts from a range of disciplines, from both within and outside the Public Service. In 2010–11 the Department heard from a range of speakers on domestic and international policy issues, including the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, General Peter Cosgrove AC MC Ret’d and Professor Marcia Langton AO. Talking Heads is held monthly and coordinated by a group of volunteers from our graduate group. This provides our new graduates with a great opportunity to be involved with organising the event, from securing speakers to logistical arrangements, and to engage with a range of professionals from around the country.

Staff generosity

The generosity of staff, particularly in response to national and international events, always impresses me. The Department’s Social Club, graduate group and groups at branch and divisional levels have all hosted events to raise money for local and international charities and to raise awareness of important issues. In 2010–11, these included:

  • the Social Club coordinating participation in Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea
  • a graduate bake sale for the Japan and Pacific Disaster Appeal
  • a Christmas giving tree organised by the Social Club
  • the Women’s Network White Ribbon Day Breakfast, and
  • a Social Club trivia night raffle, which raised over $1000 for Red Cross emergency relief.

Outlook for 2011–12

2011–12 will be another important year for the Department as we continue to implement key reforms and provide clear, accurate and frank advice to the Government on priority issues.

The Department will continue to promote initiatives which contribute to access to justice for all Australians. Key measures under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services to be progressed include forums to improve coordination and targeting of services. Work will continue on consolidating Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws, as will work on the new national action plan on human rights. This will include a baseline study on human rights issues in Australia.

We will continue to implement the Government’s policy of a more flexible approach to resolving native title claims. New funding arrangements for the Indigenous Legal Assistance and Policy Reform Program come into effect on 1 July 2011 and will provide legal services providers with more flexibility to define service delivery plans, goals and measures so as to enhance the overall quality of the services.

The Department will continue to work on issues across the national security agenda. This includes continuing to implement the Cyber Security Strategy and the Critical Infrastructure Resilience Strategy, delivering a national approach to countering violent extremism, developing a new National Identity Security Strategy, and activating the Crisis Coordination Centre.

In 2011–12 the Department will lead Australia’s negotiations on international crime cooperation treaties and related instruments. Work will continue with Pacific, South and South-East Asian, and African states to review and develop laws to combat transnational crime. The Department will continue work to combat organised crime, fraud and corruption, cybercrime, and people smuggling.

In undertaking these tasks we will continue to work with our portfolio agency colleagues and
strengthen our capacity to provide strategic policy. Through our collaborative and consistent efforts in our priority areas, we continue to realise our mission of achieving a just and secure society for the benefit of all Australians.