You are here: Skip breadcrumbAttorney-General's Department >> Publications >> Annual reports >> Annual report 2010-11 >> Chapter 4 - About the Department

 Chapter 4 - About the Department


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 his 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, and
  • 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 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 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.

The Department’s organisational structure at 30 June 2011 is shown in Figure 3.

Our functions

The functions of the divisions and offices in each of the three groups at 30 June 2011 are outlined below.

Strategic Policy and Coordination Group

The Priorities and Coordination 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 Committee of Attorneys-General, provides freedom of information services to the Department, 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 Finance and Property Division provides financial management services to the Department. It delivers financial management advice and reporting to the Department’s executive, including resource planning and allocation to meet strategic priorities and directions. The Division also provides portfolio budget and financial advice to the Department’s executive and portfolio agencies, and manages the strategic portfolio budget processes and documentation.

Figure 3: Organisational structure, at 30 June 2011

Figure 3: Organisational structure, at 30 June 2011


The Division supplies external financial reporting to meet the Department’s obligations. It prepares annual audited financial statements and manages the Department’s financial management information systems to provide effective and efficient financial and asset management systems and processes.

Advice, training and support are also provided to build financial management skills across the Department and to ensure compliance with financial, procurement, asset and grants management policies without compromising efficient and effective delivery of services. It also maintains the Department’s Chief Executive Instructions and delegations.

The Division coordinates international travel services for departmental officers, processes accounts and manages cash, and manages all of the Department’s owned and leased premises, including lease negotiations, property management, and liaising with owners and agents.

The People Information and Technology Division supports the Department’s strategic goals and operational activities by providing information and communications technology, as well as human resources services, essential to everyday operations. The Division drives business process improvement by designing and implementing smarter systems and promoting the use of innovative technology.

As well as providing whole-of-Department business and strategic planning support, the Division maintains the project management framework and provides a range of risk management services to departmental business areas.

Other services provided include facilities management, departmental security, library services, records management, internal audit, fraud control and business continuity management.

The Division provides leadership in human resources and information and communications technology across the Attorney-General’s portfolio. It also provides resources and infrastructure development services to whole-of-government secure information technology networks in line with the National Security Information Environment Roadmap.

Civil Justice and Legal Services Group

The Access to Justice Division is responsible for 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.

It is responsible for developing policy to ensure the family law system operates in the best interest of children and helps separating or separated families to resolve disputes and reach agreement outside the courts. It also provides advice to government on reviews of administrative decision-making and access to justice.

The Division promotes international cooperation in civil legal procedure and family law matters by providing information and assistance for individuals about child abduction and maintenance, and the application of 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.

In addition, the Division manages and coordinates Australia’s intercountry adoption arrangements and supports the Administrative Review Council, the National Alternative Dispute Resolution Advisory Council and the Family Law Council.

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

The Division prepares policy on Commonwealth legal services, copyright, classification, personal property securities, and promotes the use of Australian legal services internationally. It provides secretariat assistance to the International Legal Services Advisory Council and advice to the Attorney-General on international legal services policy matters, and supports the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in international negotiations on 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.

It also coordinates the Commonwealth’s involvement in the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry, which was established in early 2011, and has organised hosting arrangements for the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting, which is to be held in Sydney in July 2011.

The Division is responsible for copyright policy – including the Commonwealth Copyright Administration, which licenses Crown copyright in published materials on behalf of Australian Government agencies – and leads the whole-of-government approach to agencies’ intellectual property management.

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. 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 Office of Legislative Drafting and Publishing works closely with more than 70 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 <http://www.comlaw.gov.au>.

The Social Inclusion Division is responsible for policy, legislation, advice and programs that deal with legal assistance, native title and Indigenous law and justice. The Division leads the Department’s contribution to the Government’s social inclusion and closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage agendas.

Its policies and programs contribute to achieving these agendas by ensuring native title can deliver practical benefits and economic development outcomes for Indigenous Australians, and promoting Indigenous family and community safety through prevention of violence and support for Indigenous Australians experiencing adverse contact with the justice system.

The Division also ensures appropriate services are available and accessible to help vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians resolve legal problems and disputes.

National Security and Criminal Justice Group

The Emergency Management Australia Division is responsible for national level emergency and disaster preparation, coordinating Australian Government crisis response and recovery efforts, and coordinating protective security services for Australian high office holders, visiting foreign dignitaries, and Australians attending major events in Australia and overseas. The Division undertakes its responsibilities by:

  • managing and maintaining the Australian Government’s Crisis Coordination Centre as a central resource
  • delivering facilities for coordinating whole-of-government crisis management
  • facilitating an all-hazards approach to national security that allows the Australian Government to make robust, informed decisions in national security emergencies
  • maintaining plans and arrangements for the continuity of executive government
  • providing expert security advice, risk assessments and coordination of Australian Government, State and Territory agencies delivering protective security services for domestic and international dignitaries and special events
  • administering measures to protect national security information in court cases where the National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Proceedings) Act 2004 is invoked
  • participating in multi-agency, multijurisdictional exercises to test and enhance consequence management arrangements
  • providing financial assistance to States and Territories for recovery activities following natural disasters, and
  • assisting the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and AusAID in progressing Australian international emergency management cooperation agreements.

The Division also coordinates physical Australian Government assistance to States and Territories under the Australian Government Disaster Response Plan (COMDISPLAN), including the deployment of Australian Government liaison officers to affected jurisdictions. It also supports the Australian Government’s response to international crises by coordinating domestic resources to support the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and AusAID.

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, administering firearms import permits and regulation, coordinating and managing people smuggling and people trafficking issues, managing federal prisoners, policy on corruption and foreign bribery, and policy on Australia’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing regime.

The International Crime Cooperation Division manages international cooperation in criminal matters and related policy issues. The Division is Australia’s central authority for extradition, mutual assistance in criminal matters, and the international transfer of prisoners. It undertakes casework, negotiates international treaties, and develops and implements domestic legislative and policy proposals on international crime cooperation. The Division also leads Australia’s engagement with multilateral forums aimed at combating transnational crime and corruption.

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.

It offers capacity-building assistance to partner countries in our region and Africa to strengthen legal frameworks and processes to combat terrorism and transnational organised crimes, including people smuggling, people trafficking, corruption and money laundering, and to strengthen legal frameworks and processes for domestic crime and policing in the Pacific.

The Department’s National Security Capability Development Division coordinates a wide range of counter-terrorism and emergency management capability activities and projects in conjunction with federal, State and Territory government agencies, and local government and industry bodies.

The Division collaborates with national and international stakeholders to identify and address gaps in counter-terrorism and emergency management capability. It achieves this by:

  • supporting the National Counter-Terrorism Committee’s operational and policy programs
  • coordinating a wide range of national security communication capability development initiatives
  • driving emergency management innovation to increase community resilience and emergency management capability, and
  • providing a range of training and education opportunities through the Australian Emergency Management Institute and the Protective Security Training Centre.

The Division is also responsible for the Critical Infrastructure Program for Modelling and Analysis (CIPMA).

The National Security Law and Policy Division provides national leadership and coordination on a broad range of national security legal and policy issues. This includes:

  • policies and projects that contribute to public confidence in the national security framework and the chemical security management framework
  • ensuring there is a national security legislative framework which contains appropriate safeguards to protect the community from security threats, including counter-terrorism offences, and working with ASIO to ensure the organisation is able to efficiently protect the Australian community
  • administering Commonwealth legislation regarding interception, surveillance, accessing telecommunications data and stored communications such as emails or SMS messages
  • helping develop legislation that supports law enforcement and national security agencies in their investigation of serious offences, and ensuring the development of an all-hazards approach to national security issues
  • coordinating national security background checking for the Aviation and Maritime Security Identification Card schemes, as well as the National Health Security scheme, and
  • focusing on 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.

The Division coordinates and delivers a national approach to countering violent extremism by liaising with social policy, law enforcement and intelligence agencies within the Australian Government and the States and Territories, and working closely with community organisations.

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

It performs lead agency functions across the Australian Government to better prepare 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:

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

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

Our people

Focusing on engaged government

Produce better public policy outcomes

The Future Focus program embarked on its fourth project, Engaged Government, around the same time the Declaration of Open Government was announced in July 2010.

Anna Sherburn, former Principal Advisor in the Strategic Policy and Advice Unit, says the program looks at how the Department can change the way work is approached so that the ideas and experiences of the Australian public can be used effectively. ‘This will help us better meet the needs of Australians and produce better public policy outcomes,’ she says.

Consultation with the Department was fundamental to the project. ‘Our goal was to make sure every single officer had an opportunity to shape the outcome of the Future Focus: Engaged Government report,’ Anna says.

‘Although Future Focus primarily engages staff from across the Department, it made sense to develop our thinking with colleagues across government and beyond. The Department was lucky to have experts like Professor John McMillan, the incumbent Information Commissioner, and Nicholas Gruen, as well as academics Professor Julian Thomas from RMIT and Professor Evert Lindquist from Canada, who volunteered their time to explore ideas with us. This was a great opportunity to think about the relationship between the Government and the public from a different perspective,’ she says.

Future Focus is about fostering a better Departmental understanding of how to analyse the big picture, which helps us to create sound strategies to deal with change. The initiative reminds officers to think about long-term strategic changes that might affect their work into the future.’

One of the project’s outcomes was the development of a Departmental toolkit called Effective Engagement: A Guide to Using Community Engagement to Develop Better Policies and Programs.

‘Departmental staff are very enthusiastic about finding innovative ways to improve our business,’ Anna says. ‘It is enormously encouraging – and very infectious.’

1 Minister O’Connor was Minister for Home Affairs from 1 July 2010 to 13 September 2010, and Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Justice from 14 September 2010 to 30 June 2011.