Social inclusion

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A key responsibility of the department is developing and maintaining a federal system of justice that serves individuals, families, businesses and the community. Numerous programs to progress particular social justice objectives are being undertaken which are documented in the performance reports above.

Social justice

Our social justice agenda is founded on the principles of access and equity and the rights of all citizens to live in a just and secure society that accords with the Charter of Public Service in a Culturally Diverse Society.

Legal assistance programs

The department administers four legal assistance programs to provide access to legal services for disadvantaged Australians:

  • The Legal Aid Program funds legal aid commissions in each state and territory to provide legal assistance to the most disadvantaged.
  • The Community Legal Services Program supports and funds community legal services as part of the Australian Government's contribution to the maintenance of effective systems of access to justice and legal assistance. Specialist sub-programs include services to women (including Indigenous and rural) and youth, as well as child support, disability discrimination matters, welfare rights and environmental issues.
  • The Indigenous Legal Assistance and Policy Reform Program supports and funds Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services to provide high quality, culturally-sensitive legal assistance services, including duty lawyers, legal advice, case work and representation in criminal, civil and family law matters.
  • The Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Program provides culturally-appropriate legal services and assistance to Indigenous victims/survivors of family violence or sexual assault with the objective of preventing, reducing and responding to incidents of family violence and sexual assault.

The department administers financial assistance schemes under which it provides funds to individuals and organisations for legal costs and related expenses where legal aid is not available.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is an important mechanism which can deliver better outcomes, reducing the conflict and cost for parties and the community, and the burden on the civil courts.

In July 2012 the Attorney-General launched Your Guide to Dispute Resolution, a plain language guide for a diverse audience that gives detailed guidance for all government agencies on the effective use of ADR. The department published its own Dispute Management Plan as well. A priority of the department's legal assistance funding arrangements is the early resolution of legal problems through prevention, early intervention, and dispute resolution services. The department provides financial support to, and monitors the services of, community legal centres, legal aid commissions and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services which help clients resolve their disputes through dispute resolution services. The department accredits family dispute resolution practitioners to ensure national standards are met. At 30 June 2013, there were nearly 1700 accredited practitioners.

Indigenous specific programs and services

Indigenous Justice Program

Projects to improve Indigenous community safety and reduce Indigenous offending and re-offending have been funded by the department, including 40 projects in areas of prisoner throughcare, youth prevention and diversion and restorative justice and community patrols.

Petrol Sniffing Strategy

Our involvement has continued in the Australian Government's Petrol Sniffing Strategy to address the negative effects of substance misuse and petrol sniffing in Indigenous communities. This includes funding activities for youth in designated regions of Central Australia, the East Kimberley in Western Australia and Mornington Island and Doomadgee in Queensland.

Community night patrol services in the Northern Territory

The department provided funding for community night patrols across 80 communities in the Northern Territory. The purpose of the Community Night Patrols Program is to assist people at risk of either causing harm or becoming the victims of harm in order to break the cycle of violence and crime in Indigenous communities. Patrollers diffuse potentially violent incidents before serious consequences arise, assist vulnerable people by transporting them to a safe place where their immediate needs can be addressed, and refer them to other services for ongoing assistance where necessary.

Northern Territory Aboriginal Interpreter Service

The department provides funding to the Northern Territory Government for the provision of interpreter services to Indigenous Australians. Indigenous interpreters are particularly vital in legal matters and important to ensure access to justice for Indigenous peoples.

Native title

The Australian Government's vision for native title is for faster, better outcomes with a focus on economic development for Indigenous communities and ensuring sustainable intergenerational benefits for Indigenous communities through a determination of native title or benefits paid under a native title agreement. 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.

Indigenous communities

The department works across government and with Indigenous stakeholders on Indigenous justice initiatives to reduce crime, re-offending and victimisation in Indigenous communities.

In 2012-13 the department funded community night patrols across 80 communities in the Northern Territory and a number of prevention and diversion projects including prisoner throughcare projects aimed at reducing recidivism in recently released prisoners.

Our work through the Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Program helped to reduce community and family violence and improved access to justice for victims of family violence. Under the Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Program, 14 service providers are funded to provide culturally safe services to 31 identified high-need geographic areas. We assisted Indigenous Australians to exercise their legal rights by providing funds for Indigenous-specific culturally safe legal services.

Sixteen scholarships were awarded to students from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds to undertake recognised training in family dispute resolution during 2013. Successful completion of this training enables participants to apply for accreditation and will promote delivery of family dispute resolution services in local communities in a culturally-sensitive way.

Image of twp Indigenous people wearing uniforms sitting in a car as the night patrol service.
The night patrol service

Other social justice issues

In support of the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH), the department funds a range of legal assistance services. These 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.

Social and community services sector wage increases

Around 150,000 workers in the social and community services (SACS) sector will benefit from an increase to the minimum wage rates of workers, including some 120,000 women. The Australian Government has committed funding across all agencies to pay for its share of the increase, recognising the valuable contribution made by workers in this sector.

The department provided SACS funding to approximately 391 organisations in areas including working with Indigenous youth in remote communities, providing community legal services, counselling families in crisis and working with victims of family violence. SACS funding will continue to be provided to eligible employers over the eight remaining years of the phase-in period to 2020-21 enabling employers to fulfil their obligations and continue to focus on providing quality services to communities across the country.

Rights for people with disabilities

The department worked closely with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) taskforce to develop and implement an external merits review model for the DisabilityCare scheme. This involved contributing to the development of legislation, policy and funding arrangements and facilitating recruitment of new members for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to support this new jurisdiction.

Access to Justice

The Access to Justice website (www.accesstojustice.gov.au) has been redeveloped by the department to increase its accessibility and usefulness to all Australians. The website promotes realistic, cheaper, faster and less stressful alternatives to litigation, with outcomes determined by the parties involved. Australians involved in disputes will be able to access information regarding their legal options more easily which will assist them to make informed decisions. In addition, the department provides financial support to, and monitors the services of, community legal centres, legal aid commissions and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services which help clients resolve their disputes.

Family Law

Twelve of the 65 Family Relationship Centres are funded to employ Indigenous advisors who enhance service delivery to Indigenous clients. All organisations providing Family Support Program (FSP) family law services have been required, since December 2011, to have annual Indigenous action plans to improve access for Indigenous families. For face-to-face FSP family law services funded only by the Department, in 2008-09, 3% of registered clients were Indigenous. In 2012–13, for these same services, 4% of registered clients were Indigenous.

Changes to disability reporting in Annual Reports

Since 1994, Australian Government departments and agencies have reported on their performance as policy adviser, purchaser, employer, regulator and provider under the Australian Government Disability Strategy. In 2007-08, reporting on the employer role was transferred to the Australian Public Service Commission's State of the Service Report and the APS Statistical Bulletin. These reports are available at www.apsc.gov.au. From 2010-11, departments and agencies have no longer been required to report on these functions.

The Australian Government Disability Strategy has been superseded by a new National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 which sets out a ten year national policy framework to improve the lives of people with disability, promote participation and create a more inclusive society. A high-level biennial report will track progress against each of the six outcome areas of the Strategy and portray how people with disability are faring. The first of these reports will be available in 2014 and may be accessed at www.fahcsia.gov.au.

The Social Inclusion Measurement and Reporting Strategy was agreed by the Australian Government in December 2009. It includes some reporting on disability matters in its report Social Inclusion in Australia: How Australia is Faring report and, if appropriate, in strategic change indicators in agency Annual Reports. More detail on social inclusion matters can be found at www.socialinclusion.gov.au.

Defence Abuse Taskforce

The Defence Abuse Response Taskforce was established in late 2012 to provide Defence personnel who have complained of physical abuse, sexual abuse, harassment or bullying, with an avenue for resolution through counselling, reparation payments, participation in a restorative engagement process and other means, such as administrative sanctions or criminal action. The Taskforce is housed within the department and experts both from within the department and elsewhere have been brought together to devise and develop new programs and methodologies to assist current and former Defence personnel to obtain outcomes that suit individual needs and provide an acknowledgement of harm suffered.

A number of significant milestones have been achieved already, including:

  • agreement to a national protocol with most police agencies in relation to the process for handling complaints which may be referred to them by the Taskforce
  • the development of the Restorative Engagement Program with the support of the Chief of the Defence Force, Service Chiefs and the Secretary of the Department of Defence.

The Taskforce has over 2000 complaints to process. Some complaints contain multiple allegations of abuse, all of which have to be entered into the Case Management System, duly assessed and then, in consultation with complainants, processed through one or more of the available outcomes.

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