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Secretary's overview

The year in review

The department has produced strong outcomes over the past 12 months, delivering policies and programs to serve and protect the people of Australia.

This has been achieved with the help of new members to the leadership team. In December 2016 we welcomed our new Australian Government Solicitor, Michael Kingston, and in April 2017 Nicole Rose PSM commenced as Deputy Secretary of the Criminal Justice Group. In addition, many of our achievements as detailed below have been delivered as a result of our innovation and resilience. The department actively steps up to drive the development of solutions to issues that span multiple portfolios, jurisdictions and systems.

This year has seen us deliver a strong national security program of work, the keystone of which has been reforms to counter-terrorism legislation. We developed the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2016, which passed the Parliament in November 2016, and the Criminal Code Amendment (High Risk Terrorist Offenders) Bill 2016, which passed the Parliament in December 2016.

Countering violent extremism remained a focus for the department as we delivered key initiatives of the Council of Australian Government's (COAG) Countering Violent Extremism Taskforce, in partnership with states and territories.

We worked closely with law enforcement and security agencies and the telecommunications industry to implement the data retention obligations under the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979 (Cth).

We also provided support and disaster assistance to communities in states and territories affected by storms and severe flooding, as well as in response to the devastating impact of Tropical Cyclone Debbie.

We have made significant advancements in the criminal justice sphere. Notably, we prepared legislation to prevent Australia becoming a safe haven for foreign proceeds of crime and ensuring criminals cannot evade justice by moving evidence across borders or fleeing jurisdictions.

We launched the Face Verification Service to detect and prevent the use of fraudulent identities, and finalised the National Firearms Agreement, culminating in the launch of the National Firearms Amnesty on 1 July 2017.

We led reforms to criminalise the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, and introduced Carly's law to better protect Australian children in the online environment. We also reformed the legal frameworks governing child sex offenders, making it an offence for them to travel overseas without permission from authorities.

Internationally, we have continued our strong tradition of engagement and cooperation, working with partner countries to strengthen regional and domestic frameworks to address criminal activity. This includes combating people smuggling, human trafficking, money laundering, violent extremism and terrorism.

We progressed key reforms to Commonwealth justice institutions to improve operations, resourcing and efficiencies. We continue to develop and implement ways to respond to family violence in the family law system, with new and ongoing programs that help families access early intervention assistance. Draft law reform measures to improve the intersection between the federal family law system and the state and territory child protection and family violence systems were released for public consultation. Publications to support users of the family law system were also released, such as the Model Parenting Orders Handbook and the Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book.

We delivered the government's legislative framework for a plebiscite on same-sex marriage reform, and supported the development of exposure draft amendments to the Marriage Act 1961(Cth) to enable same-sex marriage.

We continued to improve human rights protections and the native title system through our advice to government on the development of the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Act 2017 (Cth) and the Native Title Amendment (Indigenous Land Use Agreements) Act 2017 (Cth).

We introduced the Insolvency Practice Rules (Bankruptcy) 2016 as part of the Government's corporate and personal insolvency reform package to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens.

We also delivered a report on a review of Commonwealth legal services and made a range of recommendations for a more efficient and effective framework to support the First Law Officer.

As part of its central legal role in the Commonwealth, Australian Government Solicitor provided training and workshops on legal issues and delivered an extensive pro bono program for clients across Australia and internationally. Business results for Australian Government Solicitor were extremely positive with all key performance indicators met.

Australian Government Solicitor provided advice and acted in a number of high profile cases. We advised on establishing new arrangements for the provision of parliamentary entitlements and acted in Re Day, which considered the eligibility of Bob Day to be elected to the Senate at the July 2016 federal election. In Duval-Comrie v Commonwealth, we worked with the Departments of Social Security and Finance, as well as Comcover, to reach a settlement of a class action involving more than 9,000 class members in the Federal Court for damages for alleged unlawful disability discrimination. We also continued to be closely involved in the Western Sydney Airport project.

In August 2016, we concluded the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce. In nearly four years of operation, this work has provided outcomes for more than 1,700 people. In the same month we began the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, and in March 2017, we held the last public hearings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. I am consistently impressed by the agility and professionalism the department demonstrates in establishing and administering these types of arrangements.

Outlook for the year ahead

Implementation of the Prime Minister's recent announcement of reforms to Australia's national security arrangements promises a busy year ahead. Our professionalism and agility will be integral to the establishment of the Home Affairs portfolio and ensuring a smooth transition to the new arrangements.

Until such time as the Home Affairs portfolio is established, and beyond in respect of priority areas remaining in the Attorney-General's portfolio, we will continue to deliver key government priorities including:

  • implementing policy to protect the rights of older Australians
  • enhancing the family law system by establishing Parenting Management Hearings, improving how Family Courts identify and manage risk, and expanding specialist domestic violence units
  • implementing recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, including assisting in establishing the national redress scheme and a legal advice service for survivors of abuse
  • implementing review outcomes for Commonwealth legal services arrangements and continuing to provide legal services to the Commonwealth through Australian Government Solicitor
  • developing legislative and policy responses to espionage and foreign interference risks
  • improving personnel security through enhanced background checks, as well as implementing the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability
  • developing criminal law reforms that will strengthen the legal regime applying to child sex offenders, better address unexplained wealth and enhance the sharing of criminal intelligence
  • working with industry to establish Joint Cyber Security Centres and implement measures to address national security risks to critical infrastructure, and
  • developing legislative and policy responses to counter the threat of terrorism, both domestically and with international partners, including measures to counter violent extremism.

As always, this work would not be possible without the expertise, skill and dedication of our greatest asset, our staff. The department's strong culture and our high degree of staff engagement were reflected in our very positive results in the 2017 Australian Public Service Employee Census. While many of our staff are legally qualified and have expertise in developing legislation, our primary focus is on the development of policy and the implementation of program that directly touch the lives of all Australians.

Chris Moraitis signature

Chris Moraitis PSM