This section reports on:
- activities undertaken in response to the summer bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic
- the work undertaken this year to achieve the key activities outlined in our Corporate Plan 2019–23.
Not all of our key activities are directly linked to a performance measure. For those that are linked, we have clearly identified where to find the relevant performance results.
Activities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and summer bushfires
We undertook a wide range of activities to support the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and summer bushfires. This included establishing a taskforce to support the Attorney‑General and deploying a significant number of staff internally and externally to deal with COVID-19-related priorities. Details of these are outlined in the Management and accountability section of this annual report.
The government’s response to the COVID‑19 pandemic required legal and policy advice from the department so that any measures were well-considered and based in law.
We provided advice on a broad range of constitutional and legal issues associated with the government’s responses to the 2019–20 summer bushfires and the COVID‑19 pandemic. This included:
- establishing the Royal Commission into National Disaster Arrangements and providing constitutional support to the commission
- establishing the National Bushfires Recovery Agency
- use of the Australian Defence Force in responding to natural disasters and potential incidents of the pandemic
- use of protective measures under the Biosecurity Act 2015
- advice about various COVID-19 pandemic expenditure programs
- assistance with arrangements under which participating financial institutions lend to small-to-medium enterprises and the Australian Government's partial guarantee of such loans
- developing whole-of-government guidance on procurements and contract management, in conjunction with the Department of Finance.
We developed the privacy-by-design protections and safeguards for the COVIDSafe app to support health authorities’ contact tracing processes. This included developing a privacy impact assessment and the government’s response to the associated recommendations. We also developed interim privacy protections and safeguards under a Biosecurity Act 2015 determination that commenced on 25 April 2020. These interim protections were placed in primary legislation through amendments to the Privacy Act 1988, which came into effect on 15 May 2020.
It is now a criminal offence to collect, use or disclose COVIDSafe app data for a purpose that is not related to contact tracing. It is also a criminal offence to require a person to use the app, to store or transfer COVIDSafe app data to a country outside Australia and to decrypt app data. A maximum penalty of five years imprisonment or $63,000 applies to breaches. In addition, the Privacy Act 1988 amendments put in place a clear process outlining how the government will satisfy its obligation to delete all COVIDSafe data from the National COVIDSafe Data Store once the pandemic is over as well as clear oversight by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
Justice sector support
The department delivered additional funding for legal assistance providers to help with the response and recovery to the 2019–2020 summer bushfires. This was delivered via a Project Agreement. The funding provided $5.3 million for services to individuals and $3.5 million for services to small businesses and primary producers. The funding was prioritised for areas within New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia.
The department also delivered the COVID‑19 Justice Sector Preparedness package, which included additional funding of more than $63 million over two years for the legal assistance sector, to give access to legal support for people affected by the pandemic. Of this total funding, $49.8 million was for additional frontline legal services (such as legal advice or representation), with 40 per cent to be directed towards matters involving domestic violence. The remaining $13.5 million was provided to support the legal assistance sector to transition to delivering assistance virtually and online.
Additional funding for the 2019–20 summer bushfires recovery and the pandemic maintained the efficiency and effectiveness of the civil, family and criminal justice systems. For example, through the COVID-19 pandemic funding, ICT equipment was procured to provide legal services remotely, which has contributed to the ongoing efficiency of the justice system.
As part of the government’s economic response to the pandemic, we progressed temporary reforms to the bankruptcy system to help people facing financial distress by reducing the threat of being forced into bankruptcy during the pandemic.
The temporary changes increased the:
- level of debt required before a creditor can make someone bankrupt from $5,000 to $20,000
- timeframe for a debtor to respond to a Bankruptcy Notice from 21 days to six months
- temporary debt protection period from 21 days to six months.
We supported the Minister for Industrial Relations to promote the safe operation of workplaces during the pandemic. We worked with states and territories, employer groups and unions through Safe Work Australia to provide guidance to businesses and employees on working safely during the pandemic. This was underpinned by the National COVID‑19 safe workplace principles that were agreed by the National Cabinet on 24 April 2020.
As part of the response to the pandemic, temporary variations were made to a number of modern awards. Our work was critical in assisting the Attorney‑General and Minister for Industrial Relations to make submissions in four of these matters.
We worked with Treasury and other agencies on the practical operation of the JobKeeper scheme and other government initiatives in response to the pandemic. The temporary JobKeeper amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 commenced on 9 April 2020. Among other things, they enable qualifying employers to temporarily vary, or seek agreement to vary, the working arrangements of the employees for whom they are claiming the JobKeeper payment. The provisions are subject to a range of safeguards. We provided advice to the Minister for Industrial Relations on the operation and implementation of amendments to the Act made as part of the JobKeeper payment scheme.
Following the Prime Minister’s announcement of the JobMaker Plan on 26 May 2020, we assisted the government to urgently establish five working groups made up of unions and employer industry groups to progress high priority areas of reform covering:
- casuals and fixed term employees
- award simplification (covering awards in industries heavily affected by the pandemic)
- enterprise agreement making
- compliance and enforcement
- greenfields agreements for new enterprises.
The working groups began meeting in June 2020. We host the secretariat, with support from Treasury, Department of Finance, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources and Department of Education, Skills and Employment. We provide logistics and administrative support to the working groups and the Deputy Chair, Mr Tim Marney. We presented evidence, research and other resources to enable the working groups to examine the issues and have access to external expertise where appropriate.
COVID-19 Counter-Fraud Taskforce
In March 2020, the Commonwealth Fraud Prevention Centre, which we host, and the Australian Federal Police established a temporary COVID-19 Counter Fraud Taskforce under Operation Ashiba.
The taskforce includes entities across the Australian Government and aims to tackle fraud against COVID-19 economic stimulus measures by:
- providing advice and guidance to Australian Government departments and agencies to build in countermeasures in policy, program and system design to counter fraud risks for COVID-19 economic stimulus measures
- sharing information and intelligence across the Australian Government and internationally to enable detection and disruption of fraud
- supporting departments and agencies to build in robust post-payment compliance and recovery processes to maintain system integrity for urgent payments.
LEGAL - Support the Attorney-General as First Law Officer, including by providing high-quality legal services to the Commonwealth
As the First Law Officer and chief legal adviser to the Cabinet, the Attorney‑General has special responsibilities for legal issues affecting the Commonwealth. We support the Attorney‑General in this role by leading within government on legal policy and legal systems and providing expert legal services that meet the unique needs of the Commonwealth.
Support the Attorney-General as First Law Officer
Constitutional law, public law and international law advice
In 2019–20, we supported the Attorney‑General by providing legal advice and assistance to the government on issues of national importance. These include:
- significant religious discrimination issues and possible legislative amendments
- a review of tobacco control legislation
- a Council of Australian Governments' decision to ban the export of certain waste products
- a range of migration, citizenship and asylum seeker issues
- acting as the Solicitor Assisting for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability
- Australian Defence Force deployments overseas
- Australia’s support for justice for the victims of the MH17 air crash.
In 2019–20, we worked as a legal adviser to international meetings and negotiations, including:
- on cyberspace
- the United Nations Group of Government Experts on Legal Autonomous Weapons Systems
- the International Civil Aviation Organization Legal Committee
- the International Law Commission
- in a number of regional fisheries management organisations
- at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.
We supported Australia’s engagement on the United Nations Human Rights Council and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law. We also supported engagement in an inter-governmental conference on an internationally legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.
We represented the Commonwealth in significant constitutional cases in the High Court of Australia and worked closely with the Solicitor-General. These included:
- Love v Commonwealth; Thoms v Commonwealth, in which the High Court held that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are not within the reach of the ‘aliens’ power conferred by s 51(xix) of the Constitution
- Smethurst v Commissioner of Police, in which the High Court held invalid a search warrant executed by the Australian Federal Police at a journalist’s residence, but did not order the Australian Federal Police to return or delete information copied from the journalist’s mobile telephone in purported execution of the warrant
- Hocking v Director-General of the National Archives, in which the High Court held that certain correspondence between former Governor-General Kerr and the Queen is ‘Commonwealth records’ within the Archives Act 1983 (Cth) and therefore must be made available for public access
- Duman v Commonwealth, a challenge to the validity of ss 33AA and 35 of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 whereby dual citizens automatically lose Australian citizenship if they engage in certain conduct outside Australia (particularly in the service of a declared terrorist organisation).
Commercial and contractual matters
We advised on commercial and contractual matters for government to help agencies implement their programs. These included:
- supporting transport and infrastructure projects including the Western Sydney International (Nancy-Bird Walton) Airport and arrangements for the Sydney Metro - Western Sydney Airport
- assisting the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation in the development of the First Home Loan Deposit Scheme
- supporting the development of the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility and its project initiatives in Pacific island countries and Timor-Leste.
Australian Government Solicitor operations
The Australian Government Solicitor Group (AGS) operates as a self-funded legal services provider and is in direct competition with private law firms for approximately 82 per cent of its work. Maintaining good relationships with clients and providing excellent legal services to government is a key requirement to ensure ongoing success. AGS adopts a whole-of-government approach in its legal work to ensure consistency and cohesion in the Commonwealth's approach to legal issues. Business results for the year were extremely positive, with all performance indicators exceeded. The number of hours sold increased by 15 per cent on the previous year.
Through the AGS, we provided training, forums and workshops on legal issues affecting policy, programs and government law in order to help legal practitioners and administrative decision-makers to act lawfully and to make better administrative decisions. During 2019–20, we conducted 72 courses including sessions targeted at the particular needs of agencies. Of these, 30 general training courses were open to all government employees. Additional training videos were produced this year and these are available on the AGS website.
Our pro bono program promotes a just and secure society for Australia and its neighbours in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. Pro bono assistance is available to organisations that make justice accessible to low-income or disadvantaged people and have a community impact. There is a strong focus on Indigenous organisations and matters.
We provide assistance to organisations that help young people facing legal difficulties, people with disability, people in financial difficulty, tenants, people experiencing domestic violence and people experiencing homelessness who are at risk of homelessness. This year, pro bono assistance in the Pacific region included legal training to government lawyers in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
In total, our lawyers provided approximately 9,500 hours of pro bono work in 2019–20.
National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention Taskforce
We set up a taskforce to establish the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention, including the National Commissioner’s Office arrangements and supporting legislation. The taskforce worked with agencies to make preparatory arrangements for the commencement of the National Commissioner’s independent review of past Australian Defence Force and veteran deaths by suicide. The taskforce works collaboratively with states and territories and chief coroners to establish arrangements.
Manage Commonwealth legal risk
We support the Attorney‑General as First Law Officer by managing legal risk across the Commonwealth through the efficient and effective administration of his powers under the Legal Services Directions 2017. This work is achieved by the coordination and reporting of significant legal issues and trends through the Significant Legal Issues Committee, the General Counsel Working Group and legal services expenditure reporting.
We maintain a central overview of legal issues that are of particular importance to the Australian Government in order to support the Attorney‑General in managing complex, systemic or precedential legal risk.
Key achievements during 2019–20 included:
- providing advice to the Attorney‑General on cross-agency management of the legal matters of most significant legal risk to the Australian Government
- working across government on the provision of legal assistance to ministers and Australian Government entities in line with the Legal Services Directions 2017, the Parliamentary Business Resources Regulations 2017 and constitutional limitations
- providing policy advice on the performance of Australian Government legal work including through facilitating the General Counsel Working Group
- chairing the Significant Legal Issues Committee, which includes the Solicitor-General, and examines how significant Australian Government legal matters are being progressed
- providing advice on the level of constitutional and legislative risk attached to every new Australian Government policy proposal in 2019–20 involving the expenditure of public monies and how to minimise such risk.
Domestic litigation and dispute resolution
In 2019–20, we were involved in significant litigation and dispute-resolution matters. A substantial area of activity this year has been industrial relations. We worked closely with the Fair Work Ombudsman on regulatory priorities as well as managing work arising from High Court litigation. We also worked on Administrative Appeals Tribunal matters such as reviews of claims under the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Act 2012.
We managed a range of High Court and other significant litigation, including the decision in Glencore International AG v Commissioner of Taxation, addressing legal professional privilege as well as the construction of ‘earnings in respect of ordinary hours of work’ in Bluescope Steel (AIS) Pty Ltd v Australian Workers' Union.
In 2019–20, we worked on major regulatory cases including ACCC v Volkswagen, the TPG/Vodafone merger litigation for the ACCC, post-Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry cases for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, significant ongoing litigation for Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre and Office of the Australian Information Commissioner and the Australian Energy Regulator. We also acted for the Attorney-General in proceedings where the National Security Information Act 2004 was invoked.
Manage arbitration and international crime cooperation litigation
International litigation and arbitration
In 2019–20, we conducted international litigation and arbitration on behalf of the government including submitting observations to the International Criminal Court on the Court’s jurisdiction in the situation in Palestine.
We acted as a legal adviser in disputes before the World Trade Organization (WTO) including the proceedings in the WTO Appellate Body brought by Honduras and the Dominican Republic against a WTO Panel decision that upheld Australia’s tobacco plain packaging measures. The appeal was unsuccessful, meaning that Australia has successfully defended all possible challenges to the tobacco plain packaging laws through the WTO system.
International crime cooperation litigation
We provided litigation services relating to Commonwealth parole, extradition, mutual assistance and the international transfer of prisoners. We were the solicitor on the record for 35 crime cooperation matters. This includes 21 extradition and 14 Commonwealth parole matters. We were successful in all proceedings heard and concluded during 2019–20.
Implement new arrangements for legal services
The Australian Government Legal Service (AGLS) will be a formal professional network for all government lawyers working in over 90 Australian Government departments and agencies. It replaces and builds upon the work of the current Australian Government Legal Network and its sub-committees.
While the formal launch of the AGLS was postponed as a result of restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, we successfully completed a number of other activities to support the transition to the new arrangements for legal services. This included creating a dedicated website, www.governmentlawyers.gov.au that provides useful resources for government lawyers. We also completed the second phase of the Reciprocal Secondment Program pilot and delivered a second round of Foundational Government Lawyer Training.
We managed the implementation of the Australian Government Legal Services Panel that commenced in August 2019. The panel enables Australian Government agencies to access legal services from providers across several areas of law and practice areas. The panel leverages purchasing power and improves efficiency in the government's engagement with external legal services providers. We also launched the Legal Services Panel Portal to enable Australian Government agencies easy access to services from panel providers.
Work with the National Indigenous Australians Agency to support constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians
The Australian Government is developing options for a voice. This work is being led by the National Indigenous Australians Agency. In 2019–20, we provided constitutional policy advice to support the National Indigenous Australians Agency on the legal and technical aspects to progress constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
Support the Commonwealth’s engagement with royal commissions
We coordinate legal representation arrangements for Australian Government agencies participating in royal commission inquiry processes, including instructing solicitors, assisting witnesses and coordinating requests for legal advice.
As a model litigant, we engage with royal commissions to provide documents as well as written and oral evidence.
Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements
This year, we supported the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements to establish its headquarters and commence its inquiry, all in a very short timeframe. We also worked closely with the Royal Commission to respond to requests for information issued to government agencies and coordinated appearances by witnesses from agencies and departments. We worked with multiple agencies responsible for emergency management response to maintain momentum and to meet milestones within compressed timeframes.
Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability
We provided support to establish the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability in time for the first public hearing on 16 September 2019. We work closely with the Royal Commission responding to requests for information issued for government agencies and coordinating appearances by witnesses from agencies and departments.
Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety
This year, we played an integral role in supporting the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety by providing high-quality legal services and supporting the government’s engagement with the Royal Commission. We facilitated requests to produce information and coordinated government agency witness appearances.
WORKPLACES - Assist the Minister for Industrial Relations to foster and support safe, fair and productive workplaces
We provide quality policy and legal advice and programs to support safe, fair and productive workplaces and employer compliance with workplace obligations. We continually test our frameworks for relevance and robustness.
Strengthen industrial relations frameworks through evidence-based reform
We provide advice and policy development on industrial relations matters and the Fair Work Act 2009. We progressed industrial relations priorities while supporting the government to respond to the challenges the 2019–2020 summer bushfires and the COVID‑19 pandemic created for Australia’s workplaces.
This year, we supported the Minister for Industrial Relations to prepare for public consultations on reform to industrial relations frameworks. We did this through preparing a series of discussion papers on strengthening compliance and enforcement measures under the Fair Work Act 2009, cooperative workplaces, greenfields enterprise agreements and the operation of the Building Code 2016.
Consultation was paused in March 2020 due to the COVID‑19 pandemic. However, valuable information gained through this process will contribute to the industrial relations working group process announced by the Prime Minister on 26 May 2020.
We produced the Work Health and Safety (Silica Workplace Exposure Standards) Amendment Regulations 2020. These regulations lower the enforceable exposure standard for crystalline silica in the Commonwealth work health and safety regulations. This aligns with the exposure standards set out in the Workplace Exposure Standards for Airborne Contaminants published by Safe Work Australia to improve health and safety standards in workplaces.
We worked with Treasury on the government’s submission to the Annual Wage Review 2020. We provided the economic and analytical evidence to support industrial relations policy and reform. Examples include quarterly reports on enterprise agreement making and wage increases.
In 2019–20, we supported the government’s participation in important legal processes to clarify the operation of the industrial relations framework. This included the Attorney‑General’s involvement in the WorkPac v Rossato Full Federal Court proceedings and as appellant before the High Court in the Mondelez v AMWU.
Migrant Workers' Taskforce recommendations
We oversee the implementation of the Migrant Workers’ Taskforce recommendations. We are responsible for progressing 12 of those recommendations (1, 3–9, 11–12, 14 and 22) as part of industrial relations reform.
Recommendation 1 was completed with the establishment of the Migrant Workers Interagency Group. The group met three times during the year (October 2019, February 2020 and June 2020).
We conducted public consultation on recommendations 3–9 and 11–12 (relating to the Fair Work Act 2009) and released two public discussion papers. Consultation on establishing a National Labour Hire Registration Scheme (recommendation 14) also commenced and meetings were held with state and territory jurisdictions and industry stakeholders. We also established a working group to research and progress recommendation 22 was also established.
Coordinate responses to the model work health and safety laws review
Ministerial consideration of the review of the model work health and safety laws was deferred due to the COVID‑19 pandemic. During this time, we supported the Minister for Industrial Relations to ensure that business and workers could operate safely.
We worked with Safe Work Australia and its members, representing employer groups, unions and state and territory jurisdictions, to develop the National COVID‑19 safe workplace principles. These were agreed by the National Cabinet on 24 April 2020. The principles established Safe Work Australia as the central source of practical guidance and tools for business to manage the risks associated with the pandemic.
We participated in fortnightly COVID‑19 meetings with Safe Work Australia, the heads of Workplace Safety Authorities group and the heads of Workers' Compensation Authorities group to contribute to a nationally consistent and effective response to the pandemic. We worked with the National COVID‑19 Coordination Commission and Treasury’s Business Liaison Unit to identify and address challenges faced by industry to operate safely in the pandemic environment. This included input to the commission’s online planning tool, which was launched on 11 May 2020 to complement Safe Work Australia guidance that helps businesses to operate safely.
Review of the Asbestos Safety Eradication Agency
The final report of the Review of the Role and Functions of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency was tabled on 27 November 2019. The government committed to consult with stakeholders on options to implement the review recommendations. Consultation was suspended following advice from stakeholders that they did not have the capacity to participate due to the COVID‑19 pandemic.
We recommenced consideration of the review recommendations to ensure that the role and functions of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency remain appropriate.
We assisted the Asbestos Safety Eradication Agency to coordinate jurisdictional implementation of the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Awareness and Management 2019–23. The plan commenced in November 2019.
Modernise Comcare and Seacare compensation arrangements and governance structures
The government response to the Senate report, The People Behind 000: mental health of our first responders, was tabled on 25 February 2020. The response included a commitment to work with state and territory governments to consider the benefits of a coordinated national approach to workers’ compensation arrangements aimed at helping first responders who suffer a mental health injury. Work has commenced on implementing the response.
We conducted a review of the provisions of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 that established a rebuttable presumption that certain firefighters who have contracted prescribed diseases have met the employment connection test in relation to those diseases. An expert epidemiologist was engaged to assist with the review, which included consultation with stakeholders. The review is expected to be released in late 2020.
We facilitated the making of legislative instruments so that the Comcare and Seacare workers’ compensation schemes reflect current working environments. These are:
- Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Licence Eligibility—Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited) Declaration 2020
- Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Weekly Interest on the Lump Sum) Instrument 2019
- Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation (Specified Rate per Kilometre) Instrument 2019
- Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation (Cost Recovery) Regulations 2020
- Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation (Specified Rate per Kilometre) Instrument 2019
- Seafarers Rehabilitation and Compensation Levy Amendment Regulations 2019.
Expand application of the Fair Entitlements Guarantee to temporary visa holders and two new regional skills visas
We progressed the government’s commitment in relation to the Fair Entitlements Guarantee being expanded to temporary visa holders and two new regional skilled visas. We completed consultations and are continuing to examine the expansion of the scheme consistent with the government’s response to the Migrant Worker’s Taskforce. The taskforce recommended that the Fair Entitlements Guarantee should be extended to temporary visa holders whose employment ended due to the bankruptcy or insolvency of their employer and who had fulfilled their taxation obligations. The New Skilled Regional Visas (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019 was listed for debate in the Senate on 26 February 2020. Debate was postponed due to the COVID‑19 pandemic.
Small business redundancy rules
There is a potential anomaly in the application of the small business redundancy provisions for employees of companies that have been placed into insolvency. The issue relates to whether employees of insolvent entities are affected by the small business redundancy rules during the insolvency period. The interpretation of the relevant Fair Work Act 2009 provisions were to be considered by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in March 2020. However, those proceedings were postponed due to restrictions related to the COVID‑19 pandemic. The proceedings are expected to provide greater clarity on the legal entitlements to redundancy for employees of companies who are terminated after insolvency.
INTEGRITY - Promote public-sector integrity and strong oversight of Commonwealth intelligence and law enforcement agencies
We build confidence in Australia’s public institutions through strong oversight and accountability. We work to safeguard Australia’s security, addressing challenges associated with rapidly evolving technology, while respecting people’s rights and liberties. Our work promotes sound administrative decision-making that underpins accountability and trust in government activities.
Establish the Commonwealth Integrity Commission
The proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission enhances Australia’s strong, multi-faceted approach to combatting corruption. This year, our work involved detailed planning so the commission will have the resources and powers it needs to operate effectively. The draft model was informed by public consultation, following the release of a consultation paper in December 2018, and by the work of an expert panel. The panel, which was appointed to advise the government on the commission's establishment, consisted of Margaret Cunneen SC, Mal Wauchope AO and Mick Keelty AO AP.
Further public consultation on exposure draft legislation to establish the Commonwealth Integrity Commission will occur at an appropriate time after more immediate priorities concerning the management of the COVID‑19 pandemic response have been dealt with.
Public Interest Disclosure Act
We are responsible for the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 that enables public officials to disclose suspected wrongdoing in the Commonwealth public sector. Disclosures are generally made within an agency for investigation in the first instance. Disclosures can relate to a range of misconduct, including contraventions of laws, abuse of public trust, fraud and corruption.
This year, we supported the Attorney‑General to progress the government response to the 2016 independent statutory review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 undertaken by Mr Philip Moss AM (Moss Review). The Moss Review made recommendations to ensure the public sector whistleblower scheme is effective and supports public servants who identify wrongdoing and misconduct. The recommendations include strengthening the oversight functions of the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, strengthening support for whistleblowers and improving the capacity of agencies to deal with disclosures. We continue to support the Attorney‑General to progress reforms to the Act.
Lobbying Code of Conduct and Register of Lobbyists
The Lobbying Code of Conduct is an administrative initiative that governs the interactions between people who lobby government representatives on behalf of third parties. The code requires the lobbyist’s details to be recorded on a public register of lobbyists. Government representatives are prohibited from meeting with lobbyists unless the lobbyist is registered. The code and the register provide transparency by disclosing what party the lobbyist is representing.
We encountered technical challenges during the implementation of the new register system, which was transferred to the department in May 2019. As a result of these challenges, we adopted a manual interim solution in November 2019. In May 2020, we launched the first phase of a redeveloped online system. This has provided greater efficiency and enhanced features for external users, including the introduction of a concurrent update approval process, resulting in the faster publication of new details on the public register.
On 26 June 2020, the Auditor-General tabled a report, Management of the Australian Government’s Lobbying Code of Conduct – Follow-up Audit. The audit found that a recommendation made in a 2017–18 report, Management of the Australian Government Register of Lobbyists, had not been implemented. As such, the Auditor-General made two recommendations. The first related to governance processes for implementing recommendations and the second was the need to evaluate the sufficiency of the current regulatory regime for lobbying. The department has accepted both recommendations.
Establish the Commonwealth Fraud Prevention Centre
Since its launch on 1 July 2019 as a two-year pilot, the Commonwealth Fraud Prevention Centre has undertaken work to strengthen whole-of-government counter-fraud activities. The centre partners with government, non-government and international experts to:
- identify and trial better-practice approaches to mitigate fraud vulnerabilities
- address barriers to effective fraud prevention, including information sharing
- provide support to government agencies to design fraud resistant policies and programs.
In 2019, the centre hosted the Commonwealth Fraud Liaison Forum, which brought together more than 400 members of the domestic and international counter-fraud community to examine the human cost of fraud. The forum is held annually and is an opportunity for counter-fraud experts to discuss emerging issues, common challenges and practices that fight fraud.
In November 2019, the centre published content on the department’s website that provided information on fraud control and countermeasures and supported risk assessment and policy design. These pages received 35,264 page views between November 2019 and June 2020. In addition, at 30 June 2020, over 185 external websites had linked to these pages from their websites.
The centre focused and scaled-up its work in order to support agencies to implement effective fraud control mechanisms during the 2019–20 summer bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the centre provided advice and support on COVID‑19 pandemic stimulus measures to Treasury through the JobKeeper Program Risk and Integrity Inter-Departmental Committee.
Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme
In 2019–20, we increased transparency of foreign influence in federal political and government processes and decisions through effective administration of the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme. We administer an online register that provides up-to-date records of foreign influence activities in Australia. We upgraded the online register during 2019–20 to enhance its functionality and usability.
We continued outreach and education activities, delivering information sessions and presentations to Australian Government agencies, business forums and community groups. We continued these activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, where possible.
Embed protective security policy reforms
In 2019–20, we supported agencies to embed the Protective Security Policy Framework (PSPF) by providing policy advice, connecting agencies to technical expertise and running forums for the security community. We:
- hosted the biannual chief security officers forum to promote security leadership and improve security cultures
- hosted forums, communities-of-practice and established a GovTEAMS online space to share information, resources and best practice on protective security
- implemented a new security risk information-sharing framework in collaboration with the Australian Government Security Vetting Agency to mitigate threats from ‘insiders’.
We also maintained a dedicated phone helpline and email inbox to provide assistance and responses to queries about the PSPF.
SECURITY - Support a safe and secure Australia by delivering effective national security and criminal justice legislation
Australia’s legal frameworks must be responsive to evolving threats, changes in technology and the mobility of people, goods and money that can be misused by criminal actors or diminish our national security. We work with partners, locally and internationally, to keep people safe.
Make reforms in criminal law and transnational crime related frameworks
Effective and appropriate laws help protect people from criminal acts. We ensure that our legal frameworks are adapted to achieve this objective.
To that end, we facilitated the passage of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Sexual Crimes Against Children and Community Protection Measures) Act 2020. This Act made reforms to the Crimes Act 1914 to protect children from online predators.
We delivered the Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Act 2019 in response to a number of incidents of trespass on agricultural properties targeting farmers, their businesses and their families. The Act strengthened protections for farmers and introduced new offences for those who use a carriage service to incite trespass, property damage or theft on agricultural land.
We delivered the Crimes Regulations 2019 in response to the sunsetting of the Crimes Regulations 1990 under section 50 of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003. The regulations prescribe relevant forms, functions, laws and authorities to ensure proper functioning of the criminal justice processes set out in the Crimes Act 1914 and facilitate a coordinated approach between the Australian, state and territory governments.
We enhanced Australia’s legal framework for international crime cooperation. In 2019, we made the International Transfer of Prisoners (United Arab Emirates) Regulations 2019, completing Australia’s domestic implementation of the Treaty between the Government of Australia and the Government of the United Arab Emirates concerning Transfer of Sentenced Persons. The treaty benefits Australia, including by improving prospects for prisoner rehabilitation, contributing to community safety by monitoring and supervising prisoners on parole and reduces the ongoing costs to Australia associated with the incarceration of foreign nationals.
We supported the Department of Home Affairs to develop and introduce the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (International Production Orders) Bill 2020 into the Parliament. This legislation creates a framework to access electronic data for criminal law enforcement and national security purposes in Australia and overseas. The bill enables a new ‘international production order’ regime to support cross-border access to data between countries with which Australia has negotiated a designated international agreement. Australia is finalising negotiations on the first such agreement with the United States under its Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act. This agreement would allow Australian authorities to directly approach US-based communications service providers, for example Facebook, Microsoft and Google, for data, including content data held by those providers. This would also allow the US similar access to data held by Australian-based providers. This work strengthens Australia’s bilateral relationships with international crime cooperation partners and enhances Australia’s legal framework for international crime cooperation. Ultimately, this contributes to criminal offenders facing justice and makes the Australian community safer.
The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Combatting Corporate Crime) Bill 2019 was reintroduced into the Senate after lapsing at the last federal election. The bill contains measures to reform criminal offences for bribery of a foreign public official, implements a Commonwealth Deferred Prosecution Agreement scheme for corporate offences and updates the definition of dishonesty in the Commonwealth Criminal Code. The bill enhances the tools available to law enforcement and prosecutors to tackle corporate crime, which costs Australia billions of dollars every year and hurts business, Australia’s international reputation and Australia’s economic wellbeing. The reforms follow extensive public consultation over a number of years.
In December 2019, we submitted Australia’s Phase 4 follow-up report to the OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business Transactions (WGB). It outlines Australia’s efforts to strengthen enforcement of the foreign bribery offence and implement the 13 recommendations identified during Australia’s Phase 4 evaluation in December 2017. The WGB found that Australia had fully implemented six recommendations and is implementing the seven outstanding recommendations from the Phase 4 report. In particular, the WGB welcomed the introduction of the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Combatting Corporate Crime) Bill 2019 and commended Australia on its efforts to raise awareness in the private sector of the risks of foreign bribery.
Strengthening enforcement and addressing the recommendations of the WGB form part of Australia’s obligations under the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. Our work in this area demonstrates Australia’s commitment to multilateral cooperation in the fight against transnational economic crime and to accountability through peer monitoring and follow-up. The implementation of WGB recommendations promotes ethical business practices by bolstering Australia’s efforts to combat bribery in international business transactions and promotes good governance and economic development worldwide.
Counter-terrorism measures and management of terrorist offenders
This year, we contributed to developing and implementing the government’s national security legislation program by providing policy advice about the rule of law and the appropriate balance between the protection of the community and the protection of rights and freedoms of individuals.
We worked with the Department of Home Affairs to ensure that ASIO has appropriate powers to respond to current and emerging threats to Australia’s security. This included the introduction of:
- the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (International Production Orders) Bill 2020, which would facilitate ASIO’s access to internationally held data relevant to national security matters
- the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Amendment Bill 2020, which would allow ASIO to internally authorise surveillance devices and amend ASIO’s powers to conduct compulsory questioning to obtain intelligence in relation to national security matters.
We delivered the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (2019 Measures No. 1) Act 2019. The Act implements the 2017 agreement of the Council of Australian Governments to ensure there is a presumption against bail and parole for people who have links to terrorist activity, and contains measures to strengthen the Continuing Detention Order scheme. These reforms reduce the risk that terrorist offenders will be released from incarceration when they continue to pose a threat of committing further terrorism offences.
We supported the Attorney‑General’s role under the National Security Information (Criminal and Civil Proceedings) Act 2004 (Cth), which provides a framework for how national security information is disclosed and protected in legal proceedings. Under the Act, the Attorney‑General must be given notice of expected disclosures of national security information and has a role in relation to the orders that may be sought from the court to protect information. The Act balances the need to protect national security information with the principle of open justice and gives the court powers to make orders it considers appropriate about such matters.
We participated in the Australia-New Zealand Counter Terrorism Committee and related working groups. We also developed the government response to reports of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor. These reports include the Report to the Prime Minister on the Prosecution and Sentencing of Children for Terrorism and the Review of the terrorism-related citizenship loss provisions in the Australia Citizenship Act 2007.
Support the Comprehensive Review of Intelligence Legislation
During 2019–20, we supported Dennis Richardson AC to examine the effectiveness of the legislative frameworks governing Australia’s National Intelligence Community. This was the most significant review since Justice Robert Marsden Hope’s royal commissions in the 1970s and 1980s. The report provides a holistic review of the effectiveness of legislation governing Australia’s security and intelligence community, including in relation to accountability, transparency and oversight.
Mr Richardson AC delivered a classified report to the government on 19 December 2019. Consistent with the terms of reference, a declassified version will be provided to the government in late 2020.
JUSTICE - Maintain an efficient and effective civil and criminal Commonwealth justice system, and work with international partners to strengthen cooperation and advance law and justice issues
The rule of law is integral to a fair, affordable and accessible justice system. We support Commonwealth justice institutions and monitor and reform the family law system to ensure it is safe, child-centred, supportive and accessible for separating families and people experiencing family violence. We work closely with international partners on criminal case work and to promote the rule of law.
Progress structural improvements to arrangements for the federal courts (excluding the High Court of Australia)
We previously prepared the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bill 2018 and the accompanying Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018 to give effect to the government’s proposed structural reforms. These bills were introduced into the Parliament on 23 August 2018 and referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report. The committee tabled its report on 14 February 2019. The bills lapsed when the Parliament was prorogued prior to the 2019 federal election.
After the election and following the Attorney‑General's consideration, we amended the 2018 bills to address the committee's recommendations. The Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bill 2019 and the accompanying Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2019 were introduced into the Parliament on 5 December 2019. These bills were referred to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 20 November 2020.
- This key activity is linked to a performance measure. Results against the associated performance measure are detailed at: Reforms to the federal courts.
Improve the family law system
We work in partnership with our stakeholders to develop and progress reforms to support separating families to resolve their disputes and to minimise costs, delays and inefficiencies in the family law system.
Australian Law Reform Commission review
The Australian Law Reform Commission’s review of the family law system made 60 recommendations. In 2019–20, we held a forum with stakeholders on issues raised in the final report. A second forum planned for April 2020 was postponed due to the COVID‑19 pandemic. We have been undertaking consultations with stakeholders and using stakeholder expertise to inform the family law-reform agenda.
Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Family Law System
The Joint Select Committee was established on 17 September 2019 and its terms of reference will inform the family law-reform agenda. We made a submission to the committee and appeared at a public hearing on 14 February 2020.
Family Law Amendment (Western Australia De Facto Superannuation Splitting and Bankruptcy) Bill 2019
We developed the Family Law Amendment (Western Australia De Facto Superannuation Splitting and Bankruptcy) Bill 2019 to enable separated de facto couples in Western Australia to split their superannuation as part of their family law property settlement and to extend federal bankruptcy jurisdiction to the Family Court of Western Australia. The bill was developed following a referral of power from Western Australia. It will enable separated de facto couples in Western Australia to achieve a fairer split of their assets in property settlements and provides consistency with de facto couples across the country. The bill allows bankruptcy and family law matters of de facto couples to be heard concurrently in a single court. This means de-facto couples will not need to commence proceedings in two different courts, saving them time, money and effort.
The bill was introduced into the House of Representatives on 27 November 2019. After an inquiry by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the committee recommended that the Senate pass the bill, subject to two amendments to its transitional provisions. The bill is before Parliament and debate was delayed due to changes to the 2020 parliamentary sitting calendar resulting from the COVID‑19 pandemic.
We are also progressing amendments to related subordinate legislation at the Commonwealth level.
Implementing the Women’s Economic Security Package
Two important funding initiatives under the Women’s Economic Security Package commenced in January 2020:
- A $10.3 million, two-year trial of legal aid commissions conducting lawyer-assisted mediation for clients with small property pools (up to $500,000).
- A $5.9 million, two-year trial of simpler and faster court processes in four Federal Circuit Court locations to resolve family law property cases for small property pools (up to $500,000).
We have engaged the Australian Institute of Family Studies to conduct an independent evaluation of these initiatives to inform potential future roll out. We also worked with stakeholders to support the development of evaluation frameworks.
In 2019–20, we implemented other measures under the Women’s Economic Security Package to address the effects of family violence. These included funding for specialist domestic violence units and health justice partnerships as well as extending funding to include the provision of integrated financial support services, such as financial counselling and financial literacy services. The addition of financial counselling and related support services in areas of high need across Australia supports women in, or leaving, violent relationships. It provides the support, information and skills to achieve greater economic security in the immediate and longer term.
Family law in the Northern Territory
A pilot to enhance parenting jurisdiction continued in the Northern Territory Local Court. The Family Law Amendment (Prescribed Court) Regulations 2020 were made on 25 June 2020 to extend the pilot until 31 December 2020. The pilot’s scope has been expanded to allow the court to amend parenting orders to ensure they are consistent with any domestic violence orders issued under Territory legislation. The pilot is helping to determine whether the increased exercise of family law jurisdiction by state and territory courts will reduce the need for families to deal with multiple courts and systems. The pilot will be independently evaluated.
Council of Attorneys-General working group on surrogacy
In November 2019, the Council of Attorneys-General established a working group to explore ways to achieve greater national consistency in legal and policy frameworks regulating surrogacy in Australia. The department chairs the working group, which met three times between January and June 2020. The working group has developed a work program, which has been approved by the Council of Attorneys-General Senior Officials Group, to consider domestic altruistic surrogacy, international surrogacy and regulatory implications for children born from surrogacy.
In 2019–20, we also supported the Former Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, the Honourable John Pascoe AC CVO, to represent Australia on the Experts’ Group on Parentage/Surrogacy of the Hague Conference on Private International Law Council on General Affairs. The group considers private international law issues concerning cross-border recognition of legal parentage and international surrogacy arrangements.
Supporting family services
We administer funding under the Family Relationships Services Program. New five-year grant agreements commenced on 1 July 2019 with 65 not-for-profit organisations that deliver family law services. These services give families alternative means and support to resolve family disputes rather than going to a family court. The services include family relationship centres, counselling, family dispute resolution and mediation, children’s contact centres and other intensive post-separation support services. This year, 65 family relationship centres provided family law property-only mediation to help families reach agreement about property after separation.
We also administer the Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners Accreditation scheme under the Family Law (Family Dispute Resolution Practitioners) Regulations 2008. The scheme provides consistent standards for family dispute resolution practitioners providing competency in screening and assessing families for family violence and child abuse. In June 2020, there were 1,984 accredited family dispute resolution practitioners.
Improve outcomes for families affected by family violence and enhance information sharing between the family law, family violence and child protection systems
In 2019–20, work to improve outcomes for families affected by family violence progressed. This included new and continuing measures and programs that support families, as well as piloting new approaches designed to improve family safety outcomes and identify efficiencies and benefits for families using the family law system.
Family advocacy and support services
This year, we continued funding to state and territory legal aid commissions to deliver the Family and Advocacy Support Service in family law registries and other locations across Australia. The service combines legal and social support services for parties in family law matters where there has been an allegation of family violence. We administered $7.8 million in new funding this year (committed over three years) for men’s support workers to be located at all delivery locations. This provides access to parenting programs and men’s behavioural change programs for alleged perpetrators and male victims of family violence.
Improving information sharing to protect family safety
We lead the information-sharing reform agenda of the Family Violence Working Group of the Council of Attorneys-General. In 2019–20, in consultation with the states and territories, we developed the National Strategic Framework for Information Sharing between the Family Law and Family Violence and Child Protection Systems. The council endorsed the framework in November 2019, and tasked the Family Violence Working Group with further refining and ‘operationalising’ the framework for final consideration by ministers at the end of 2020.
The intent of the framework is to facilitate the two-way exchange of information between family law courts and the state and territory courts as well as the agencies and organisations responsible for, or holding, information relevant to family safety risk. This is consistent with Recommendation 2 of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report Family Law for the Future: An Inquiry into the Family Law System, as well as recommendations 6 and 21 of the Report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs Inquiry into a Better Family Law System to Support and Protect Those Affected by Family Violence.
This year, we also worked with state and territory governments and the family law courts to place child protection and policing officials at family law court locations around Australia. The aim is to improve the quality and timeliness of the information relating to family violence and child abuse that is shared between systems. This helps decision-makers identify and respond to family safety risks as early as possible in order to keep vulnerable people and children safe. The initiative commenced in January 2020 and 22 state and territory officials are now co-located at family law court locations. Operations will be independently evaluated.
Risk screening, triage and specialist family violence list pilot
We supported the federal family law courts to develop a pilot of a systematic approach to identify and manage family safety risks. This will commence in late 2020. The pilot involves screening new parenting matters for family safety risks at the time of filing. Matters will be triaged to appropriate case management based on the identified level of risk. Additional support will be provided to at-risk parties. A specialist family violence list (the Evatt List) will be established to resolve high‑risk matters quickly and safely. The pilot will operate in the Brisbane, Parramatta and Adelaide registries. This will collectively cover 42 per cent of filings in the family court system.
Professional competency in family safety
Legal and other professionals who work with families in crisis require competency in family safety to enable them to make appropriate decisions, to provide effective services and to support children and families affected by family violence. This year, we improved professional competency by co-funding, with states and territories, the Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration to maintain and update the National Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book, an online educational resource for judicial officers.
Confer corporate crime jurisdiction on the Federal Court of Australia
Work to support the conferral of corporate crime jurisdiction on the Federal Court of Australia has progressed, with stakeholder consultation and refinement of draft legislation nearing completion.
While implementation has been delayed by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are working to finalise the drafting of the legislation. This will provide additional capacity within the courts system so that those who engage in financial sector criminal misconduct are prosecuted in a timely manner.
Negotiate and implement new legal assistance funding arrangements with states and territories
This year we worked closely with states and territories and the legal assistance sector to develop the National Strategic Framework for Legal Assistance Services. It provides the policy framework for all government legal assistance funding and covers Australian, state and territory government-funded legal assistance. This includes generalist and specialist legal assistance services delivered by legal aid commissions and community legal centres. It also includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander‑specific legal assistances services delivered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and Family Violence Prevention and Legal Services.
National Legal Assistance Partnership
This year, we finalised the National Legal Assistance Partnership 2020–25 (NLAP), which is a $2 billion national partnership agreement with states and territories, under the National Strategic Framework for Legal Assistance Services. The NLAP supports the accessibility of the justice system and assists people experiencing disadvantage to resolve their legal issues through funding for vital frontline legal assistance services delivered by legal aid commissions and community legal centres. For the first time, the NLAP includes funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services previously delivered through the the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program 2015–20 (ILAP). The NLAP includes a formal commitment to self-determination; the first time these principles have been included within legal assistance arrangements. The signing of the NLAP represents a significant achievement and provides funding certainty to the legal assistance sector.
In negotiating the NLAP with the states and territories, extensive work was conducted and each jurisdiction was visited at least twice. This considerable effort ensured that the legal assistance sector was consulted on the development of the NLAP and we met with sector representatives at least once in each jurisdiction.
National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services
This year we continued to administer the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services 2015–20 (NPA), the precursor to the NLAP. We also administered the ILAP that supported access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to assist them overcome legal problems and exercise their legal rights. We funded seven Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services to deliver culturally appropriate legal assistance services as well as the national peak body to develop and improve the program. For the period 1 July to 31 December 2019, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services delivered 111,283 services. Total figures for the financial year were not available as at 30 June 2020 as final reporting and funding acquittals are due to the department by 31 August 2020.
The services delivered are of varying degrees of complexity. Therefore, our service delivery numbers should not be used to calculate the cost of an individual service. We work with the legal assistance sector to improve the consistency of reporting and data collection practices, including through considering updates to the National Data Standards Manual.
Throughout 2019–20, we engaged the Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales to undertake projects based on feedback in the 2018 NPA and ILAP reviews about the government’s leadership and support role. The foundation is developing resources and tools to assist with the planning and delivery of integrated, efficient and effective legal assistance services.
Both the NPA and ILAP ceased on 30 June 2020. From 1 July 2020, funding for legal aid commissions, community legal centres and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services continue under the NLAP.
Other legal assistance work
To support national collaboration and best-practice information sharing for legal assistance services, we convened frequent (usually monthly) meetings of the Legal Assistance Services Inter-Governmental Committee and the Advisory Group to the Legal Assistance Services Inter-Governmental Committee. Membership of the committee included representatives from states and territories, while the advisory group comprised of the four national legal assistance peak bodies, the Law Council of Australia and other organisations relevant to the legal assistance sector. These committees enabled information to be shared quickly on emerging issues such as challenges experienced by the legal assistance sector due to the COVID‑19 pandemic. This information allowed the government to respond promptly and to provide more than $63 million in additional assistance via the COVID‑19 Justice Sector Preparedness package. The committees also informed the government’s response to relief and recovery efforts in bushfire-affected communities in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia in 2019–20.
In 2019–20, we administered a range of demand-driven legal financial assistance schemes to help people who could not afford to pay for their legal costs. As at 23 June 2020, we assessed 650 applications resulting in 504 grants of legal financial assistance made across the schemes. Legal financial assistance was also provided to support witnesses involved in the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety and the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability. A legal financial assistance scheme was also developed to support witnesses involved in the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements.
We administered the following programs:
- the Community Legal Services Program that supports the provision of legal assistance to the community by funding national service delivery projects, innovative pilot programs and program activities that complement community legal services in states and territories
- the Expensive Commonwealth Criminal Cases Fund that provides funding to support legal aid commissions to defend clients in serious, high-cost Commonwealth criminal matters
- the ‘Your Story Disability Legal Support’ program, which is a legal advisory service to support people wishing to engage with the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability (the service is jointly run by National Legal Aid and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service)
- the knowmore program that provides legal support services for people engaging with the Commonwealth Redress Scheme for Survivors of Institutional Child Sexual Abuse.
Work with the National Indigenous Affairs Agency on an appropriate Commonwealth response to native title compensation issues
Over 2019–20, we worked with the National Indigenous Australians Agency on the government's response to native title compensation. This work is ongoing.
Achievements during the year included:
- over 30 consultation meetings with stakeholders across the native title sector, including states and territories, the National Native Title Council and peak bodies such as the Mineral Council of Australia, the National Farmers’ Federation and the Australian Local Government Association
- a successful meeting with representatives from state and territory governments that included presentations by the National Native Title Council on approaches to native title compensation issues.
Where possible, stakeholder engagement has continued in the COVID‑19 pandemic environment via telephone and videoconference.
Respond to the Review of the Personal Property Securities Act
We have made significant progress examining the Whittaker Review’s 394 recommendations into the Personal Properties Securities Act 2009. A dedicated taskforce carried out this work, which has the potential to make improvements to the personal property securities framework. This will make the legislation easier to understand and will simplify registration requirements. This saves businesses costs associated with registration and searching of security interests on the Personal Property Securities Register.
Conduct extradition, mutual assistance, transfer of prisoners and international child abduction casework
We are responsible for undertaking case work to facilitate international cooperation in criminal and family law matters. Our criminal casework promotes criminal accountability and the opportunity for individuals charged with Commonwealth crimes to be appropriately rehabilitated. Our international family law casework ensures that child custody disputes are resolved in a fair manner and in an appropriate court.
Data on mutual assistance, extradition and international transfer of prisoners case work can be found at Appendix 5: Extradition and mutual assistance.
- This key activity is linked to a performance measure. Results against the associated performance measure, including case numbers for 2019–20 are detailed at: Casework matters finalised.
Support regional partners to develop strong law and justice sectors and effective policy frameworks
We work in partnership with Pacific countries to improve their capacity to develop and implement legal policy and laws, particularly with respect to crime and policing. We do this through training and mentoring Pacific Island officials, supporting Pacific legal policy and legislative reform projects and enhancing regional collaboration on law and justice issues through the Pacific Islands Law Officers’ Network (PILON). In 2019–20, we provided training and mentoring to 122 law and justice officials on policy development and law-reform processes (including planning for implementation) as well as substantive legal areas for reform.
In 2019–20, we worked bilaterally with seven Pacific-region countries to strengthen policy and law reform and to contribute to effective governance in a stable, prosperous and resilient Indo-Pacific region. This included arranging legislative drafting training for Fiji’s Office of the Attorney‑General and core legal skills training for Solomon Island government lawyers. We hosted officials from Fiji, Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea for the Twinning Program and provided additional assistance to Niue, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa and Solomon Islands to progress reforms relating to illicit drugs, child abuse and cybercrime. We delivered capacity building projects under the Indo-Pacific Justice Program related to mutual assistance and extradition in Cambodia, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam. We contribute to Australia’s strong relationship with Papua New Guinea through our engagement with counterpart agencies on shared strategic issues under the Institutional Partnerships Program.
This year, we worked with the Papua New Guinea Department of Justice and Attorney‑General to progress Papua New Guinea’s extradition law reform and national drugs strategy. We supported two prosecution advisers embedded within their Office of the Public Prosecutor to improve the capacity of prosecutors on financial crime matters and family and sexual violence cases. We also worked with Papua New Guinea stakeholders to finalise the legal framework for the Coral Sea Cable System. This is a submarine cable system to link Sydney to Port Moresby, which is anticipated to bring economic and development opportunities to Papua New Guinea.
We provided support to PILON working groups on their respective priorities of cybercrime, corruption and sexual and gender-based violence. We launched two new resources: a framework for prosecuting corruption in the Pacific and model provisions to incorporate special measures for enabling vulnerable witnesses to give evidence during the prosecution of sexual and gender-based violence offences.
The COVID‑19 pandemic caused the cancellation of workshops and in-country visits from March 2020 onwards. As a result, our focus shifted to engaging with regional partners using virtual means, redesigning workshops for future delivery through a mix of online learning and virtual meetings and supporting the redevelopment of the PILON website to provide up-to-date resources for members.
RIGHTS - Enable a free society with balanced rights, freedoms and responsibilities
A cohesive society is underpinned by laws that respect and protect the rights and freedoms of every individual. We create the necessary policy and legislative frameworks and adapt them to address evolving challenges such as protection of personal information.
Lead the government’s response to the Religious Freedom Review
The Religious Freedom Review identified an opportunity to enhance the statutory protection of the right to freedom of religion in Australian law. In 2019–20, we developed a package of legislation to implement the government’s response to the review. We managed two public consultation processes on two sets of exposure draft legislation, received and processed approximately 13,000 public submissions and provided feedback to the Attorney‑General on the results of the consultations.
Due to the COVID‑19 pandemic, further progress on this work has been delayed.
Develop social media privacy reforms
We commenced work on draft legislation on social media privacy reforms. However, due to the diversion of resources to other privacy law priorities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this work has been delayed.
Commence implementation of the National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians
In 2019, the National Plan to Respond to the Abuse of Older Australians was launched along with its implementation plan. Under this plan, we have a dual responsibility in that we are a contributing agency and we also support the monitoring of progress against 150 initiatives. We also coordinate annual reports to Attorneys-General on progress on the measures in the implementation plan. We worked with states and territories to put appropriate data collection mechanisms in place to evaluate the plan nearer to the end of its term.
In 2019–20, we completed some important initiatives:
- COMPASS.info is a web-based knowledge hub about elder abuse that provides information and resources on how to identify, prevent and respond to incidences of elder abuse. We partnered with Elder Abuse Action Australia to complete this work.
- Data collection was completed for a study of the prevalence of abuse of older people. This study examined community attitudes towards older people and the reported experiences of elder abuse of 7,000 people aged 65 or older.
- We funded the Australian Guardianship and Administration Council to develop a guide about making enduring documents that relate to financial matters. The guide, ‘You Decide Who Decides’, is available from the Victorian Office of the Public Advocate’s website on behalf of the council. The development of this guide is in line with recommendations in the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report, Elder Abuse: A National Legal Response.
- We worked with states and territories in relation to elder abuse research and data priorities, information sharing and awareness raising as well as on enduring power of attorney reforms.
- We worked with other government agencies to leverage their involvement with communities to share information on elder abuse and support services.
Progress development of a National Memorial for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse in institutional contexts
On 15 November 2019, the Prime Minister agreed to transfer responsibility for progressing proposals for a national memorial and national museum for victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse from the Attorney‑General’s portfolio to the Social Services portfolio.