The Commonwealth Courts Corporate Services (Corporate Services) includes communications, finance, human resources, library, information technology (IT), procurement and contract management, property, judgment publishing, risk oversight and management, and statistics.
Corporate Services is managed by the Federal Court CEO and Principal Registrar who consults with heads of jurisdiction and the other CEOs in relation to the performance of this function. Details relating to corporate services and consultation requirements are set out in an MOU.
Corporate Services generates efficiencies by consolidating resources, streamlining processes and reducing duplication. The savings gained from reducing the administrative burden on each of the courts are reinvested to support the core functions of the Courts.
The objectives of Corporate Services are to:
- provide accurate, accessible and up-to-date information and advice
- standardise systems and processes to increase efficiency
- build an agile and skilled workforce ready to meet challenges and changes, and
- create a national technology framework capable of meeting the needs of the Courts into the future.
Corporate Services is responsible for supporting the corporate functions of the Federal Court, Family Court, Federal Circuit Court and the National Native Title Tribunal.
During 2019–20, the work of Corporate Services focused on supporting the evolving needs of judges and staff across all the courts and tribunals, while delivering on required efficiencies to meet reduced appropriations.
The following outlines the work of Corporate Services, including major projects and achievements, during 2019–20.
The work of Corporate Services in 2019-20
The Federal Court, Family Court and Federal Circuit Court have a Finance Committee which is made up of judges from the courts as well as the CEO and Principal Registrar.
These committees meet periodically and oversee the financial management of their respective courts, with Corporate Services supporting each of these committees.
As the Accountable Authority, the CEO and Principal Registrar of the Federal Court has overarching responsibility for the financial management of the three courts and Corporate Services, together forming the Federal Court of Australia entity.
During 2019–20, revenue from ordinary activities totalled $355.935 million.
Total revenue, in the main, comprised:
- an appropriation from government of $273.973 million
- $43.340 million of resources received free of charge, for accommodation occupied by the Court in Commonwealth Law Courts buildings and the Law Courts Building in Sydney
- $35.450 million of liabilities assumed by other government agencies, representing the notional value of employer superannuation payments for the Courts’ judges, and
- $3.172 million from the sale of goods and services and other revenue and gains.
Total expenses as per the financial statements are $353.481m. This comprises $110.159 million in judges’ salaries and related expenses, $118.666 million in employees’ salaries and related expenses, $43.842 million in property-related lease expenses, $48.628 million in other administrative expenses, $29.955 million in depreciation expenses and $2.231 million for the write-down and impairment of assets and financial instruments and financing costs.
The net operating result from ordinary activities for 2019–20, as reported in the financial statements, is a surplus of $2.454 million including depreciation expenses and the accounting impacts of AASB 16 Leases. Depreciation expenses in 2019–20 of $29.955 million includes depreciation on right of use assets recognised under AASB 16 Leases. To reflect the underlying operating surplus of the Federal Court of Australia entity, in line with Department of Finance guidelines, depreciation expenses of $29.955 million are excluded and principal payments of lease liabilities of $17.082 million are included. This effectively reverses the impact of AASB 16 Leases on the underlying result and shows a net surplus from ordinary activities of $15.327 million for 2019–20.
The surplus is an improvement on the budgeted break-even position due to a number of projects being delayed to future years, primarily due to the uncertainty surrounding the passage of legislation as well as a reduction in travel activity in the final quarter of 2019–20 due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The Federal Court has other comprehensive income in 2019–20 of $4.107 million due to the revaluation of the Court’s assets.
The next three-year budget cycle continues to challenge the entity to make further savings. With over 60 per cent of the entity’s costs relating to property and judicial costs, which are largely fixed, the ability to reduce overarching costs is limited.
Equity increased from $73.722 million in 2018–19 to $105.556 million in 2019–20.
Program statements for each of the Court’s programs can be found on page 2 and 3.
Advertising and marketing services
As required under s 311A of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, the Court must provide details of all amounts paid for advertising and marketing services. A total of $228,563 was paid for recruitment advertising services in 2019–20. Payments for advertising the notification of native title applications, as required under the Native Title Act 1993, totalled $97,774 over the reporting year.
The Court did not conduct any advertising campaigns in the reporting period.
The Federal Court made no grant payments in 2019–20.
Audit and risk management
The CEO and Principal Registrar of the Federal Court certifies that:
- fraud control plans and fraud risk assessments have been prepared that comply with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines
- appropriate fraud prevention, detection, investigation and reporting procedures and practices that comply with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines are in place, and
- the entity has taken all reasonable measures to appropriately deal with fraud relating to the entity. There were no instances of fraud reported during 2019–20.
The entity had the following structures and processes in place to implement the principles and objectives of corporate governance:
- a single Audit Committee overseeing the entity that met five times during 2019–20. The committee comprises an independent chairperson, three judges from the Federal Court, three judges from the Family Court, two judges from the Federal Circuit Court and one additional external member. The CEO and Principal Registrars for each of the Courts, the Executive Director Corporate Services, the Chief Financial Officer and representatives from the internal audit service provider and the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) attend committee meetings as observers
- internal auditors, O’Connor Marsden and Associates, conducted five internal audits during the year to test the entity’s systems of internal control
- a risk management framework including a Risk Management Policy, a Risk Management Plan and a Fraud Control Plan
- internal compliance certificates completed by senior managers, and
- annual audit performed by the ANAO who issued an unmodified audit certificate attached to the annual financial statements.
There were no significant issues reported under paragraph 19(1)(e) of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 that relate to non-compliance with the finance law in relation to the entity.
Table 4.1: Audit committee
Ian Govey AM
- Bachelor of Laws (Hons), Bachelor of Economics.
- Fellow, Australian Academy of Law.
- Chair, Banking Code Compliance Committee.
- Chair, Federal Court of Australia Audit Committee.
- Deputy Chair, Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions Audit Committee.
- Director, Australian Centre of International Commercial Arbitration.
- Director, Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII).
- Acting Independent Reviewer, ACT Government Campaign Advertising.
- Head, Australian Government Solicitor.
- SES positions in the Australian Public Service, including Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department.
- Bachelor of Laws, Bachelor of Arts.
- Previously a barrister practising in the areas of commercial law and intellectual property law.
- Appointed Senior Counsel in 2001.
- Appointed as a Judge to the Federal Court of Australia in 2009.
- LLB, B Juris.
- Senior Partner of law firm (1990–95).
- Chairman of national law firm (2005–11) with responsibilities including financial forecasts, budgeting and risk management.
- Board Member, Vice President and President, KidsFirst (formerly Children’s Protection Society) (2005–present) with responsibilities including financial forecasts, budgeting and risk management.
- BA LLB (Hons) University of Sydney.
- Deputy President, Australian Competition Tribunal.
- Fellow, Australian Academy of Law.
- Honorary life member, Business Law Section, Law Council of Australia.
- President, Takeovers Panel (2010–12).
- Member, Takeovers Panel (2001–10).
- Chairman, Business Law Section, Law Council of Australia (2008–09).
- Member, Executive, Business Law Section (2004–13).
- Chair, Corporations Committee (2000–03).
- Representative, Law Council, ASX Corporate Governance Council (2001–12).
- Partner, Freehill Hollingdale and Page (1984–1992, 1994–2000).
- Consultant, Freehills (2000–12).
- National Coordinator, Enforcement, Australian Securities Commission (1992–93).
- Acting member, Australian Securities Commission (1993).
- Non-executive director and member of the audit committee for profit companies and government entities in the electricity generation, international banking, clothing manufacture and retail sectors (over periods between 1995–2010).
- Non-executive director and member of the audit committee of not-for-profit entities the Securities Institute of Australia, the Australian Institute of Management, the National Institute of Dramatic Art and the Fred Hollows Foundation (over periods 1995–2017).
- Fellow, Australian Institute of Management.
- Fellow, Australian Institute of Company Directors.
- BA LLB(Hons).
- Judge of the Federal Court of Australia.
- Diploma of Laws (SAB). Master of Laws (University of Technology) with a major in Dispute Resolution. Honorary Master of Laws (Applied Law) and Fellow of the College of Law.
- Presidential Member, Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
- Chair, Family Court Finance Committee.
- Deputy Chair, Academic Board, College of Law.
- Chair, Federal Courts’ Costs Committee.
- President, NSW Law Society.
- Chair and Director, College of Law.
- Trustee, Public Purpose Fund under the Legal Profession Act 1987.
- Director, Solicitors Superannuation Pty Ltd.
- Director, Purvis Van Eyk & Company Pty Ltd (an actuarial and financial research company).
- Executive Member, Management Committee, Rose Consulting Group (Consulting Civil Engineers).
- Legal Representative, South-Eastern Sydney Regional Area Health Board, Institutional Ethics Committee.
- BA (Hons), LLB, PhD (Uni Syd).
- Member, Family Court Finance Committee.
- Member, Family Court Conduct Committee.
- B.A; LL.B. (Hons); LL.M (Melb); S.J.D. (Virginia).
- Visiting Professor, University of Virginia School of Law.
- Finance Committee, Family Court of Australia.
- Board member; member of audit committee; Parenting Research Centre, 2010–16.
- Queen’s Counsel, Victoria, 2016–19.
- Barrister, Victorian Bar, 2002–19.
- Senior Associate, Freehills 1999–2002.
- Bachelor of Arts/Law ANU.
- Chair, Federal Circuit Court Legal Committee.
- Member, Federal Circuit Court Finance Committee.
- Judge, Federal Magistrates Court and Federal Circuit Court since 31 July 2000.
- Member, Australian Institute of Judicial Administration.
- Member, Law Council of Australia, Federal Litigation Section.
- Member, Judicial Conference of Australia.
- Previously held a number of Senior Executive Service positions in the Australian Public Service, Office of the Australian Government Solicitor.
- Bachelor of Laws.
- Fulbright Scholar.
- Member, Fulbright Scholarship Legal Assessment panel.
- Visiting Foreign Judicial Fellowship, Federal Judicial Center, Washington DC (2018).
- LAWASIA, Judicial Section Coordinating Committee.
- President, QUT Law Alumni Chapter (2014–18).
- Chair, LAWASIA Family Law Section (2011–14).
- Board Member, Centacare, Queensland (2004–12).
- Member, Advisory Board, St Vincent de Paul Society, Queensland (1992–94).
- Frances Cawthra is the Chief Executive Officer of Cenitex, the Victorian Government’s IT shared service provider. Cenitex provides essential ICT services including identity and network management, cyber security, user workspace and cloud services to more than 30 Victorian Government departments, portfolio agencies, associated agencies and government entities.
- Prior to joining Cenitex, Frances was Chief Finance Officer with the Australian Taxation Office and has held senior roles in a variety of organisations including the National Australia Bank, United Energy and Coles Myer.
- She has been recognised for her leadership in the areas of financial and resource management, investment strategy, procurement and contract management.
The direct electronic address of the charter determining the functions of the audit committee for the entity can be found at https://www.fedcourt.gov.au/about/corporate-information/audit-committee-charter/_nocache.
Correction of errors in the 2018-19 annual report
The Court has no matters to report.
The safety and security of all people who attend or work in the Courts is a high priority.
During 2019–20, $6.5 million was expended for court security services, including the presence of security officers, weapons screening, staff training and other security measures. This figure includes funding spent on security equipment maintenance and equipment upgrades.
Other achievements during the reporting year include:
- Finalising the procurement arrangements for the upgrade of security equipment and systems which will ensure court facilities continue to provide effective physical security.
- Taking up the first of two additional two-year extension options for the Commonwealth Contract for the provision of Guarding Services (up to October 2021).
- Replacing the aging security incident recording system with an integrated risk and security incident management system.
The Marshal and Sheriff continues to work very closely with the Australian Federal Police and the police services of the states and territories on a range of matters including executing orders emanating from family law matters such as the recovery of children, the arrest of persons and the prevention of parties leaving Australia when ordered not to do so, as well as a range of information exchange arrangements in order to improve our understanding of risks associated with individuals coming to court.
In the coming years, the Court will complete the roll-out of upgraded security infrastructure and measures to introduce a culture emphasising the integrated nature of personal, physical and information security.
The Court’s procurement policies and procedures, expressed in the Court’s Resource Management Instructions, are based on the requirements of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013, the Commonwealth Procurement Rules and best practice guidance documents published by the Department of Finance. The Court achieves a high level of performance against the core principles of achieving value for money through efficient, effective and appropriately competitive procurement processes.
Information on consultancy services
The Court’s policy on the selection and engagement of all consultants is based on the Australian Government’s procurement policy framework as expressed in the Commonwealth Procurement Policy and guideline documentation published by the Department of Finance.
The main function for which consultants were engaged related to the delivery of specialist and expert services, primarily in connection with the Court’s IT infrastructure, international programs, finance, property, security and business elements of the Court’s corporate services delivery.
Depending on the particular needs, value and risks (as set out in the Court’s Procurement Information), the Court uses open tender and limited tender for its consultancies. The Court is a relatively small user of consultants. As such, the Court has no specific policy by which consultants are engaged, other than within the broad frameworks above, related to skills unavailability within the Court or when there is need for specialised and/or independent research or assessment.
Information on expenditure on all court contracts and consultancies is available on the AusTender website at www.tenders.gov.au.
During 2019–20, 15 new consultancy contracts were entered into, involving total actual expenditure of $1.286 million. In addition, five ongoing consultancy contracts were active during 2019–20, which involved total actual expenditure of $335,289.
Table 4.2 outlines expenditure trends for consultancy contracts for 2019–20.
Table 4.2: Number and expenditure on consultants, current report period (2019–20)
No. of new contracts entered into during the period
Total actual expenditure during the period on new contracts (inc. GST)
No. of ongoing contracts engaging consultants that were entered into during a previous period
Total actual expenditure during the period on ongoing contracts (inc. GST)
Competitive tendering and contracting
During 2019–20, there were no contracts let to the value of $100,000 or more that did not provide for the Auditor-General to have access to the contractor’s premises.
During 2019–20, there were no contracts or standing offers exempted by the CEO and Principal Registrar from publication in the contract reporting section on AusTender.
During the reporting period, no contracts or standing offers were exempt from publication on AusTender in terms of the Freedom of Information Act 1982.
Procurement initiatives to support small business
The Court supports small business participation in the Commonwealth Government procurement market. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and small business participation statistics are available on the Department of Finance’s website at https://www.finance.gov.au/procurement/statistics-on-commonwealth-purchasing-contracts/
In compliance with its obligations under the Commonwealth Procurement Rules, to achieve value for money in its purchase of goods and services, and reflecting the scale, scope and risk of a particular procurement, the Court applies procurement practices that provide SMEs the appropriate opportunity to compete for its business.
The Court recognises the importance of ensuring that SMEs are paid on time. The results of the Survey of Australian Government Payments to Small Business are available on the Treasury’s website at www.treasury.gov.au.
To ensure SMEs are paid on time, the Court uses the following initiatives or practices:
- the Commonwealth Contracting Suite for low-risk procurements valued under $200,000, and
- electronic systems or other processes used to facilitate on-time payment performance, including the use of payment cards.
Commonwealth Law Court buildings
The Court occupies Commonwealth Law Court buildings in every Australian capital city (eight in total). With the exception of two Commonwealth Law Courts in Sydney, the purpose-built facilities within these Commonwealth-owned buildings are shared with other largely Commonwealth Court jurisdictions.
From 1 July 2012, the Commonwealth Law Court buildings have been managed in collaboration with the building ‘owners’, the Department of Finance, under revised ‘Special Purpose Property’ principles. Leasing and management arrangements are governed by whether the space is designated as special purpose accommodation (courtrooms, chambers, public areas) or usable office accommodation (registry areas).
An interim MOU was signed by the Court with Department of Finance for 2018–19 and this MOU will roll over monthly while the Court and Department of Finance negotiate a long-term agreement. The longer-term lease agreement MOU is expected to come into effect early in the 2020–21 financial year.
Registries - leased
Corporate Services also manages some 13 registry buildings across the nation, located in leased premises. Leased premises locations include Albury, Cairns, Dandenong, Dubbo, Launceston, Lismore, Newcastle, Rockhampton, Sydney, Townsville and Wollongong. There are also arrangements for the use of ad hoc accommodation for circuiting in 25 other regional locations throughout Australia.
Regional registries - co-located
The Courts co-locate with a number of state court jurisdictions, leasing accommodation from their state counterparts. The following arrangements are in place:
- the Court has Federal Court, Family Court and Federal Circuit Court registries in Darwin. The registries are co-located in the Northern Territory Supreme Court building under the terms of a Licence to Occupy between the Court and the Northern Territory Government, and
- the Court has a Family Court and Federal Circuit Court registry in Rockhampton, and formerly circuited to this premises six weeks per year, under the terms of a Licence to Occupy between the Court and the Queensland Government. Since the Commonwealth Attorney-General announced a new full-time judicial appointment in Rockhampton in early 2016, negotiations with the Queensland Government regarding full-time accommodation options for the judge and registry have progressed. The Court is currently awaiting Commonwealth Government approval and funding to fit-out a new dedicated court building in a Queensland Government vacant building within the legal precinct.
Queens Square, Sydney
The Federal Court in Sydney is located in the Law Courts Building in Queens Square, co-tenanting with the New South Wales Supreme Court. This building is owned by a private company (Law Courts Limited), a joint collaboration between the Commonwealth and New South Wales governments. The Court pays no rent, outgoings or utility costs for its space in this building.
Projects and capital works delivered in 2019-20
The majority of capital works delivered in 2019–20 were projects addressing the urgent and essential business needs of the Courts. Projects undertaken or commenced included the following:
- Completed construction of new courtrooms and public facilities in Newcastle by expanding into the adjoining building.
- Upgraded jury box facilities in the Melbourne Law Courts building to ensure access compliance.
- Replaced front entrance x-ray scanning equipment in the majority of Court premises.
- Commenced project to upgrade all security backend systems, access controls, alarms and CAPS CCTV through the Courts’ premises. The project is expected to be completed during 2020–21.
- Completed fit-out design works for the relocation of Sydney Corporate Services to new premises. Construction works are scheduled to occur during the 2020–21 financial year.
- Commenced early design works for the construction of additional jury courtrooms and judges’ chambers in the Queens Square Law Courts building in Sydney.
- Worked with the building owner, the Department of Finance, for the upgrade of Child Dispute facilities, lifts, and bathroom and kitchen facilities throughout a number of Commonwealth Law Courts buildings.
The Court provides the following information as required under s 516A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
The Court, together with other jurisdictions in shared premises, ensures all activities are undertaken in an environmentally sustainable way, and has embedded ecologically sustainable development principles through the following:
- an Environmental Policy, which articulates the Court’s commitment to raising environmental awareness and minimising the consumption of energy, water and waste in all accommodation, and
- a National Environmental Initiative Policy, which is intended to encourage staff to adopt water and energy savings practices. It provides clear recycling opportunities and guidance, encourages public transport and active travel to and from the workplace.
Monitoring of actual impacts on the environment
The Court has an impact on the environment in a number of areas, primarily in the consumption of resources. Table 4.3 lists environmental impact/ usage data where available. The data is for all the Federal Court jurisdictions over the last three financial years. Before the amalgamation, all Courts reported separately, and only Family Court and Federal Circuit Court figures were reported previous to the 2016–17 financial year).
Measures to minimise the Court's environmental impact: Environmental management system
The Court’s environmental management system has many of the planned key elements now in place. They include:
- an environmental policy and environmental initiatives outlining the Court’s broad commitment to environmental management, and
- an environmental risk register identifying significant environmental aspects and impacts for the Court and treatment strategies to mitigate them.
During 2019–20, the Court worked within its environmental management system to minimise its environmental impact through a number of specific measures, either new or continuing.
- Replacement of conventional florescent and halogen lighting with energy saving LED lighting.
- Replacement of appliances with energy efficient models.
- Review of electricity contracts to ensure value for money.
- E-waste was recycled or reused where possible, including auctioning redundant but still operational equipment.
- Fully recyclable packaging was used where possible.
Table 4.3: The Court’s environmental impact/usage data, 2015–16 to 2019–20
Energy usage – privately leased sites (stationary)*
N/A at time of printing
Transport vehicles – energy usage
+ 59,776 L/
+ 4749 L/
= 6535 GJ or
436.3 tonnes of CO2
+ 54,250 L/
+ 6099 L/
= 7095 GJ or
+ 58,233 L/
+ 4,976 L/
= 6593 GJ or
461 tonnes of CO2
123,787 L/ 1,231,264 km Petrol
43,519 L/ 450433 km Diesel
10,652 L/ 106,918 km Dual fuel
= 443 tonnes of CO2
- An electronic court file was introduced for the Federal Court and the Federal Circuit Court (general federal law) in 2014. Matters commencing with the Courts are now handled entirely electronically. Over 85,514 electronic court files have been created, comprising almost 1,041,597 electronic documents, effectively replacing the use of paper in court files. This is an increase of 14,812 electronic court files and 166,425 electronic court documents from 2018–19.
- Family law eFiling also continues to be expanded, with over 87 per cent of divorce applications now being electronically filed. This is an increase of 17 per cent from 2018–19.
- Clients are encouraged to use the online Portal, and staff are encouraged to send emails rather than letters where feasible.
- Secure paper (e.g. confidential) continued to be shredded and recycled for all court locations.
- Non-secure paper recycling was available at all sites.
- Printers are initially set to default double-sided printing and monochrome.
- Recycled paper (8,774 reams) comprises 26 per cent of total paper usage. The overall reams total 2019–20 has decreased by 2,024 reams. This is due to the increased use of electronic filing and communication were feasible, as well as working from home during COVID-19 restrictions. The entity will remind officials on their return to work of the electronic protocols and highlight the benefits of our learned practices working from home without a printer.
- Provision for waste co-mingled recycling (e.g. non-secure paper, cardboard, recyclable plastics, metals and glass) forms a part of cleaning contracts, with regular waste reporting included in the contract requirements for the privately leased sites.
- Printer toner cartridges continued to be recycled at the majority of sites.
- Recycling facilities for staff personal mobile phones were permanently available at key sites.
- Secure paper and e-waste recycling was available at all sites.
Fit-outs and refurbishments continued to be conducted in an environmentally responsible manner including:
- recycling demolished materials where possible
- maximising reuse of existing furniture and fittings
- engaging consultants with experience in sustainable development where possible and including environmental performance requirements in relevant contracts (design and construction)
- maximising the use of environmentally friendly products such as recycled content in furniture and fittings, low VOC (volatile organic compound) paint and adhesives, and energy efficient appliances, lighting and air conditioning
- installing water and energy efficient appliances, and
- the Court’s project planning applies ecologically sustainable development principles from ‘cradle to grave’ – taking a sustainable focus from initial planning through to operation, and on to end-of-life disposal. Risk planning includes consideration of environment risks, and mitigations are put in place to address environmental issues.
The Court supports the use of video conferencing facilities in place of staff travel. Although some travel is unavoidable, staff are encouraged to consider other alternatives.
Additional ecologically sustainable development implications
In 2019–20, the Court did not administer any legislation with ecologically sustainable development implications, nor did it have outcomes specified in an Appropriations Act with such implications.