The Attorney-General’s portfolio comprises the Attorney-General’s Department and 13 portfolio agencies. The portfolio delivers programs and policies to maintain and improve Australia's law, justice, security and integrity frameworks. This work spans a range of significant areas and affects the lives of many Australians, including those in regional and remote communities.
The Attorney-General’s portfolio has a geographic footprint in every state and territory, and engages the perspectives of regional Australians to inform its work. As at 31 December 2018, the Attorney-General’s portfolio employed 4,788 staff under the Public Service Act. Of this total, 3,523 staff (73.58 per cent) are employed in Canberra, central Melbourne and central Sydney, 1,039 staff (21.70 per cent) in other capital cities and 226 staff (4.72 per cent) in regional areas.
The High Court of Australia employs staff under its own legislation and has distribution of staff around Australia including 10 staff in capital cities outside of Canberra, central Melbourne and central Sydney.
The portfolio’s footprint includes office locations such as Albury, Dubbo, Lismore and Townsville.
Ensuring individuals, families and communities in regional areas can access the support and services they need is a key priority for the Government. From 2019-20, the Attorney‑General’s portfolio will be providing nearly $1.1 billion over four years to maximise outcomes for new and existing services under the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children, the Women’s Economic Security Package, and the Legal Assistance Package.
The Attorney-General’s portfolio manages alternative pathways and access to formal legal processes to provide greater avenues to justice for Australians in regional communities. The Family Relationships Services Program delivers a range of post- separation services to families in regional communities. The Commonwealth Courts Portal and the Federal Circuit Court’s eFiling service similarly improves regional access to legal processes by providing Federal Court, Family Court and Federal Circuit Court resources online and enabling online lodging of divorce applications. The Attorney-General’s portfolio is also leading work to protect the rights of older Australians through Elder Abuse Service Trials, including in some regional communities.
The Australian Government is committed to funding for legal assistance services for regional Australia. Under the current National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services 2015-2020, $1.3 billion will be delivered to community legal centres (CLCs) and legal aid commissions (LACs) over five years to 30 June 2020. Under the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program, $370.1 million will be delivered to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services (ATSILS) over five years to 30 June 2020.
The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner provides assistance with privacy and freedom of information matters via telephone and online services to ensure regional Australians can access regulatory assistance. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal continues to develop its online portal to enhance the ability of users in regional Australia to interact with the Tribunal online, and the Australian Human Rights Commission continues to track the geographic range of its activities including engagement events, conducting training and workshops and commissioned research. The Australian Financial Security Authority has moved away from a reliance on counter services to online services/electronic channels while retaining post, fax and telephone options accessed via their National Service Centre. The National Archives of Australia is launching a new corporate website to give regional Australians easier access to National Archives’ services from mid-2019 and will continue the National Touring Exhibition Program to make the national archival collection accessible to audiences throughout the country.
Legal Assistance Package
The Legal Assistance Package will provide approximately $1.2 billion over three years from 2020-21, for vital legal assistance to keep everyday Australians, families and communities safe, including Australians in regional and remote communities.
Under the Legal Assistance Package, a new, single National Mechanism for Commonwealth legal assistance funding will be created from 1 July 2020. This National Mechanism will provide a unified administrative mechanism that provides secure and quarantined funding to LACs, CLCs and ATSILS.
From 1 July 2020, the Australian Government is increasing its investment in baseline funding for legal assistance services, to $30.5 million per year over three years. This funding will allowLACs, CLCs and ATSILS to deliver frontline services and to support a more collaborative and innovative legal assistance sector. LACs, CLCs and ATSILS provide essential services across Australia, including regional communities. Legal assistance services help disadvantaged Australians, who cannot afford private legal services, to resolve their legal problems and help them get back on their feet.
Family Advocacy and Support Services—Dedicated Men’s Support Workers
The Australian Government will provide $7.84 million over three years from 1 July 2019 to employ dedicated men’s support workers in Family Advocacy and Support Services registry and circuit locations. Dedicated men’s support workers will provide access to appropriate support services for both male victims and alleged perpetrators of family violence with matters before the family law court, such as parenting programs and men’s behavioural change programs.
Thirteen of the registry locations, and all circuit locations in which the Family Advocacy and Support Services operates, are in regional areas. Funding dedicated men’s support workers, particularly in regional areas, will have a positive impact by filling a gap in the provision of support services to men with family law matters in the courts. Greater engagement by men with the court system, enabled by increased social support, will contribute to a reduction of court time spent on self-represented matters and support victim safety in regional areas.
Initiatives to support the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022
Improving Information Sharing between Federal Family Law System and State Family Violence and Child Protection Systems’
The Australian Government will provide $11.0 million to improve the sharing of information between the Federal Family Law system and state and territory based child protection and family violence systems. This will include co-locating state and territory officials, such as child protection and policing officials, in up to 16 family law court locations across Australia.
Funding will also be used to scope a technological solution to facilitate information sharing between the federal family law and state family violence and child protection systems.
Administrative Appeals Tribunal—Regional and remote access plan
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal is developing an access plan that sets out how it supports regional and remote users to access Administrative Appeals Tribunal services and participate in the administrative review process. The plan will ensure the Administrative Appeals Tribunal is accessible to regional and remote users by focussing on:
- understanding the needs, goals and barriers of regional and remote users;
- ensuring all information and artefacts for users is available online;
- making it easy for regional and remote users to interact with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, including by digital means;
- holding conferences and hearings by telephone, video or other electronic means; and
- conducting circuits to regional and remote areas where appropriate.
Women’s Economic Security Package
As part of the Women’s Economic Security Package, announced on 20 November 2018, the Australian Government is investing $98.4 million in new funding from 2019-20 for family law services and initiatives to support women and their families to recover financially after separation. This funding will provide separated families in regional Australia with access to affordable and timely assistance and support services.
The Package includes:
- $50.4 million in new funding for family law property mediation.
- $13.0 million each year will be provided to the 65 Family Relationship Centres across Australia on an ongoing basis to provide mediation services to help families to reach agreements about splitting their property after separation without having to go to court. This funding will be available from 1 July 2019;
- $10.3 million will be provided for Legal Aid Commissions in each state and territory to conduct a two year trial of lawyer-assisted mediation for families with a property pool of up to $500,000 (excluding debt). The trial will run from January 2020-December 2021;
- $5.9 million in additional new funding for the federal family courts to conduct a two year pilot of simpler and faster court processes for dividing small claim property disputes between separating couples. The pilot will run at four locations across the country from January 2020 to December 2021;
- $3.3 million in new funding for the Australian Taxation Office, as part of a joint measure with the Attorney-General’s Department, to develop an electronic system to allow superannuation information to be provided directly to the family law courts in family law disputes. This will provide the courts with a more timely, accurate and reliable source of information about superannuation assets to inform property settlements;
- $31.8 million over three years (ongoing) to existing Commonwealth-funded specialist Domestic Violence Units and Health Justice Partnerships to continue existing services and expand services to include the provision of financial support services such as financial advice, counselling and literacy;
- ongoing funding, initially $7.0 million over three years, to establish the new Family Violence and Cross-Examination of Parties Scheme. Under the Scheme, Legal Aid Commissions in each state and territory will be funded to provide legal representation to all self-represented parties subject to the ban on direct cross-examination in the Family Law Act 1975.
Family Advocacy and Support Services
Under the Third Action Plan 2016-2019 of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, the Australian Government provided $18.5 million for legal aid commissions to operate the Family Advocacy and Support Services (FASS) in family law court registries and other locations across Australia. The FASS increases the capacity of duty lawyer services and integrates family violence support services, to help families affected by family violence with matters before the family law courts.
The FASS operates in 14 family law court registries and two local court registries in the Northern Territory, 13 of which are regional locations. Services are also being delivered in seven regional circuit court locations.
The FASS effectively fills a gap in legal and social service provision to family law clients with experience of family violence, including in regional locations. The FASS also provides an alternative avenue for clients to obtain legal assistance where they are unable to access other local legal services due to a conflict of interest. This issue may arise in regional areas where legal service options may be limited.
Following the FASS’ positive evaluation, as part of the Budget 2018-2019—Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, the Government committed to provide an additional $22.6 million to extend the existing FASS from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2022.
Legally Assisted and Culturally Appropriate Dispute Resolution Pilots
As part of a funding package to support the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, the Australian Government committed $6.2 million over three years (2016‑17 to 2018-19) to fund Family Relationship Centres to pilot enhanced models of legally assisted and culturally-appropriate family dispute resolution services for Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse families who have experienced family violence. In 2018-19, the Government committed a further $2.475 million to extend the operation and evaluation of the pilots by one year, to 30 June 2020.
Family Relationship Services Program
In 2019-20, the Australian Government will provide $182.4 million for the Family Relationship Services Program, $178.5 million of which will fund a range of post‑separation family law services under the Families and Communities Program, administered by the Department of Social Services.
The funded services are:
- Family Relationship Centres;
- Family Relationship Advice Line;
- family dispute resolution;
- regional family dispute resolution;
- children’s contact services;
- parenting orders/post-separation cooperative parenting;
- supporting children after separation; and
These services provide alternatives to formal legal processes and assist families which are separated, separating or in dispute to resolve disputes in a way that is in the best interests of children. The services are located throughout Australia, including regional areas. Information and resources are also available online through Family Relationships Online, in a way that is accessible to regional Australia.
National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services 2015-2020
The National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services 2015-2020 commenced on 1 July 2015. Under the National Partnership Agreement, people residing in rural or remote areas are priority clients to be considered as part of planning and targeting of legal assistance services.
In 2019‑20, of the total funding provided under the National Partnership Agreement, the Australian Government is providing approximately $219.9 million to LACs and approximately $50.1 million to CLCs.
There are approximately 75 LAC offices across Australia, with around 76 per cent of offices located in regions outside of metropolitan Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne. .
Approximately 75 per cent of CLCs are located in regions outside of metropolitan Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne.
Indigenous Legal Assistance Program
In 2019‑20, of total funding provided under the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program, the Australian Government is providing approximately $75.2 million to ATSILS for the delivery of high quality and culturally appropriate legal assistance services.
The Indigenous Legal Assistance Program benefits Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in regional areas who would otherwise be unable to access appropriate legal support. There are seven ATSILS nationally which deliver services from 70 permanent locations, including regional and remote areas, court circuits, bush courts and outreach locations. Of the 193,680 legal assistance services provided by ATSILS in 2016-17, 94.6 per cent of services were delivered to clients in regions outside of metropolitan Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne.
Community Legal Services Program
The Community Legal Services Program is a nationally focused discretionary grants program, supporting the provision of legal assistance to the community by funding national service delivery projects, innovative pilot programs and program support activities. The Australian Government will provide $2.65 million to the Community Legal Services Program in 2019-20.
Under the Community Legal Services Program, funding is also provided to three national community legal centres including Youth Law Australia (formerly National Children’s and Youth Law Centre), the Arts Law Centre and the Financial Rights Legal Centre, who deliver specialised information, legal advice and representation to disadvantaged individuals across Australia. Services are delivered through an innovative mix of telephone, email, video conferencing and face-to-face client contact to reach those most in need in all metropolitan, rural and remote areas of Australia.
The Community Legal Services Program also delivers a national Self-Representation Service that provides assistance to unrepresented people in the Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court. The Self-Representation Service ensures that self-represented parties, who do not have access to legal assistance and advice through other sources, are provided with legal assistance and referrals to alternative dispute resolution. The Self-Represented Service is delivered through telephone, email and video conferencing facilities.
Native Title Respondent Funding Scheme
The Native Title Respondent Funding Scheme provides assistance for individuals or groups, including pastoralists, graziers and fishers, to have equitable access to legal representation in the resolution of native title proceedings where there interest are likely to be affected. Funding for the Native Title Respondent Funding Scheme in 2019‑20 is $1.7 million.
Elder Abuse Service Trials—More Choices for a Longer Life—protecting older Australians
As part of the More Choices for a Longer Life Package, the Australian Government has committed $18.3 million, of a broader $22.0 million measure, to directly support the implementation of three types of specialist services that will be used to test the effectiveness of different service models to support older people and their families seeking help with elder abuse:
- specialist elder abuse units;
- health justice partnerships; and
- case management and mediation services.
The new services will enhance Australia’s frontline service response to elder abuse by significantly expanding the practical support on offer to help older Australians and their families affected by elder abuse, including some in regional areas. Funding will be provided over the 2018-19 to 2021-22 financial years.
This funding includes administration costs for the service trials and a contribution to support the targeted elder abuse-related work of the Age Discrimination Commissioner.
The Elder Abuse Service Trials builds on the Australian Government’s 2016 election commitment, ‘Our Plan to Protect the Rights of Older Australians’, and contributes to addressing key findings of the Australian Law Reform Commission Report: Elder Abuse—A National Legal Response (ALRC Report 131).
Funding for Elder Abuse Research
The Australian Government will conduct Australia’s first national study into the prevalence of elder abuse, drawing on funding for the 2016 commitment, ‘Our Plan to Protect the Rights of Older Australians’. Fieldwork for this $1.5 million, complex study will commence in 2019 and will involve participants from across the country.
Register of Security Interests in Personal Property
The Australian Financial Security Authority administers the Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR) used by the Australian community and the business sector to register security interests over personal property, assess financial risk and make informed financial decisions.
The PPSR covers goods and assets that are not land, buildings or fixtures, such as motor vehicles, boats, crops, livestock and other items. The PPSR is an online service available to consumers and businesses included in regional areas at any time. In areas with limited internet, the service can also be accessed by phone.
The PPSR offers important consumer protection. Consumers and businesses can check whether any valuable goods are free from existing financed debt and safe from possible repossession, before they purchase. Businesses that sell on retention of title or consignment, or hire or lease out goods for more than two years, can register to protect their security interest in case a customer becomes insolvent. Businesses can also use their assets as collateral to raise finance.
Searching the PPSR through www.ppsr.gov.au costs $2.00. A registration costs from $7.00.
The Review of the Personal Property Securities Act was undertaken in 2015 to simplify and clarify the Personal Property Securities Act 2009. The Review identified that awareness of the PPSR was low amongst small business, and aspects of the Act and register are unnecessarily complex.
In 2019, the Australian Government will provide the Attorney-General’s Department with $0.7 million to support finalisation of its response to the Review. This will help to minimise technical legal concepts which create barriers for stakeholders using the register to manage business risk.
The Australian Financial Security Authority is undertaking an outreach program to visit regional communities to supplement awareness raising of the PPSR, with a particular focus on small business. Implementing the reforms will assist the Australian Financial Security Authority to better understand the needs of users in regional areas and identify potential areas for improvement and inform the legislative reform/government response to the review of the legislation.
Personal Insolvency and Trustee Services
Australia’s personal insolvency system is administered by the Australian Financial Security Authority. There are a number of informal and formal options for people who have unmanageable debt or are owed money. Information on these options, downloadable resources and some transactional services, are available at www.afsa.gov.au to all Australians, including those in regional areas at any time. In areas with limited internet, this information is also available via phone.
Federal Court of Australia—Digital Files
The introduction in 2014 of the Electronic Court File in the Federal Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia saw significant savings in time and money, improved case management for litigants, practitioners and the Court, portability of the Court files and ease-of-access. The benefits of a portable Court file have been primarily significant in Native Title proceedings heard on country.
Following the merger of the corporate services of the Federal Court, Family Court of Australia, Federal Circuit Court and the National Native Title Tribunal from 2016, it followed that the Digital Court File (DCF) would be introduced across all jurisdictions. The project to introduce the DCF in family law jurisdictions is advanced with an expected implementation date in 2019. In order for the DCF to work well, the family law eFiling platform has been enhanced to allow for easier and broader capabilities for the filing of documents electronically from any location across Australia. The implementation of the DCF gives the Court the flexibility to better allocate its resources nationally to where it is needed most, including regional locations.
Federal Court of Australia—Digital Litigation
The Electronic Court File and the Digital Court File are not the solution to digital litigation—this is the Courts' next step. The introduction of digital hearings, together with the upgrades to the technical infrastructure in courtrooms such as videoconferencing facilities, would allow people to appear and run hearings from both metropolitan and regional areas of Australia electronically.
In addition, from the establishment of the Courts’ Artificial Intelligence (AI) Committee, there are significant areas where access to justice could be improved by driving AI solutions and making it cheaper and easier to resolve disputes through online dispute resolution and predicting outcomes to matters before they have even been filed. The development of an AI solution for the Courts will combat accessibility issues to parties and legal representatives in remote locations.
Federal Circuit Court of Australia—Commonwealth Courts Portal
The Commonwealth Courts Portal was launched in 2007, to provide free web‑based access to information about cases that are before the Federal Court, Family Court and Federal Circuit Court. The Commonwealth Courts Portal also allows parties to file documents electronically, pay fees online and view outcomes, orders and future court dates in certain matters.
In 2016, the Federal Circuit Court commenced roll-out of electronic filing for divorce applications, and now has a fully electronic divorce file. The introduction of eFiling for divorce applications has improved access for litigants in regional Australia who cannot attend a registry to lodge documents or are required to rely on Australia Post. Litigants can now lodge applications outside traditional registry hours via the online services without the need to travel to a registry.
Further improvements to eFiling on the Commonwealth Courts Portal have been made as part of the Courts’ Digital Court Program, in particular through enhancements to expand the number of documents that can be eFiled. The Portal now allows parties to lodge more documents, lodge fee reductions and exemption applications, upload correspondence related to their matter, and outline special considerations including safety, urgency and interpreter requests. In doing so, access is further improved for litigants in regional Australia, enabling the Courts to deliver improved access to justice. The Digital Court Program is part of the Government’s broader digital transformation agenda and was announced as part of the Streamlining and Improving the Sustainability of Courts budget package.
Federal Circuit Court of Australia—Administered Fund
The Court utilises a dedicated administered fund to provide private property mediations. Its major focus is to provide services to litigants, particularly in regional areas in support of the Court’s circuit work. The fund enables the Court to deliver improved access to justice and creates assistance to litigants by providing:
- property mediation where the external provider is located in the same area as the litigants and in a position to offer more timely interventions;
- services that would otherwise be limited to Registrar circuits or require the parties to travel to capital cities; and
- timely services that provide an opportunity for the early resolution of matters.
The use of the fund in this manner also enables the Court to reduce the cost of Registrars travelling to circuit locations. The fund is an innovative way of delivering access to justice to litigants in regional Australia where Court-based services are limited.
Administrative Appeals Tribunal—Online portal
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal will continue to develop its online portal for users. Currently the portal enables users to lodge applications for review for all types of matters and upload documents (such as submissions) for limited types of matters. In 2019-20, users will be able to upload documents for all types of matters, enhancing the ability of users in regional Australia to interact with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal online.