This chapter summarises areas of interest and concern raised during the
committee's consideration of the Budget Estimates for the Attorney-General's
portfolio for the 2009-10 financial year.
Australian Human Rights Commission
The Committee's initial questioning of the Australian Human Rights Commission
(AHRC) focussed on the attendance of Commissioner Calma and AHRC staff at the
Durban Review Conference in Geneva on 20-24 April 2009. AHRC representatives
attended this conference, although the Government had decided to boycott it.
The Committee also took evidence from the AHRC concerning its promotion
of a particular model for a possible Charter of Rights, although the government
has not set a policy position on the matter. The President of the AHRC, the
Hon Catherine Branson QC, advised the committee that:
...the commission has indicated in broad terms its support for
what is ordinarily known as a dialogue model human rights act .... It would identify
the particular rights that Australia wishes to have protected by its overarching
human rights institution.
Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC)
The committee sought information about AUSTRAC’s budget cutbacks and the
effects on its core business operations, including reductions in staff numbers,
and a reduction of $2.8 million over four years from the budget dealing with Anti-Money
Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act compliance.
Committee members also questioned officers about the appointment of an
AUSTRAC officer who had a criminal record for the supply of drugs dating back
eleven years, and who had been disqualified from practising law in NSW and
Questions focussed on security vetting processes for this person, who had
received a ‘protected’ level security clearance. Officers explained that the
individual had been deemed suitable after two independent reviews and that the
checking processes had been consistent with the Protective Security Manual
procedures for the level, which required checks going back five years.
As a result of this experience, AUSTRAC advised the committee that a
review of security vetting procedures had been completed and the clearance
process had been strengthened with the addition of more checks made of
information in the public domain; however the agency would maintain the
five-year checking period for clearance at the ‘protected’ level.
Classification Board and Classification Review Board
The Director of the Classification Review Board, Mr Donald McDonald AC,
made an extensive opening statement detailing activities of the board in
relation to the pursuit of its responsibilities concerning the sale of
unclassified and misclassified pornographic publications.
This matter had been the subject of close questioning by senators in a
previous round of hearings.
While the board has a role in the classification of publications, films
and games, it has no enforcement role, which is the responsibility of state and
territory police forces. Senators expressed their concern regarding the sale in
convenience stores of publications which have been refused classification, and
sought details on the government’s response in addressing the matter.
The issues of more severe penalties for non compliance and federal laws in
this area were also raised by senators.
Family Court of Australia and Federal Magistrates Court of Australia
The committee questioned the Chief Executive of the Family Court of
Australia, Mr Richard Foster PSM, on the judicial complaints handling
procedures in that Court.
The Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee’s inquiry into
Australia’s judicial system and the role of judges has given rise to particular
interest among committee members in the Court's procedures. The committee heard
that the Deputy Chief Justice has primary carriage of complaints, which are
coordinated through a judicial complaints adviser, who is a legally qualified
registrar of the court.
Senators questioned officers of the Family Court of Australia and the
Federal Magistrates Court about the implementation of the Semple review
recommendations. The committee heard that at this stage, the review
implementation has been confined to the merging of corporate services for the
When Senators suggested that Semple review implementation is moving
ahead of Parliamentary approval, the Chief Executive confirmed that the
decision to proceed with integration of administration of both courts was made
at a meeting of the Family Court Advisory Group on 23 March 2009.
The Chief Justice and the Chief Federal magistrate made this
decision in advance of the government’s announcement on 5 May about the
proposed merger of the two courts in order to maximise efficiency and resources
and to help address both courts’ difficult financial positions, as they are
responsible for the administration of the courts. Under their respective acts
the jurisdictional heads are responsible for the administration of the acts,
and under the act they can direct the CEO to perform certain functions. In
effect, they have directed me to proceed with this merger.
Australian Federal Police
The committee spent considerable time examining the Australian Federal
Police (AFP) estimates on the second day of hearings. Questions were asked
about AFP involvement in the system of advice to government relating to
unauthorised boat arrivals and people smuggling, the nature and form of
Australia’s interdiction with Indonesia, and the operation of the People
Smuggling Taskforce and associated organisations. These issues were examined
in the context of the SIEV 36 disaster.
Amongst a range of other matters pursued by the committee, information
was sought on the AFP’s pursuit of Paul Henry Dean in India. Senators also asked
about the resulting difficulties in gathering evidence for the purposes of a
prosecution under extra-territorial Australian sex tourism laws.
The committee sought details on the AFP's work with the police force in
Burma and was informed that this principally involves developmental and
training work in the area of counter narcotics.
Addressing concerns expressed by Senators about the AFP's activities in
Burma, the Commissioner advised:
Certainly we would not provide cooperation where that
cooperation would result in offences occurring either in Burma or in Australia.
We are very conscious of the political situation but, at the same time, we are
aware of the advantages of being there with other agencies trying to develop
their capability and certainly trying to get an understanding of the impact of
their narcotics production.
The AFP confirmed that there has been a significant reduction in heroin
being trafficked from Burma to Australia since the introduction of these
The committee notes that the appearance by Commissioner Mick Keelty APM
before the committee was his last before his retirement on 2 September 2009. Members
of the committee and Minister Ludwig acknowledged his contribution over his
many years of service with the AFP, including as Commissioner since 2001.
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service
Senators sought details about the Australian Customs and Border Protection
Service's (ACBPS) risk-based approach to air cargo inspections, first port
boarding inspections and sea cargo inspections. The committee was advised that
in respect of each of these categories of inspection, there will be fewer
inspections than previously.
The committee also sought advice more generally on programs or
activities that have been cut back or reduced. Mr Carmody explained that:
a lot of this is about more efficient and effective delivery
of what we do. Efficiency requirements that have been in place for many years
have been a significant contributor to this. We are continuing with our
strategy of ensuring that highest proportion of reductions is in our corporate
support areas. 
Continuing examination of the ACBPS, the committee questioned officers
on the operation of the Maritime Incident Operations Group, receiving evidence
about the chronology of events and meetings that took place on the day of the
SIEV 36 incident.
The ACBPS was also questioned on airport security and implementation of
the recommendation of the Wheeler review which arose out of the treatment of
whistleblower Alan Kessing.
Customs maintained that there had been a substantial change of culture and
processes in the organisation that would prevent a repetition of such an
incident, but would not be drawn on the case, as it is still before the courts.
Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation
The new Director-General of ASIO, Mr David Irvine AO, was questioned
about the large increases in funding for the organisation over the last two
budget years. Mr Irvine confirmed that over a four year period, ASIO staffing
had increased from 800 to 1600, and was projected to increase to approximately
1800 by the end of next year. Mr Irvine explained that the increased staffing
related to ASIO's needs to increase its expertise and capabilities following
the advent of terrorism:
..it [ASIO] has had to develop the capability to provide
reliable and useful threat assessments to the Australian government, which
requires a highly developed analytical capability that four or five years ago
we did not have to the extent required. It has required us to have considerably
more intelligence officers who get out and do the business of security
intelligence collection to identify and if necessary, and often in consultation
and collaboration with other government agencies, to disrupt potential terrorist
threats to Australia.
The committee also questioned Mr Irvine about a wide range of other
areas, including accountability mechanisms, the extent to which the
organisation monitors environmental and other civil protest groups, outcomes of
the inquiry into the Ul-Haque case, telecommunications interceptions, the Habib
and Hicks cases, and security checking of visa applicants.
Non provision of information and public interest immunity
This round of estimates was the first since the Senate passed the order
on public interest immunity claims on 13 May 2009. This order sets out the process
to be followed by public sector witnesses who believe that they have grounds
for withholding information from Senate committees. The order requires
witnesses to state recognised public interest grounds for withholding
information and, at the request of a committee or any senator, refer the matter
to the responsible minister, who is also required to state recognised public
interest grounds for any claim to withhold the information.
The issue of public interest immunity claims arose on several occasions
during consideration of the Attorney-General's portfolio.
During examination of the AHRC senators requested that the President of
the Commission table briefing notes that were prepared for use during the
estimates hearings in relation to the attendance by Commissioner Calma at the
Durban Review Conference.
The Commission was reluctant to provide the notes and the President of the
Commission referred the matter to the Minister who provided reasons why the
notes should not be provided:
Senator Ludwig—The question has been asked of the
president of the Commission to provide a briefing note that has been prepared
by her office to assist her in answering estimates questions. I do not think it
is appropriate to provide that briefing booklet; ...What would otherwise occur is
that, at every turn, you would be in a position where estimates committees
would ask for briefing booklets to be provided. The question as to whether or
not public officials would provide information into the future to assist
estimates committees would be of grave concern of all us I suspect. ... Questioning
of course can be detailed and the witness should provide answers to those
questions. If they are difficult questions, the president of the commission can
either take them on notice or provide full answers here. I think that is the
appropriate way to proceed. 
The committee did not pursue the matter further, the Senator asking for
the notes expressing agreement with the Minister's view. The committee notes
that the Minister did not make any public interest immunity claim, and that
none of the established grounds for making such a claim are applicable in these
A claim also arose during questioning of program 2.1.2 of the
Attorney-General's Department. The committee requested that a report
commissioned by the Department on the state of volunteering in Australia be
tabled. Officials were reluctant to provide the report on the grounds that it
was subject to public interest immunity on the basis that it is a
Commonwealth-state document and had not yet been considered by state ministers.
The Minister took the tabling of the report on notice, advising the
... I want to take the question on notice and find out whether
there is a claim of public interest immunity, particularly because it goes to
state and federal relations. If it does not, the minister will be able to
provide an answer to you...
The committee notes that prejudice to relations between the Commonwealth
and the States is a recognised ground for making a public interest immunity
A further occasion when this issue arose was during consideration of the
Estimates for the High Court. Committee members sought a copy of submissions
made by the Chief Justice to the Government in relation to the funding for the
Court. The Minister representing the Attorney-General, Senator the Hon. Chris
Evans, refused to release the documents, telling the committee that:
As you know, we do not release documents relating to the
preparation of a budget. Discussions between the High Court and the department
regarding budgetary matters in the lead-up to the presentation of the budget
would not be made available to the committee in accordance with long-standing
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page
Back to top