This chapter summarises some of the matters raised during the
committee's consideration of the additional estimates for the
Attorney-General's portfolio for the 2013–14 financial year.
National Archives of Australia
The committee questioned representatives from the National Archives of
Australia (NAA) on a number of issues including the accumulated backlog of
applications for access to records and the steps taken to address the backlog;
updates on the agency's accommodation requirements, as well as its current
Agency officials provided statistics that gave context to the current
waiting periods for access to documents, followed by the actions taken to
address the backlog of applications:
There are 20,000 records awaiting examination so that they
can be opened under the Archives Act. Within the broader context of several
million applications or requests for access that we receive each year—and five
million of those dealt with our material which is already online and digitised,
delivered very efficiently through online channels as it should be—over and
above that we receive annually about 43,000 applications for files which have
not yet been examined for access under the Archives Act. I think that last year,
out of those 43,000, we were able to open about 40,000. So the maths is quite
simple here: there were 3,000 which were over and above our capacity to
We have devoted an area of our website now to provide public
scrutiny of how we are doing eroding that backlog. We are making progress. I
have diverted for the Archives significant resources in the last several months
to set up a task force to focus on that backlog. We are entering into refreshed
agreements with all the government agencies we work with to clear that backlog.
It is an area of intense activity within the Archive.
The agency updated the committee on its accommodation requirements. The
current lease on the facility in Tuggeranong is due to expire in 2017. It was
explained that arrangements are being made with the intention to look for a new
facility in the ACT region. A tender process at the expression of interest
stage is currently underway and its timing is being coordinated to facilitate
consolidation of the agency's holdings into the new repository.
Mr Lennard Marsden, Assistant Director-General of the Executive and Information
Services Branch of the NAA stated:
We were basically looking to consolidate digital archive for
repository holdings from Greenway... The existing Mitchell site is currently out
for tender at the moment, and we are looking at 75 shelf kilometres equivalent
to basically refurbish... The new site will accommodate the bulk of the holdings,
but not all holdings going forward.
The agency provided an update on their staffing statistics. As at 30
June 2013 the agency had a total of 450 staff, consisting of 371 ongoing, 32
non-ongoing and 47 casual employees. The full-time equivalent was 411 and
the average staffing level was 422. This was compared to the statistics as at
31 December 2013, where a total of 417 staff was reported, consisting of 365
ongoing, 16 non-ongoing, 36 casuals and a
full-time equivalent of 385.
Office of the Australian Information Commissioner
Representatives from the Office of the Australian Information
Commissioner (OAIC) were questioned on the progress of Australia's entry to the
Open Government Partnership.
The Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis, provided some information
on developments in this area:
Australia announced its intention to join the Open Government
Partnership on 22 May last year. There have since been three interagency
meetings to discuss progress, including the requirements of an action plan. One
of those meetings was held before the elections, on 17 July, and the other two
have been held since the election, on 29 October and on 5 November. So the
action plan is in development.
In addition to this, the Information Commissioner addressed the issue of
delays in dealing with some of the applications for Information Commissioner (IC)
or merit review of Freedom of Information (FOI) decisions, FOI complaints and
privacy complaints that were reported in the annual report.
Attention was drawn to the figures published on the web in December, which
indicated that the rate of completion of IC review cases has risen to 1.4 cases
per day, compared to 0.7 in the previous annual report. Also, the completion of
privacy complaints has risen to six per day, compared to 3.79 in the previous
annual report. The Information Commissioner stated that 'the office battles
gamely to deal with a growing workload'.
Australian Human Rights Commission
The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) updated the committee on developments
at the commission since its last appearance at Senate estimates, which included
the announcement of the third national inquiry into children in immigration
detention; the appointment of a seventh commissioner, Mr Tim Wilson, to the
AHRC; and the commission's priority over the next year to engage more directly
with business, to positively encourage small to medium businesses to meet human
rights standards, particularly in regard to anti-discrimination law, but to do
so with a minimum of red tape.
The committee raised issues with the Disability Discrimination Commissioner,
Mr Graeme Innes AM, relating to the imprisonment of people with a disability,
with a particular focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons.
Mr Innes made reference to the recently published access to justice report, which
examined the issue of people with disabilities, who are significantly
disadvantaged in the justice system, and stated:
I have written to the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth
and to the state and territory attorney-general to advocate these issues and to
talk to them about my report. 
The committee also inquired into the progress of the report on pregnancy
and return to work: the commission advised that the headline prevalence data
will be available by the beginning of April and the full report will become
available in June.
The commission advised that the report would be looking at all sizes of
companies across all sectors, which will facilitate the identification of
potential trends in the size of a company compared to the prevalence of
The President of the AHRC, Professor Gillian Triggs advised that the new
inquiry into children in immigration detention had just started and is scheduled
for completion by September–October this year, with a view to report to
government within that time frame.
The inquiry is in response to the high numbers of children in closed
immigration detention that were recorded in 2013, with 1,600 recorded on 30
April 2013 and 2,000 recorded in July 2013.
Professor Triggs reported that this number has decreased recently, with the
number of children currently in detention at approximately 1,000.
A number of issues were raised with the Attorney-General's Department (AGD)
including: developments in considering reforms to the Racial Discrimination
Act 1975 (Racial Discrimination Act); the review into the efficiency and
cost-effectiveness of government-funded legal assistance programs; and
administrative issues relating to the Royal Commission into the Home Insulation
Racial Discrimination Act
The Attorney-General updated the committee on the government's
consideration of reforms to the Racial Discrimination Act. The Attorney-General
...There will be significant amendments to remove, from the
Racial Discrimination Act, language which, in the view of the government,
unreasonably penalises freedom of speech. There has been absolutely no change
to the government's declared intention to reform the Racial Discrimination Act
so as to protect freedom of speech.
Further to this, the Attorney-General added:
That will involve repealing from section 18C some of the
language, but the government has not yet decided on how extensive that
legislative amendment will be. That is a matter of current discussion within
the government...we are carefully, steadily and methodically going about giving
effect to that which we undertook to do.
Thirdly, surely you will appreciate that this is an issue
that does provoke very strong feelings on both sides of the question...What I
have made it my business to do throughout the summer, starting in November and
throughout the summer until as recently as last week, was to hold extensive
discussions. They were careful, far-reaching and sometimes very long
discussions with the number of individual community leaders—most particularly,
from the ethnic community.
The committee questioned the Attorney-General as to whether any formal
consultation or community engagement process had been sought in considering the
legislation. The Attorney-General advised the committee of the government's
intention to introduce legislation in the first half of 2014, and expected to be
subject to the Senate committee process.
Efficiency and cost-effectiveness
of government funded legal assistance programs
The AGD was asked to provide information relating to the review into the
efficiency and cost-effectiveness of four Australian government-funded legal
assistance programs. Officers reported the review was currently in draft form
and although it had not been publicly released, it is known to the government
and it is under consideration.
The Deputy Secretary of the Civil Justice and Legal Services Group of the AGD,
Mr David Fredericks provided more information on the conduct, scope and
potential applications of the review:
The report is prepared as a consequence of the national
partnership agreement [NPA] on legal assistance. That agreement provided that
an independent review needed to be conducted before the expiration of the
agreement. So it is under the rubric of that national partnership agreement.
The review has been conducted by ACIL Allen Consulting.
The review will deal with a number of issues. Firstly, the
review will include a framework for evaluating all four Commonwealth funding
legal assistance programs—that is, legal aid commissions, community legal
centres, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island legal services and family violence
prevention legal services for Indigenous Australians. Secondly, the report will
include an evaluation of the quality, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of
those four programs. Thirdly, there will be a review of the state legal aid
commissions against the performance indicators that are set in the NPA and the
benchmarks that are set in the NPA. Fourthly, the review will include a market
analysis of the legal services sector. It will be quite comprehensive.
It will be of great utility in a number of ways. Firstly,
because the review is being conducted under the rubric of the NPA, it will
ultimately be considered by the Standing Council on Federal Financial
Relations. It will also be provided to the now Law, Crime and Community Safety
Council, so it is an important report for the states as well and will be shared
with them in that way. Secondly, the report will also be useful input to the
Productivity Commission review... So both organisations have ensured that they
have been in contact in that regard. Thirdly, it will ultimately be useful in
assisting the government to determine its position on legal assistance
services, both under the NPA and generally moving forward.
The total cost of the contract for the review was reported at $815,366
with the states and territories contributing $167,341 to meeting that cost.
The committee questioned the department on the December 2013 Mid-year
Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) which indicated a redirection of legal
policy reform and advocacy funding to the amount of $43.1 million, over
four years, by removing funding support to policy reform and advocacy
activities provided to four legal assistance programs (the legal aid program;
the Indigenous legal assistance program; the community legal services program;
and the family violence prevention legal services program (now residing with
the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet)).
The Attorney-General highlighted the Productivity Commission's
review into the access to justice issue, which is due to report at the end of
2014 and will be available at that time.
Royal Commission into the Home
In response to questions relating to the Royal Commission into the Home
Insulation Program, AGD representatives provided details of the department's
engagement with administrative matters relating to the Royal Commission.
Departmental officials explained the budget allocation for the Royal
Commission into the Home Insulation Program. The total cost allocated to the
Royal Commission to date was $20 million. This consisted of the monetary amount
that was allocated to the commission itself, which was $12.2 million and the
additional costs for Commonwealth representation and support for witnesses.
Included in the $20 million appropriated to the Royal Commission was the
cost of eleven staff from the Attorney-General's Department allocated to
provide administrative support to the commission.
The committee examined the Attorney-General's Department extensively on
issues pertaining to summonses for the production of documents, including
cabinet documents. The Attorney-General tabled a letter that outlined the approach
the government would take in the event of a summons being issued by the Royal
Commission for the production of cabinet documents.
The Attorney-General read from a letter to the former Attorney-General the Hon Mark
Dreyfus, during the hearing:
This is the letter from me to Mr Dreyfus in response to his
request that I indicate on behalf of the government what attitude the
government would take.
And this is what I said: ''To ensure a proper approach to
dealing with issues of cabinet confidentiality while not frustrating the
process of the royal commission, the government has decided that in response to
the summons directed to the Commonwealth, the documents the Commonwealth will
produce for the commission to examine and consider will include documents over
which a claim for public interest immunity might be made, such as cabinet
documents. However, in providing such documents to the commission, the
government will indicate that it does not waive its right to claim the
immunity. Accordingly, should the commission wish to publish any of the cabinet
documents or use them in such a manner that the contents might become public,
the Commonwealth requests that it be notified so that it can consider whether
it is necessary to make submissions in relation to such documents or uses or
whether it should seek other protective orders. Whether the Commonwealth makes
such submissions or application will be a matter for the Commonwealth at the
Other matters of interest
Other matters canvassed with the Attorney-General's portfolio by the
- an update of issues relating to the Organisation for Economic
Cooperation and Development's (OECD) Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign
Public Officials in International Business Transactions;
questions relating to the department's interception capability
plans which outline how nominated carriers and carriage service providers can
help law enforcement agencies with lawful interception of telecommunication
Creative Partnerships Australia's engagement with business and
its offices in regional areas;
vacancies on the Screen Australia Board;
matters regarding data retention by the Attorney-General's
Department following the election;
progress on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation's
the Australian Federal Police's (AFP's) execution of a search
warrant on Channel 7's offices in relation to alleged negotiations to interview
parliamentary security and the implications of possible savings
measures relating to the AFP's perimeter security for Parliament House.
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