Referral of the inquiry
On 23 November 2010, the Senate referred the following matter to the
Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee for inquiry and report by
31 March 2011:
The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), with particular
(a) its role, governance arrangements and statutory
(b) the adequacy of its staffing and resources to meet
(c) best practice examples of like organisations
interstate and overseas;
appropriate allocation of functions between the ALRC and other statutory
(e) other related matters.
On 31 March 2011, the committee tabled an interim report which stated
that the committee required more time to consider the issues raised in the
inquiry, and that the committee intended to table its final report by 8 April
Background to the inquiry
At the Supplementary Budget Estimates hearings in October 2010, members
of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee sought
information from representatives of the ALRC about the level and impact of
budget cuts on the organisation.
The committee was informed that the ALRC's budget would be reduced by
$242,000 in the financial year 2010-11. Then, for the subsequent years of the
forward estimates period, the ALRC's budget would be reduced by $495,000 per
The ALRC advised the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation
Committee that the impact of these budget cuts would be that:
the ALRC would continue to have only one full-time commissioner,
the President, Professor Rosalind Croucher;
the ALRC's educational outreach program, including the journal Reform,
would be discontinued;
the ALRC would need to draw down on some of the funds that it
held in reserves; and
travel expenditure would be reduced.
The ALRC indicated that it intended to make productivity savings in a
number of areas so that it could maintain its current complement of staff,
regardless of the budget cuts.
The drastic nature of the budget cuts to the ALRC and the proposed impacts of
these cuts are a cause of concern to members of the Senate Legal and
Constitutional Affairs References Committee.
In addition to these major budget cuts, the ALRC will undergo
significant changes in its governance structure and financial management from 1
July 2011, as a result of changes introduced by the Financial Framework
Legislation Amendment Act 2010. The impact of these organisational and financial
changes was also highlighted by witnesses in the course of the inquiry.
This inquiry gives the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee
the opportunity to further explore the impact of the budget cuts, and the
governance and financial management changes, on the ALRC.
The Attorney-General's Department's (Department) submission referred to
a previous inquiry by the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal
Affairs in 1979. The Department's submission noted that the recommendations of
that inquiry, namely that ALRC reports should include draft legislation and
that legislative drafters from the Office of Parliamentary Counsel should be
seconded to the ALRC for this purpose, have never been actioned.
In May 1994, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal
and Constitutional Affairs tabled a report for its inquiry into the role and
function of the then Law Reform Commission of Australia. The report contained
40 recommendations covering a broad range of issues, including amendments
to the Law Reform Commission Act 1973 to clarify governance
arrangements and recognise the distinction between full-time and part-time
There was also a previous inquiry conducted by the Senate Legal and
Constitutional Affairs Committee in 2003 into the statutory powers and functions
of the ARLC. However, that committee did not present a substantive final
report, instead noting that the inquiry originated from events occurring five
years previously and, as considerable time had passed since the initial
reference, the inquiry should not proceed any further.
Conduct of the inquiry
The committee advertised the inquiry in The Australian newspaper
on 8 December 2010 and wrote to over 90 organisations and individuals,
inviting submissions by 28 January 2011. Details of the inquiry were placed on
the committee's website.
The committee received 24 submissions from various individuals and organisations,
and these are listed at Appendix 1. Submissions were placed on the committee's
The committee held public hearings in Canberra on 11 February and 3 March 2011.
A list of witnesses who appeared at the hearings is at Appendix 2, and copies
of the Hansard transcript are available through the Internet at https://www.aph.gov.au/hansard.
The committee thanks those organisations and individuals who made submissions
and gave evidence at the public hearings.
Structure of the report
The committee's report is structured in the following way:
Chapter 2 provides background information in relation to the
role, structure and work of the ALRC;
Chapter 3 discusses the changes to the governance structure of
the ALRC contained in the Financial Framework Legislation Amendment Act 2010;
Chapter 4 contains a discussion on the impacts of the recent
significant budget cuts in terms of the appointment of full-time commissioners
and staffing at the ALRC;
Chapter 5 discusses the impacts of the budget cuts on the public
information and education program and the conduct of inquiries; and
Chapter 6 sets out the committee's views in relation to the
issues raised in the course of the inquiry.
Note on references
References in this report are to individual submissions as received by
the committee, not to a bound volume. References to the committee Hansard
are to proof Hansard: page numbers may vary between the proof and the
official Hansard transcript.
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