This chapter summarises some of the matters raised during the
committee's consideration of the budget estimates for the Attorney-General's Portfolio
for the 2015–16 financial year.
Attorney-General's Department (AGD)
The committee questioned officials from the Attorney-General's
Department (AGD), the Australia Council and Screen Australia, in relation to
outcome 2 of the Attorney-General's portfolio. This covers the participation in
and access to Australia's arts and culture through developing and supporting
cultural expression. The committee questioned officials about the operation of
the Australia Council, with a particular focus on the allocation and
distribution of funds.
Questions were posed regarding the implementation of the National
Program for Excellence in the Arts and its impact on the work of the Australia
Council. The Attorney-General explained that the allocation of arts grants
would operate on an arms-length basis from government, through a peer reviewed
process overseen by the Australia Council.
The Attorney-General explained the justification for greater contestability:
....we are talking about values, we are talking about an
approach to governance. And, the approach to governance, for the reasons that I
have already outlined—and I do not want to be tedious or delay the committee,
so I will not repeat them—is the desirability of having contestability,
diversity, making arts funding available to a broader variety of organisations,
festivals, individuals, groups than are able to fit within the Australia
Council's current guidelines. This is, I think, when you say what evidence is
there, a decision based on a philosophy of governance and a philosophy of the
way in which arts funding ought to be administered.
The Attorney-General also detailed specific funding initiatives,
including support for Bell Shakespeare and the establishment of the Regional
Artist Development Fellowships Program, which is designed to foster and support
the experience and professional development of artists in regional centres.
Other matters discussed included the management of the Australian
International Cultural Council, the process of appointments to the governing
bodies of arts and cultural institutions, the proposed Book Council and the
ongoing funding for national cultural institutions.
Civil Justice and Legal Services Division
The committee questioned officials from the AGD on matters falling
under the Civil Justice and Legal Services Group, including the funding of
legal aid commissions and community legal centres, the oversight of royal commissions
and measures being taken to combat domestic abuse.
The committee pursued questions in relation to the funding allocated to
legal aid bodies. The Attorney-General detailed the process of distributing legal
aid funding, explaining that:
We are applying a neutral formula which seeks to adjust the
aggregate pool of Commonwealth funding fairly between the various states and
Secondly, within the aggregate amount of Commonwealth funding
we are indicating our priorities in various ways. For example, as Mr Manning I
think it was said before, we are identifying the priority client groups—that
is, the most vulnerable people—and requiring that the Commonwealth's contribution
be spent in priority on those most vulnerable client groups. That is a
condition of the funding arrangements.
Thirdly, I have, as a result of a decision I made some time
ago now, decided that we would not fund advocacy—for example, EDOs—not because
there is anything wrong with advocacy and not because advocacy might not be
useful but because, given that resources are finite, I adopted a policy that we
might describe as cases before causes; in other words, actual clients with
actual needs in a particular case seemed to me to be a more compelling claim on
the Commonwealth's legal assistance dollar than people who wanted to use it to
promote political, philosophical, environmental or ideological causes.
Questions were raised about the role of the AGD in relation to the Royal
Commission into Institutional Child Sex Abuse and the Defence Abuse Response
Taskforce (DART). The Attorney-General clarified that whilst the AGD administers
royal commissions, these operate and reach conclusions independently.
In relation to the DART, it was detailed that three matters have been referred
to the police by the taskforce but no referrals in relation to the 'ADFA 24'
have been made.
The Attorney-General also provided details to the committee about steps
being taken to combat domestic abuse. It was explained that this has been
elevated as a priority for the Council of Australian Governments, with
initiatives being implemented to develop a model national framework.
Reforms to advance this issue have included amendments to the Family Law Act
1975, funding for the development of online resources for judges and
judicial practitioners and funding to legal aid centres which directly assist
those suffering from family violence.
National Security and Criminal Justice Group
The committee questioned AGD officials from the National Security and
Criminal Justice group. The committee was updated on the status of a number of
matters including measures to counter violent extremism, the administration of government
disaster financial support payments and the operation of proposed new
Departmental officials detailed the allocation of funds and measures
being adopted to counter violent extremism. In particular, details were
provided about the government's Living Safe Together initiative, which provides
funding to support community led prevention projects.
The AGD explained that these grants were designed to identify the range of
community organisations who could be partnered with in order to assist those on
the trajectory of radicalisation.
The AGD was questioned about variations in the operation of the government's
disaster financial support payments, particularly in relation to greater
investment in mitigation.
This investment is designed to pre-empt and prevent damage by natural disasters,
rather than developing a payment system that focusses solely on recovery and
Questions were raised in regards to the operation of proposed new
citizenship and anti-terrorism laws. The Attorney-General explained that this
remained a matter before the government and that a discussion paper would be
It was detailed that any such measures would see interdepartmental cooperation
regarding the development and oversight of anti-terror laws.
Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
The committee questioned the AHRC on a range of matters including the celebrations
organised for the Racial Discriminations Act's 40th anniversary,
the current functions performed by the Human Rights Commissioner Mr Tim Wilson
and the status of the current inquiry into age discrimination.
President of Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian
Triggs, commenced her opening statement by making public interest immunity
claims in relation to previous questions on notice regarding MG, Mr Basikbasik
and Mr Charlie.
The committee deferred making a determination on this matter until a later date.
The committee questioned Race Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Tim Soutphommasane,
about the plans for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Racial
Discrimination Act 1975.
Dr Soutphommasane explained this would include public consultations and
lectures to reflect on the operation of the act.
Mr Tim Wilson was questioned about his current focus and primary duties
as the Australian Human Rights Commissioner. Mr Wilson explained the breadth of
this role under the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 and
detailed his specific focus on several topics, including LGBTI rights,
indigenous property rights, the need to modernise the Copyright Act, the
enduring relevance of religious freedom and issues regarding the protection of
The committee also sought details from the Age and Disability
Discrimination Commissioner, the Honourable Susan Ryan AO, regarding the
current inquiry being conducted into age discrimination. Ms Ryan explained
that research was being undertaken in order to collect data regarding cases of
age discrimination and that policy proposals were being crafted to redress and
avoid cases of long term unemployment.
Federal Court, Federal
Circuit Court and Family Court
The committee questioned officials from the Federal Court, Federal
Circuit Court and the Family Court, regarding the courts' current workload,
delays in proceedings, the implementation of new fee structures, the
expenditure of additional revenue received and the operation of different
concessional fee arrangements.
The AGD detailed reforms currently being undertaken in regards to variation
of the fee structure applicable in the different courts. Whilst it was
explained that the amending regulation was still under consideration, certain
fees, specifically those in relation to insolvency applications, were scheduled
Whilst certain fees would increase, in relation to divorce applications and
consent orders, it was explained that the Family Court operates according to a
two-tier fee system. This system applies concessional fee rates where certain
needs-based criteria are met.
Office of the Australian
Information Commissioner (OAIC)
The committee heard from the Office of the Australian Information
Commissioner (OAIC), with specific focus on its role in streamlining Freedom of
Information (FOI) matters and its ongoing administrative arrangements.
The Australian Information Commissioner, Professor John McMillan AO,
explained that the OAIC has continued to discharge a streamlined FOI review and
It was further detailed that the office has been working to the fulfilment of
its statutory function and that steps were being taken to resolve the backlog
of FOI claims.
The status of the OAIC's budgetary, staffing and office arrangements were also
National Archives of
The committee questioned the National Archives of Australia in relation
to its processes for the declassification of documents, the release of
documents to the public, the determination of exempt documents and the costs
associated with handling applications.
The Director-General, Mr David Fricker, explained that the National
statutory role is to collect, preserve and make accessible
the records of the Commonwealth. To make accessible the records of the
Commonwealth, I feel, brings with it an obligation for us to do everything we
can within our powers and within our resources to release those records to the
Criminal justice portfolio agencies
The committee heard from a number of portfolio agencies including the
Australian Crime Commission (ACC), the Australian Institute of Criminology
(AIC) and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP).
Details were provided to the committee concerning the ongoing activities
of the ACC in disrupting, understanding and responding to serious and organised
The work of the ACC over the last year has included a report on crystal
metamphetamine, conducting operations against organised crime syndicates and
continued investigations into international and national money-laundering
The committee pursued questioning about a potential merger of the ACC
and the AIC. It was explained that the government had made no formal decision
to proceed with a merger, but the matter was under consideration due to
overlaps in the functions of the agencies.
The CDPP was questioned about the establishment of the Serious Financial
Crime Taskforce, which is designed to foster cooperation and information
sharing between participating agencies in the prosecution of organised
This taskforce will build on the prior work of Project Wickenby, which focussed
on reviewing offshore arrangements in the pursuit of trusts and superannuation
Australian Federal Police (AFP)
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) was questioned on matters including
the events leading up to the arrests of Mr Andrew Chan and Mr Myuran Sukumaran,
the development of a national facial recognition database, the number of cases relating
to unauthorised disclosures by Commonwealth officials, and investigations into
electoral fraud allegations in the federal seat of Indi.
Officials from the AFP were questioned about the organisation's role in
sharing information with Indonesian police about Mr Chan
and Mr Sukumaran prior to their arrest.
AFP officials detailed why they had not requested that Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran
be allowed to pass through Indonesian security and into Australia, explaining
A decision was made at the time that that request would be
an unfeasible and unreasonable request to make of the Indonesians because that
is just not how it is done. Those sorts of requests to allow the narcotics to
run in an uncontrolled situation do not occur. We do not make them in
Australian either. The whole issue around a controlled operation is to have
control. If you do not have control, you must take whatever action you deem
necessary at the time to stop narcotics or other illicit drugs getting on the
street. We knew full well, though, that if the Indonesians, through
surveillance activity, which we had requested in the first instance, believed
there were any drugs or saw drugs that they would interdict them themselves.
This is exactly the same as we would do and the same as would happen in any
other country throughout the world. So that was the basis of that original
request that went to the Indonesians.
The committee pursued questioning in relation to the establishment of a
national facial recognition database. Information was provided to the committee
about the steps being taken to develop the capability to share and compare facial
biometric information held by other agencies, in order to ensure an enhanced
level of accuracy in identification.
The committee raised questions about the number of investigations
instigated in relation to section 70 of the Crimes Act 1914, which prohibits
the disclosure of information by Commonwealth officials.
The AFP detailed that at the time of the hearing 17 matters were under
AFP officials provided the committee with further details regarding the
investigation into possible incidences of electoral fraud in the federal
division of Indi. The committee was informed that 28 alleged fraudulent
enrolments were referred to the AFP, and that 27 of these had been
Of the 27 referrals investigated, 4 briefs had been provided to the CDPP.
Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO)
The committee questioned the Australian Security Intelligence
Organisation (ASIO) about programs to counter terrorism, the number of
Australians participating in conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the operation of the
National Terrorism Public Alert System and the use of the term 'Islamic State.'
ASIO officials explained that the success of measures to combat
terrorism requires a combination of security measures in unison with community
In response to questions about the number of Australians fighting in Syria and
Iraq, the committee was informed that there are a little over 100 Australians
currently participating and that 115 passports had been cancelled.
The committee questioned ASIO officials about the operation of the
National Terrorism Public Alert System. ASIO officials explained that a new
five tiered warning system was currently being proposed.
The range of this warning system would extend from 'not expected' to, 'possible',
'probable,' 'expected' and 'certain.' It was clarified that once the national security
level is raised, the whole-of-government response is coordinated by the AGD.
The committee also questioned ASIO officials about the inception of the
term 'Islamic State' and its use in security briefings. The Attorney-General explained
that a number of names have been attached to Islamic State and briefly
summarised its intentions in seeking to establish a theocratic caliphate.
Senator the Hon Ian
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