Attorney-General’s: Regional Australia—Driving Our Economy 2017–18

The Attorney-General’s portfolio comprises the Attorney-General’s Department and 16 portfolio bodies. The portfolio delivers programs and policies to maintain and improve Australia's law and justice framework, and strengthen our national security and emergency management. 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 manages alternative pathways and access to formal legal processes to provide greater access to justice for Australians in regional communities. The Family Relationships Services Programme 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 Australian Government remains committed to funding legal assistance services for regional Australia under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services 2015–2020. As part of the 2017–18 Budget, the Australian Government is providing an additional $39.0 million over three years for community legal centres, on top of the almost $1.3 billion already being provided to community legal centres and legal aid commissions over five years to 2020.

As part of the Australian Government’s National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, the Women’s Safety Package will also provide integrated duty lawyers and family violence support services in ten remote and regional locations throughout Australia. Specialist domestic violence units, including those in regional locations, have also had their funding extended to 30 June 2019. These pilots will also be expanded to up to six new locations over the next two years with an additional $3.4 million being provided in this Budget.

The Attorney-General’s portfolio manages a number of crime prevention grant funding programs, including the School Security programs and grants under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, including the Safer Streets Program. Approximately $9.4 million over three years from 2015–16 is being provided to organisations to fund community crime prevention and law enforcement in regional Australia. The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory has been engaging with regional communities, and conducting public hearings, in preparation for the delivery of its final findings, due 1 August 2017.

The Attorney-General’s portfolio also supports Australia’s ability to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters. This year the Australian Government’s Disaster Recovery Payment and Disaster Recovery Allowance initiatives assisted regional communities to recover from the Waroona bushfire in Western Australia, the Pinery bushfire in South Australia, and the severe weather and associated flooding that occurred in Queensland and New South Wales following Tropical Cyclone Debbie.

Current Initiatives

Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory

Following allegations of mistreatment of children at the Don Dale detention centre in the Northern Territory, the Australian Government established the Royal Commission into the child protection and youth detention systems of the Northern Territory. On 1 August 2016, Letters Patent were issued appointing the Hon Margaret Jean White AO and Mr Mick Gooda as Commissioners. On 9 February 2017, the Governor–General issued amending Letters Patent to reflect the extension of the final reporting date of the Royal Commission to 1 August 2017, with an interim report to be delivered by 31 March 2017. The Royal Commission is examining failings in child protection and youth detention systems, including cultural and management issues, and has undertaken a variety of activities in regional areas.

The Royal Commission has hosted a series of community meetings across the Northern Territory to hear directly from people affected by the child protection and youth detention systems. The Royal Commission held meetings in the follow following regional areas: the Tiwi Islands, Alice Springs, Santa Teresa, Maningrida, Tennant Creek, Katherine, Yirrkala, Groote Eylandt, Yuendumu and Mutitjulu. Public hearings have been held in Darwin and Alice Springs.

More than 1,000 people attended the community meetings—including families, individuals, children and young people, local leaders, service providers and community organisations. The Royal Commission heard from a wide range of people including: carers, principals and teachers, current and former detention centre workers, health professionals and police. Those involved in the delivery of services and programs (currently operating and disbanded) to children and young people described their experiences to the Royal Commission.

The Royal Commission’s work in engaging communities is important in informing the Commissioners’ understanding of the issues and ensuring its recommendations lead to positive change for children. The Royal Commission has Community Engagement Officers in Alice Springs dedicated to providing an avenue through which the views of individuals and communities can be brought forward to the Commission. They have met with communities including Abbott’s Town Camp, Amoonguna, Ampilatwatja, Areyonga, Daguragu, Elliott, Finke, Hermannsburg, Imanpa, Jabiru, Kalano, Kalkarindji, Karnte Town Camp, Katherine, Lajamanu, Manigrida, Morris Soak Town Camp, Mt Liebig, Palmers Town Camp, Palmerston, Santa Teresa, Tennant Creek, Titjikala, Trucking Yards Town Camp and Utopia.

The Australian Government is providing $57.1 million over two years from 2016–17 to fund the Royal Commission’s activities, including hearings and engagement with regional communities. This includes $3.0 million for the Department of Social Services. The Northern Territory Government has agreed to share the costs of the Royal Commission.

Domestic and Family Violence—Initiatives to Break the Cycle of Violence

On 28 October 2016, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Women announced $100.0 million from 2016–17 over three years for a package of measures to support the implementation of the Third Action Plan 2016-19 of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022. This funding package includes $29.6 million over three years from 2016–17 for front-line legal assistance and family law services, including:

  • $6.2 million for Family Relationship Centres to pilot enhanced models of legally-assisted and/or culturally appropriate family dispute resolution to vulnerable families, particularly Indigenous and culturally and linguistically diverse families;
  • $18.5 million for legal aid commissions to establish integrated duty lawyer and family violence support services in family law court registries; and
  • $4.9 million to extend funding for the specialist domestic violence units and health justice partnerships under the Australian Government’s Women’s Safety Package by an additional year until 30 June 2019.

The integrated duty lawyer and family violence support services will be established by legal aid commissions at 14 family law court registries across Australia, various regional circuit locations and two local courts in the Northern Territory. Regional and remote service locations will include Albany, Broome, Bunbury, Burnie, Cairns, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie, Katherine, Mount Gambier and Townsville.

These measures expand on those being delivered under the $100.0 million Women’s Safety Package announced on 24 September 2015, which includes $15.0 million over three years for legal assistance services from 2015–16. As already noted, funding allocated under the Third Action Plan includes an additional $4.9 million to extend the services by a further year to 30 June 2019, and a further $3.4 million is being provided in the 2017–18 Budget to expand this program over the next two years.

Twelve specialist domestic violence units have been established across all States and Territories which includes six regional and remote areas. Five health justice partnerships, including one as part of a domestic violence unit in Alice Springs, are being supported to deliver legal training and support for health professionals and to provide on–site legal advice at partner hospitals or health centres.

State/TerritoryRegionFunded Service ProviderFour–year Funding from 2015
Specialist domestic violence units
New South Wales Dubbo Western New South Wales Community Legal Centre $1.5 million
Victoria Mallee Murray Mallee Community Legal Centre $1.4 million
Queensland Townsville North Queensland Women’s Legal Service $1.4 million
Western Australia Kununurra Kimberley Community Legal Service $1.6 million
Tasmania North–West Women’s Legal Service Tasmania $1.4 million
Specialist domestic violence units and health justice partnerships
Northern Territory Alice Springs Central Australian Women’s Legal Service $1.8 million

Family Relationship Services Program

In 2017–18, the Australian Government is planning to provide $166.3 million for the Family Relationships Services Program, $158.5 million of which will be provided for 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;
  • the Family Relationships Advice Line;
  • family dispute resolution;
  • regional family dispute resolution;
  • children’s contact services;
  • parenting orders/post separation cooperative parenting;
  • supporting children after separation; and
  • counselling.

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, in a way that is accessible to regional Australia, through Family Relationships Online.

In addition, the Model Parenting Orders Handbook, published by the Attorney–General’s Department in October 2016, provides advice and assistance to parents and legal practitioners with drafting parenting orders.

National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services 2015–2020

The National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services 2015–2020 commenced on 1 July 2015. The Australian Government will deliver $1.3 billion in Commonwealth funding to legal aid commissions and community legal centres over five years. As part of the 2017–18 Budget, a further $39.0 million will be provided to community legal centres under the National Partnership Agreement, to support the delivery of family law and family violence services. 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.

Legal Aid

The Australian Government will provide $1.07 billion from 2015–2020 to legal aid commissions under the National Partnership Agreement.

There are approximately 80 legal aid commission offices across Australia, with around 58 per cent of offices located in regional areas. In 2015–16, 5,025 (14 per cent) of legal aid grants for Commonwealth matters were received by persons who reside in rural and remote areas.

Community Legal Centres

Including the additional $39.0 million being provided to community legal centres as part of the 2017–18 Budget, the Australian Government will provide a total of $235.0 million from 2015–2020 to community legal centres under the National Partnership Agreement.

Approximately 30 per cent of community legal centres are located in regional Australia. In 2015–16, 16 per cent of community legal centre representation services were received by persons who reside in rural and remote areas.

Community Legal Services Program

The Community Legal Services Program is a nationally focussed 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 to provide $7.7 million to the Community Legal Services Program in 2017–18.

The National Children’s and Youth Law Centre (NCYLC) receives funding under the program to provide legal information and advice to children and young adults aged under 25. The NCYLC provides a national service through a dedicated website (lawstuff) and email advice service (lawmail). This provides significant geographic reach to assist children and young adults in metropolitan, regional and remote areas across Australia.

In June 2016, two grants were approved under the Community Legal Services Program Innovation Fund to implement innovative projects in 2016–17 aimed at enhancing the efficiency of legal assistance services in regional and remote areas:

  • Bridging the Distance—the Federation of Community Legal Centres Victoria received $130,000 to purchase videoconferencing technology to improve communication, collaboration and service planning for regional, rural and remote community legal centres in Victoria; and
  • Blurred Borders—Legal Aid Western Australia received $100,000 to produce a community legal education resource kit using visual artwork. The kit will be used by community workers, community legal education workers and front–line service delivery lawyers to assist them to explain key legal concepts to remote Aboriginal people who are frequently crossing the Northern Territory and Western Australia borders.

Indigenous Legal and Native Title Assistance

The Indigenous Legal Assistance Program funds Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) to deliver culturally appropriate, accessible legal assistance and related services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians so that they can fully exercise their legal rights as Australian citizens. There are eight ATSILS nationally which deliver services from 65 permanent locations in regional and remote areas, as well as court circuits, bush courts and outreach locations.

In 2016–17, approximately $73.6 million has been provided to the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program. As part of the 2017–18 Budget, a further $16.7 million will be provided to ATSILS from 2017–18 to 2019–20. The table below sets out funding from 2016–17 to 2019–20.

2016–17

Revised estimate
2017–18

Forward estimate
2018–19

Forward estimate
2019–20

Forward estimate
Indigenous Legal Assistance Program ($’000) 73 585 74,395 74,297 75,138

Of the total legal assistance service provided in 2015–16, 66 per cent was delivered to regional and remote areas.

RegionLegal assistance services provided in 2015–16
Metropolitan 70 249
Regional 94 071
Remote 45 191
Total 209 511

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 their interest are likely to be affected. Funding for the Native Title Respondent Funding Scheme in 2017–18 is $1.7 million.

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

Since it was established on 11 January 2013, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has undertaken a variety of activities in regional areas.

Private sessions, in which survivors of child sexual abuse in an institutional context share their stories with a Commissioner, have been held in a number of regional locations, including Rockhampton (Queensland), Ballarat (Victoria), Darwin (Northern Territory), Hobart (Tasmania) and Newcastle (New South Wales). The Royal Commission has conducted over 6,500 private sessions since May 2013, and expects to have held more than 8,000 private sessions by the time it completes its work in December 2017.

Community forums, led by Commissioners, have been conducted in 13 regional locations. Royal Commission staff have also met with local services in 27 regional and remote areas. These activities improve awareness of the Royal Commission’s work and increase accessibility for those who wish to engage with the Royal Commission.

Federal Circuit Court of Australia—Commonwealth Courts Portal

The Commonwealth Courts Portal was launched in July 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 July 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.

The Federal Circuit Court has not mandated the requirement to eFile noting the technological difficulties facing some litigants. Despite this, the number of litigants choosing to eFile has increased over the past six months from 24 per cent to 52 per cent.

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 rural and regional areas of Australia, 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 be 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 rural and regional Australia where Court-based services are limited.

Crime Prevention Funding Programs

The Attorney-General’s Department manages a number of crime prevention grant funding programs including the Schools Security Program and funding under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which includes the Safer Streets Program. Although these programs do not apply exclusively to regional Australia (they are open to eligible applicants in all parts of Australia), funding provided under the programs is providing significant benefits to regional Australia, with approximately $9.4 million provided over three years from 2015–16 to organisations currently delivering projects in regional Australia.

Programs under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 address crime and anti-social behaviour by providing funding for community crime prevention and law enforcement. The Safer Streets Program is designed to provide funding for eligible organisations to install security related infrastructure in areas experiencing problems with criminal or anti–social behaviour.

The Schools Security Program is funding government and non-government schools across Australia facing a risk of attack, harassment or violence stemming from racial or religious intolerance to install lighting, fencing and CCTV and to employ security guards.

Critical Infrastructure Resilience Strategy

The Australian Government is committed to ensuring the continued operation of critical infrastructure in the face of all hazards to help support the continued provision of essential services to businesses, governments and the community (as articulated in the Critical Infrastructure Resilience Strategy). Strengthening the resilience of sectors will ensure services to the community, including regional communities, are less likely to be disrupted due to adverse events, and where a disruption does occur, that services are able to rapidly return to business as usual.

National Partnership on Natural Disaster Resilience

Under the National Partnership on Natural Disaster Resilience (the Natural Disaster Resilience Program) the Australian Government expects to provide $78.3 million in funding over three years to 30 June 2018 to support the States and Territories to deliver local initiatives which contribute to safer and more disaster resilient communities. In 2016–17, the Australian Government made payments of $15.0 million under this program. The projects are prioritised by the States and Territories in accordance with state–wide natural disaster risk assessments and the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience to ensure they effectively meet the needs of local communities.  The Natural Disaster Resilience Program is administered through a National Partnership Agreement between the Australian Government and the States and Territories, and concludes on 30 June 2018. Projects will have ongoing benefits for regional areas, as well as metropolitan, rural and remote areas, beyond the term of the National Partnership Agreement.

Disaster Resilience Australia Package

The Australian Government is providing $2.1 million each year in funding from 2016–17 under the Disaster Resilience Australia Package for the delivery of nationally significant emergency management projects. The package supports measures to strengthen communities, individuals, businesses and institutions to minimise the adverse effects of disasters in Australia. Projects are designed to improve the ability to prevent, prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters across social, economic, environmental and governance elements. While projects must achieve national outcomes, their application can benefit regional areas, as well as metropolitan, rural and remote areas.

National Bushfire Mitigation Program

The National Bushfire Mitigation Program provided $8.3 million over three years from 2014–15 to the States and Territories to implement long-term bushfire mitigation strategies ($13.5 million through the Attorney–General’s Department) and improved fuel reduction activities ($1.5 million through the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources). The National Bushfire Mitigation Program is helping to strengthen community preparedness and resilience to bushfires.

Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements

Every year bushfires, floods, storms and other devastating natural disasters cause significant loss and damage in communities across Australia that require recovery efforts from individuals, communities, and State, Territory and local governments.

Under the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements, the Australian Government provides funding assistance to State and Territory governments to alleviate the financial burden of providing emergency and recovery assistance to disaster–affected individuals, communities, small businesses and primary producers. This includes funding for the restoration or replacement of essential public assets, and community recovery packages to restore social networks, communities’ functioning and community facilities.

The Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements have been made available to individuals, communities, small businesses, primary producers and the not–for–profit sector for a range of natural disaster events across Australia during 2016–17. For 2017–18, the Commonwealth is expecting to reimburse States and Territories by an estimated $438.5 million under the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements.

Disaster Recovery Payment

The Disaster Recovery Payment is a one–off, non–means tested payment to eligible Australian residents who have been adversely affected by a major disaster either in Australia or overseas. It is activated if the Minister for Justice determines the impact of a disaster on individuals and families requires Australian Government assistance in addition to that provided under standard recovery assistance through the Natural Disaster Relief and Recovery Arrangements. In making this decision, the Minister for Justice will consider the number of individuals affected, the extent to which the nature or magnitude of the disaster is unusual, overall impact on a community, and the full range of Australian, State or Territory government assistance measures available to the community. The Disaster Recovery Payment provides financial assistance of $1,000 for eligible adults and $400 for eligible children.

During 2016–17, the Disaster Recovery Payment was made available to communities in:

  • Western Australia in response to the Waroona bushfire;
  • South Australia in response to the Pinery bushfire;
  • New South Wales in response to flooding following Tropical Cyclone Debbie; and
  • Queensland in response to severe weather and flooding following Tropical Cyclone Debbie.

Disaster Recovery Allowance

The Disaster Recovery Allowance provides short–term income support to eligible individuals who experience a loss of income as a direct result of a disaster.

When available, the Disaster Recovery Allowance assists employees, small business persons and farmers who experience a loss of income as a direct result of a major disaster. It is paid at a rate equivalent to the Newstart or Youth Allowance for a maximum of 13 weeks. If, after 13 weeks, the person is still suffering hardship from a loss of income, they will be able to test their eligibility for a longer–term income support payment such as the Newstart Allowance.

During 2016–17, the Disaster Recovery Allowance was made available to communities in:

  • New South Wales in response to the June 2016 storms and flooding, as well as the flooding following Tropical Cyclone Debbie;
  • Tasmania in response to the June 2016 floods; and
  • Queensland in response to severe weather and flooding following Tropical Cyclone Debbie.

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