Attorney-General’s: Regional Australia—A Stronger Economy Delivering Stronger Regions 2018–19

The Attorney-General’s portfolio comprises the Attorney-General’s Department and 14 portfolio bodies. The portfolio delivers programs and policies to maintain and improve Australia's law and justice framework. 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 engages the perspectives of regional Australians to inform its work. The Australian Human Rights Commission has been funded by the Australian Government to deliver the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) Project to give voice to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls’ perspectives on the critical factors impacting on their access to and enjoyment of human rights. In addition, the Attorney-General’s portfolio is leading work to protect human rights, including those of individuals in detention in regional Australia through the implementation of the Optional Protocol on the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), and the rights of older Australians through Elder Abuse Service Trials, including in some 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 Program 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 Office of the Australian Information Commissioner provides assistance with privacy and freedom of information matters via telephone and online services to ensure regional Australians can access regulatory assistance.

The Australian Government remains committed to funding for legal assistance services for regional Australia under the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services 2015-2020, delivering $1.3 billion to community legal centres and legal aid commissions over five years to 2020.

The Australian Government supports the provision of access to services for marrying couples by ensuring that marriage celebrants who live remotely are exempt from paying the annual registration charge and aspiring celebrants are exempt from paying the once-off application fee. The remoteness exemptions are designed to support the retention of access to celebrancy services in remote and very remote areas of Australia.

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 10 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 with an additional $3.4 million being provided in last years’ Budget.

New Initiatives

Preventing mistreatment in Australian Places of Detention

The Australian Government ratified the Optional Protocol on the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT) on 21 December 2017. OPCAT implementation will improve inspection and oversight of all places of detention under Australia’s jurisdiction and control, including prisons, youth detention facilities and police cells in regional Australia. Better oversight will assist in preventing mistreatment in places of detention. The Attorney-General’s portfolio is leading work with states and territories to ensure OPCAT is effectively implemented. The Australian Government has provided funding to the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman through the 2018-19 Budget to undertake a policy and coordination role for inspectorates across Australia.

Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) Project

On 28 June 2017, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs commissioned the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Ms June Oscar AO at the Australian Human Rights Commission, to undertake a project to give voice to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls’ perspectives on the critical factors impacting on their access to and enjoyment of human rights. The project funding is $1.3 million over two years to hold a national conversation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls through face-to-face engagements in urban, rural and remote locations across Australia’s states and territories and a web-based presence and online submissions process.

The project’s key objectives are to:

  • capture the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls with respect to their cultural, socio-economic and personal security, their key priorities and the principles they believe would contribute to long-lasting change
  • elevate the voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls through a human-rights-based process which is accessible and relevant to their lived reality and contributes to their empowerment
  • provide credible evidence and set out clear guidance for governments to improve their capacity to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls as active citizens and positive change makers, and best-practice considerations that need to be incorporated into government policies and programs.

Issues specifically facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls in regional, rural and remote Australia will form part of the Australia Human Rights Commission’s reporting by 30 June 2019. Findings will inform the development of a positive Australian Government agenda to support the safety and empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls and inform key policies and programs such as the Closing the Gap, future investment under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy and development of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children.

Elder Abuse Service Trials

The Elder Abuse Service Trials progresses the Australian Government’s 2016 election commitment, ‘Our Plan to Protect the Rights of Older Australians’, and to address key findings of the Australian Law Reform Commission Report 131: Elder Abuse—A National Legal Response (ALRC Report). The Elder Abuse Service Trials establish demonstration projects for three types of specialist services:

  • specialist elder abuse units
  • health justice partnerships
  • case management and mediation services.

The Australian Government will provide $22.0 million in funding over four years from 2018-19 to 2021-22 to tackle elder abuse. The new services will address gaps in Australia’s frontline services’ response to elder abuse by significantly expanding the practical support on offer to help older Australians and their families affected by elder abuse, including some in regional areas.

The Australian Government will work with state and territory governments to develop a transparent approach to identifying locations for the service trials with funding allocated via a restricted competitive funding round.

Current Initiatives

Register of Security Interests in Personal Property

The Australian Financial Security Authority (AFSA) administers the Personal Property Securities Register (PPSR), used by the general public and business sector to register security interests over personal property, assess financial risk and make informed financial decisions.

The PPSR is an online service available to consumers and businesses in metropolitan, regional and rural areas at any time. In areas with limited internet, the service can also be accessed by phone.

The PPSR offers important consumer protection. Consumers and businesses can check whether any valuable goods are free from existing financed debt and safe from possible repossession, before they purchase.

Businesses that sell on retention of title or consignment, or hire or lease out goods for more than two years, can register to protect their security interest in case a customer becomes insolvent. Businesses can also use their assets as collateral to raise finance.

The PPSR covers goods and assets that are not land, buildings or fixtures, such as motor vehicles, boats, crops, livestock and other items.

Searching the PPSR through www.ppsr.gov.au costs $3.40. A registration costs from $6.80.

Personal Insolvency and Trustee Services

Australia’s personal insolvency system is administered by the Australian Financial Security Authority (AFSA). There are a number of informal and formal options for people who have unmanageable debt or are owed money. Information on these options, downloadable resources and some transactional services, are available at www.afsa.gov.au to people in metropolitan, regional and rural areas at any time. In areas with limited internet, this information is also available via phone.

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

Since 2015, the Government has invested in three key packages to support families experiencing family violence.

The 2015 Women’s Safety Package provided $100 million to a range of services, including $15.0 million over three years provided to the Attorney-General’s portfolio to administer grants for specialist domestic violence units and health justice partnerships.

In 2016, a further $100 million was committed to support implementation of the Third Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022, with the Attorney-General’s portfolio administering $29.6 million over three years from 2016-17 for front‑line legal assistance and family law services, including:

  • $18.5 million for legal aid commissions to establish integrated duty lawyer and family violence support services in family law court registries
  • $6.2 million for eight 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
  • $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.

In the 2017‑18 Budget, a further $26.8 million was committed specifically for family law services, and $55.7 million for legal assistance services. This funding included $10.7 million over four years to support additional family consultants in the Family Law Courts, and a further $3.4 million over two years (2017-18 and 2018-19) to expand the specialist domestic violence program to additional locations.

The integrated duty lawyer and family violence support services have been established by legal aid commissions at 14 family law court registries across Australia and two local courts in the Northern Territory. Regional and remote service locations include Cairns, Katherine and Townsville. Services are also being delivered in regional circuit courts in Albany, Broome, Bunbury, Burnie, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie and Mount Gambier. These services assist clients with complex needs to ensure that their legal and non-legal needs are identified and appropriate support provided.

Eighteen specialist domestic violence units have been established across all states and territories, including 10 in 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 ProviderFunding
Specialist domestic violence units with health justice partnership (2015-19)
Northern Territory Alice Springs Central Australian Women’s Legal Service $1.8 million
Specialist domestic violence units (2015-19)
New South Wales Dubbo Western New South Wales Community Legal Centre $1.5 million
Victoria Mildura 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 Launceston (2017-19) and Burnie Women’s Legal Service Tasmania $1.6 million
Specialist domestic violence units (2017-19)
Northern Territory Tennant Creek Central Australian Women’s Legal Service $525,000
New South Wales Central Coast Legal Aid New South Wales $600,000
Victoria Online model servicing Latrobe, Horsham, Benalla, the Southern Grampians and the Central Goldfields Women’s Legal Service Victoria $525,000
Queensland Rockhampton Legal Aid Queensland $525,000

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 is delivering $1.3 billion in funding to legal aid commissions and community legal centres over five years. 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 is providing $1.1 billion over 2015-20 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 2016‑17, 5,179 (14 per cent) of legal aid grants for Commonwealth matters were received by persons who reside in rural and remote areas.

Community Legal Centres

The Australian Government is providing a total of $235.0 million from 2015 to 2020 to community legal centres under the National Partnership Agreement.

Approximately 30 per cent of community legal centres are located in regional Australia. In 2016-17, 1,118 (6.5 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 focused 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 provide $10.2 million to the Community Legal Services Program in 2018-19 and includes funding under the Women’s Safety Package, funding for the Parent Management Hearing Pilot Program and the Family Advocacy and Support Services Pilot Program.

Under the Community Legal Services Program, funding is also provided to three national community legal centres (the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre, the Arts Law Centre and the Financial Rights Legal Centre) who deliver specialised information, legal advice and representation to disadvantaged individuals across Australia. Services are delivered through an innovative mix of telephone, email, video conferencing and face-to-face client contact to reach those most in need in all metropolitan, rural and remote areas of Australia.

The Community Legal Services Program also delivers a national Self-Representation Service (SRS) that provides assistance to unrepresented people in the Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court. The SRS ensures that self-represented parties, who do not have access to legal assistance and advice through other sources, are provided with legal assistance and referrals to alternative dispute resolution. The SRS is delivered to rural and remote areas through telephone, email and video conferencing facilities.

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 seven ATSILS nationally which deliver services from 72 permanent locations in regional and remote areas, as well as court circuits, bush courts and outreach locations.

The table below sets out funding from 2017-18 to 2020-21.

 2017-18

Revised estimate
2018-19

Forward estimate
2019-20

Forward estimate
2020-21

Forward estimate
Indigenous Legal Assistance Program
($’000)
74,463 74,365 75,202 70,104

Of the total legal assistance services provided in 2016-17, 66 per cent was delivered to regional and remote areas.

RegionLegal assistance services provided in 2015-16
Metropolitan 65,307
Regional 84,700
Remote 43,673
Total 193,680

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 interests are likely to be affected. Funding for the Native Title Respondent Funding Scheme in 2018‑19 is $1.7 million.

Family Relationship Services Program

In 2018‑19, the Australian Government is planning to provide $168.5 million for the Family Relationships Services Program, $161.2 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
  • 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 through Family Relationships Online, in a way that is accessible to regional Australia.

Federal Court of Australia—Digital Files

The introduction in 2014 of the Electronic Court File (ECF) in the Federal Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia (general federal law) saw significant savings in time and money, improved case management for litigants, practitioners and the Court, portability of the Court files and ease-of-access. The benefits of a portable Court file have been primarily significant in Native Title proceedings heard on country.

Following the merger of the corporate services of the Federal Court, Family Court of Australia, Federal Circuit Court and the National Native Title Tribunal, it followed that the Digital Court File (DCF) would be introduced across all jurisdictions. The project to introduce the DCF in family law jurisdictions is advanced with an expected implementation date in late 2018. In order for the DCF to work well, the family law eFiling platform is also being improved to allow for easier and broader capabilities for the filing of documents electronically from any location across Australia. The implementation of the DCF gives the Court the flexibility to better allocate its resources nationally to where it is needed most, including remote locations.

Federal Court of Australia—Digital Litigation

The Electronic Court File (ECF) and the Digital Court File (DCF) are not the solution to digital litigation—this is the Courts' next step. The introduction of digital hearings, together with the upgrades to the technical infrastructure in courtrooms such as videoconferencing facilities, would allow people to appear and run hearings from both metropolitan and regional areas of Australia electronically.

In addition, with the establishment of the Courts’ Artificial Intelligence (AI) Committee, there are significant areas where access to justice could be improved by driving AI solutions and making it cheaper and easier to resolve disputes through online dispute resolution and predicting outcomes to matters before they have even been filed. The development of an AI solution for the Courts would combat accessibility issues to parties and legal representatives in remote locations.

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 that some litigants have limited access to technology, particularly in rural and regional areas. Despite this, the number of litigants choosing to eFile has increased to over 70 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 otherwise be limited to Registrar circuits or require the parties to travel to capital cities
  • 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.

National Archives Touring Exhibition Program

The National Archives maintains a national footprint, with offices in every state and territory, including in Tasmania and the Northern Territory. The National Archives Touring Exhibition Program began in 1993 and aims to make the collection of the Archives accessible to audiences throughout the country. It is the most active national touring program of the national cultural institutions, with continued strong interest and positive feedback from hosting and partner institutions and the Australian community. It is supported through the Australian Government’s Visions of Australia and National Collecting Institutions Touring and Outreach (NCITO) programs, as well as partnerships with Australian Government agencies, including the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Social Services. Funding for the Touring Exhibition Program for 2018-19 is $500,000 and will be used to tour the following four Archives exhibitions to regional and remote locations around Australia:

  • SPY: Espionage in Australia: this will begin its tour at the Museum of the Riverina, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales. Featuring records and objects from the Archives’ collection and loan items from the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and other security agencies. The exhibition explores the personal experiences of secret agents and the curious history of espionage and counter-espionage in Australia, from Federation to the present day.
  • A Ticket to Paradise?: this will tour to the Western Australian Museum venues in Kalgoorlie, Geraldton, Albany and Fremantle. This exhibition delves into the rich diversity of the nation's migrants and their experiences, and looks at promotional campaigns which presented a utopian view of Australia as a welcoming country full of opportunity. It features archival film footage, audio recordings, and many images of migrants taken between the 1940s and 1990s, and a special interactive globe featuring personal stories of migration.
  • Without Consent: this will tour to two Queensland venues—Qantas Founders Museum, Longreach, and Hervey Bay Regional Gallery. This important social history exhibition explores both the personal and public narratives of the forced adoptions period. Personal experiences of a mother losing a child through a forced adoption or an adopted person struggling to find their identity are put in the context of social and legislative histories, illustrating the evolution of the ‘perfect storm’ that contributed to the practices.
  • A Place to Call Home?: this will finish its tour in 2018 at the Alfred Deakin University Library, Geelong, Victoria. This exhibition features vivid photographs of life in Australia’s migrant hostels. The images are part of a collection of around 22,000 photographs taken by government photographers documenting the experiences of post-World War II migrants to Australia. Known as the Immigration Photographic Archive, the images were used to encourage relocation to Australia to prospective migrants and to help local Australians welcome new migrants into the community.

Prev. Index Next