The federal Labor government formally responded to ALRC Report 57 in association with its Justice Statement of May 1995. The government indicated strong support for a majority of the report’s recommendations and that it would be responding with a range of other initiatives to improve access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people of non-English speaking background. The response set out details of the action that has been taken or was to be taken to implement the recommendations.

Many of the family law recommendations were adopted in the Family Law Reform Act 1995 (Cth). This Act implements ALRC recommendations specifying that in considering the welfare of the child the court should consider the relationships that the child has with each parent or with other persons and the importance of maintaining links with their culture.

A number of the criminal law recommendations have also been implemented. The Crimes and Other Legislation Amendment Act 1994 (Cth) amends the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) to ensure that the offender’s cultural background is specified as a factor to be taken into account when the court considers whether to proceed to a conviction and when considering sentence.

The Evidence Act 1995 (Cth) implements the ALRC’s recommendation that a witness be entitled to give evidence through an interpreter. The Act also implements the recommendations concerning exclusion of improperly obtained evidence and the admission of evidence about an accused’s cultural values and practices.

The Racial Hatred Act 1995 (Cth) amended the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) to prohibit offensive behaviour because of another person’s race, colour or national or ethnic origin. Such conduct is unlawful, and may be grounds for a complaint to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, but is not necessarily a criminal offence.

The ALRC’s recommendations on consumer credit have been partially implemented through the Consumer Credit Code.

The General Insurance Code of Practice (1994), which was developed by the Insurance Council of Australia in consultation with the Government and consumer interests, was seen by the Government as partially satisfying the recommendations in ALRC Report 57 concerning insurance. The Code was reviewed by the Insurance Council of Australia and a new General Insurance Code of Practice was issued in 2006.

Continuing issues

Since ALRC Report 57, the issue of multiculturalism and the law has gained extensive coverage and is an ongoing issue. The federal government has pursued the issue of multiculturalism in Australia’s society.

The Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs directed the National Multicultural Advisory Council in 1998 to report on multiculturalism in Australia. The resulting report and list of recommendations, Australian Multiculturalism for a New Century: Towards Inclusiveness was released in April 1999, with the government response following in December 1999. Although the Advisory Council report does not concentrate on ‘multiculturalism and the law’, it does reinforce the attitudes that were reflected in ALRC Report 57.

The ALRC recommendations relating to customary and religious divorce have not been implemented. The Family Law Council completed a report on cultural-community divorce in 2001 which built on the ALRC Report 57 recommendations. The Family Law Council’s report has not been accepted by the Australian Government.