Welcome to the first edition of the ALRC Brief – a new publication distributed by email and on the website, to keep our friends and stakeholders apprised of news and developments at the ALRC.
From the President’s desk
Welcome to the inaugural edition of the ALRC Brief. The idea for this newsletter is to keep you in touch with the ALRC and give you an update on our current projects. The Brief will work hand in hand with our website, inquiry-specific newsletters and blogs, with Twitter and Facebook to broaden our lines of communication with you and interested stakeholders in our inquiries. We want to encourage greater awareness of, and involvement in, our processes, our thinking, and our reports.
While I was looking through a history of ALRC work recently, I came across the first ALRC law reform bulletin released in January 1976 and written by the Hon Justice Michael Kirby, the very first Chair of the ALRC. Justice Kirby described the bulletin as “an entirely informal way to inform readers of developments relevant to the reform of the law in Australia. … To escape irrelevance law reform must go out to the society it serves”. Re-establishing the notion of a law reform bulletin, the ALRC Brief has similar aspirations and I am delighted that we are continuing another aspect of Kirby’s legacy in this simple way.
As an independent law reform agency, not tied to any particular government, political party, stakeholder group or community interest, our role in advising about how Australia’s laws can be improved is a unique one. Sitting in the Senate in early February, listening to some of our stakeholders giving evidence to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee’s Inquiry into the ALRC (more on this later in the Brief), I was very moved and humbled to hear people speak so generously and passionately about the important and unique role that the ALRC has played over its 36-year history to advance the rule of law and to ensure a more equitable, accessible and fair system of justice for this country. This is a tribute to the leadership and dedication of Chairs, Presidents, Commissioners and staff, our dedicated stakeholders and friends who contribute so much to our work.
For those of you who don’t know, this Inquiry was called following significant budget cuts to the ALRC. As a result, the ALRC is now functioning with just one full-time Commissioner—myself, as opposed to the usual complement of three—and a reduced complement of legal and support staff. The importance for Australia’s system of justice, to have a properly funded independent law reform body, cannot be overstated. We await with anticipation the final report of this Inquiry, which is due at the end of March.
In response to these budget cuts the ALRC will be moving offices in late April, across the road to the MLC Centre, where we will be sharing space and some services with the Australian Government Solicitor. This move will achieve a significant reduction in rent to help us manage the effect of the budget cuts. Change of address details will be published on our website closer to the time of the move.
We have a very busy time ahead of us and in this first edition you can read more about the Inquiry into the ALRC, catch up on where our current inquiries are up to, see what is on the inquiry horizon, find out about our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) and generally get a sense of what is going on at the ALRC. I hope you find the ALRC Brief informative.
Senate Committee inquiry into the ALRC
On 11 February 2011, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee held a public hearing for its inquiry into the ALRC.
The Inquiry, which had been referred to the Committee on 23 November 2010, was called for largely to investigate the impact of heavy cuts to the ALRC budget over the last few years, and whether these cuts are “putting serious law reform at risk in this country” (Senator Barnett, Chair of the Senate Committee, 23 Nov 10).
The Inquiry is considering:
- the ALRC’s role, governance arrangements and statutory responsibilities;
- the adequacy of ALRC staffing and resources to meet its objectives;
- best practice examples of like organisations interstate and overseas;
- the appropriate allocation of functions between the ALRC and other statutory agencies; and
- other related matters.
Submissions received by the Committee are published on its website.
The ALRC’s submissions are also published on this website.
At the public hearing on 11 February, the attending Senators Barnett, Crossin and Trood heard from the Federal Court of Australia, Civil Liberties Australia, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the Rule of Law Institute of Australia, the Federation of Community Legal Centres Victoria, Victorian Women Lawyers, the Public Interest Law Clearing House, the Attorney-General’s Department and, of course, the ALRC. Download a transcript of the hearing or read the President’s opening statement, below.
On 3 March the Committee heard from two further witnesses, Emeritus Professor David Weisbrot, past President of the ALRC, and the Hon Justice Grant Hammond, President of the New Zealand Law Reform Commission.
The reporting date is 31 March 2011.
Opening statement by Professor Rosalind Croucher, President ALRC at the public hearing on 11 February 2011
Chair, Senator Barnett, Senators.
In this opening presentation I am going to take it as given that the ALRC has a high reputation for producing high quality, well researched and well documented reports.
The vast majority of submissions, including that of the AGD and the Attorney-General, the Hon Robert McClelland MP in an article in today’s Australian Financial Review, restate the importance of an independent law reform body, with appropriate levels of funding that will continue to produce the high quality work that has characterised the ALRC for the past 35 years. (I note that this was also the main conclusion of the 1994 review of the ALRC).
Many submissions also note the very high implementation of ALRC recommendations—proof of both the relevancy of the ALRC’s proposals, and the effectiveness of the processes by which it comes to these proposals. The value of the ALRC’s research has also been noted in several submissions from academics and from the judiciary, in particular the Federal Court, who speak of the high value provided by the evidence base of the ALRC’s research and the enduring nature of the law reform reports that we produce.
I will take it as a ‘given’ that what we have done, has been done extraordinarily well.
The issue on one level is can we continue to do so, or more particularly what do we need to ensure our ability to do so into the future – to the benefit of government, to the courts, to the legal profession and to the broader community, both nationally and internationally.
The key point I would like to make is that the intellectual capital of a standing law reform commission requires a core complement of Commissioners and staff. The maintenance of that intellectual capital also generates an enormous efficiency, where the ALRC is expert at the process of law reform, and, with its reputation and the standing of its Commissioners, able to leverage enormous expertise and contributions—all honorary/pro bono—informing the work and development of recommendations for reform.
So, here’s the ‘rub’—what exactly is adequate resourcing of the ALRC? In our Background Submission we commented that ‘The idea of adequacy is a complex one, linked to desired outcomes and purposes. … The ALRC considers that the baseline for any consideration of adequacy is the production of high quality, well researched and well documented reports and the necessary staff and time to produce them.’ Today let me add that to maintain the intellectual capital in law reform is also fundamental.
We have already had to prune significantly our important educational outreach program to concentrate on our inquiry work. What really is at issue here is whether or not the ALRC’s current appropriation is adequate to allow the high quality internationally recognised best practice work that we do to continue.
I wish to put on record that I appreciate the Attorney-General’s personal commitment to the ALRC, as evidenced for example in his launch, with the NSW Attorney General, of the Family Violence Report on 11 November last year. His article in the AFR today also testified to that commitment. I also wish to acknowledge the Attorney-General’s Department’s participation in regular information exchanges—we have gone a long way here to build respect and understanding.
But with respect to the question of whether our current appropriation is adequate, I have to say ‘no’. I kept thinking of an analogy to describe the impact of the budget cuts — described by some as ‘savings’— and the image that kept returning was that of the Black Knight in the film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. After he lost one arm defending his turf he said ‘Tis but a scratch!’; after the other one was lopped off, ‘Just a flesh wound!’. After both his legs were also chopped off he still managed to say, defiantly, ‘The Black Knight Always triumphs!’. Ridiculous, but fitting. The reduction in budget to the ALRC makes us feel like that poor knight.
The ALRC, like the knight, cannot ‘triumph’—run on reputation— forever.
What then are the essential aspects of resourcing? The two issues I will focus on are:
- the need for a Commission that actually includes Commissioners of both a full time, as well as part time capacity; and
- the core complement of staff required to preserve the intellectual capital of the ALRC and to continue to deliver high quality, well researched and well documented reports.
The ALRC understands completely the current budget restraints, the government’s commitment to realise a budget surplus by 2012/13 and the increased pressure on this goal caused by recent events around the country. However the cuts to the ALRC, and the way they were introduced have meant that at present the ALRC is not able to afford the appointment of a second Commissioner, let alone the two Commissioners to lead the expected—and efficient—pattern of two inquiries at a time, and to provide the integrity of decision making by the Commissioners in making recommendations of each inquiry. Being able to afford Commissioners within our reduced appropriation has been set as the condition for their appointment.
And here I am not talking about part-time Commissioners, but full-time Commissioners, preferably appointed as standing, fixed-term Commissioners.
Let me explain:
The Background Submission makes quite clear the difference between part-time Commissioners and full-time Commissioners. The contribution of part-time Commissioners, while essential to the overall quality and reputation of the ALRC’s work and ability to leverage further community input, does not go to the production of the reports and the consultation processes that underpin them. Part-time Commissioners play an invaluable advisory role—but it is only that, or rarely more so. I am not suggesting that we do not need them—we do—they are invaluable and we appreciate their contribution enormously—but they are no substitute for full-time Commissioners nor for the legal officers who undertake the bulk of the research and writing and conduct the consultations.
What about more limited appointments, of experts for example, brought in for specific inquiries? This sounds attractive—and can work extremely well—but there are significant caveats that need to be noted.
First, there needs to be sufficient lead time in planning an inquiry to be able to identify the area of expertise needed, find someone of sufficient standing who may be available for the inquiry and with sufficient flexibility with respect to start and end dates to be able to direct an inquiry from start to finish, and, if necessary, to move to Sydney. If the appointment is to be advertised, a further period of time needs to be factored in—of at least 3–6 months.
Second, if it’s just about expertise, then the ALRC has an established and tried and tested way of bringing in the expertise needed for each inquiry—through our advisory committees and consultative processes – through which we leverage a considerable pro bono contribution to our work. This moderates any particular ‘barrow’ a subject specific person might bring to lead an inquiry. And subject specific people have to be trained up in the law reform process, which usually takes a whole reference cycle, by which time their expertise has run out, so to speak. What standing full-time commissioners give us is the intellectual capital in law reform and clear independence in our task.
The core complement of staff
The ability to attract, retain and nurture a core complement of staff is critical for the maintenance of the intellectual capital of the organisation.
I draw upon my own experience as a Commissioner at the ALRC for the past four years and have overseen, as Commissioner in charge,7 inquiries during that time: Client Legal Privilege, FOI (until it was withdrawn), Secrecy, FOI (Private) (that was proposed but never eventuated), Family Violence, Commonwealth laws and family violence, and Discovery. Based on this experience, coupled with an analysis of our previous resourcing and staff complements as summarised in part in our background submission, I will indicate what an appropriate core complement of staff should be. Any additional work or demands for a particular inquiry on top of this should be negotiated to provide additional resourcing to achieve the particular goals of such inquiries.
One Commissioner per Inquiry, 8–10 legal officers at different classification levels—the number allocated to each depends on the complexity of the inquiry. I note that this model is remarkably similar to that identified in the 1994 report.
There should also be retained the ability of the President to appoint fixed term appointments of legal staff should the nature and complexity of one particular inquiry require either additional legal researchers or the employment of people with specific expertise.
In addition, as explained in our background submission, an Inquiry team needs more than solely legal officers. We need people to facilitate the administration of the inquiry, to coordinate the publishing process, to manage the web interface and the research needs. Therefore the Commission also needs an inquiry support team as an integral part of the Inquiry process.
Our team right now is the barest it has been.
We are now at the point of viability—like the Black Knight. (Saying ‘I will bite your legs off’—his final retort—doesn’t take you far on the road to law reform.)
What do we need?
We need the cuts restored. We cannot offer positions in any way comparable to levels in the AGD, for example. Many submissions have noted that the ALRC’s appropriation has remained relatively static, while costs such as staff wages and rents have increased annually by 4%, and other expenses have increased as per the CPI. This in effect means that the ALRC’s budget has decreased in real terms. The ability of the ALRC to continue to employ the high calibre of legal officers to the complement described is also a resourcing issue. So we are not just talking numbers of staff, but also the need to ensure we can offer competitive salaries.
To be able to respond and deliver recommendations in the government’s contemporary law reform agenda it is essential that we are able to maintain a complement of highly qualified and experienced commissioners and legal researchers who are always ready to pick up and run with an inquiry. This ability comes with experience, people who know the processes of law reform, who have skills in using these processes and in analysing laws and their effects, and who can then develop law reform proposals that will deliver a principled policy outcome. Constantly engaging new people in the process means having to train them up in these processes and that in itself takes time—it is also vastly inefficient. This is true of both legal staff and Commissioners. Maintaining a long term complement of staff is a minimum resourcing requirement for best practice, responsive law reform, saving time and therefore, dollars in the longer term.
As the Attorney-General noted in his comment today in the AFR, independent advice from the ALRC will remain critical in helping the government achieve its reform objectives.
But more is needed—to preserve and foster the investment of governments since 1975 in the intellectual capital of an independent law reform body that is the ALRC—to retain the ability to add value not only to the government’s law reform agenda but to community understanding and participation and to international goodwill.
‘Tis but a scratch’? I don’t think so. From a relatively small base we can achieve much, but law reform of the calibre that is expected cannot just be carried out ‘in a phone box’, to quote a previous comment in this place, unless that phone box, to use an acronym, is a TARDIS. But that is stretching the analogies too far.
Thank you, Senators. I look forward to your questions.
New inquiries: national classification review and copyright
The Government has made public announcements about two new inquiries intended for the ALRC. The ALRC has yet to receive final Terms of Reference for both these inquiries and until terms are received, the inquiries are only foreshadowed.
National classification review
On 21 December 2010, the Attorney-General the Hon Robert McClelland MP issued a joint press release with Minister for Home Affairs and Justice the Hon Brendan O’Connor MP, stating that the ALRC will conduct a review of classification laws in Australia in light of changes in technology, media convergence and the global availability of media content.
The Commission previously conducted an inquiry into laws relating to classification and censorship in 1991.
Minister for Home Affairs and Justice Brendan O’Connor said current classification categories would be considered as part of the review. In the joint press release, Mr O’Connor said:
“It has become increasingly clear that the system of classification in Australia needs to be modernised so it is able to accommodate developments in technology now and in the future.
When the National Classification Scheme began, classifiable content and the way it was delivered to consumers was relatively static.
Today, films can be watched in a cinema, on DVD, on TV or downloaded. Many video games include significant film segments to tell stories, and some films have interactive content. The National Broadband Network will increase this ready access to classifiable content.
People, particularly parents, need a system of classification in Australia that allows them to make informed choices about what they wish to read, see and hear.
“This important review will look not only at classification categories, but also at the whole classification system to ensure it continues to be effective in the 21st century.”
The Attorney-General’s Department published the proposed Terms of Reference on the Classification website, inviting the public to comment. The closing date for comments was 28 January 2011. It is proposed that the ALRC report to the Attorney-General in December 2011, however the ALRC is yet to receive the final Terms of Reference.
On 11 February 2011 the federal Attorney-General published an item in the Australian Financial Review (p.46), “ALRC performs vital role”. The article outlined the Gillard government’s support for the ALRC and stated that it will “appoint a full-time commissioner to lead the inquiry into classification, a particularly technical area of law that will benefit from the input of subject matter expertise”. The ALRC welcomes this announcement.
We would like to thank interns Lucinda O’Dwyer, Katie Batty and Catherine Farrell who assisted with preliminary research on this proposed reference during January.
If you wish to receive regular updates specifically about this Inquiry, please subscribe to National Classification Review E-news.
Alternatively, follow the Classification Review on Facebook.
On 25 February 2011, the Attorney-General addressed the Blue Sky Conference on future directions in Copyright law and announced his intention to provide the ALRC with a reference on copyright. In relation to that reference, he said:
“I believe that this area would benefit from the expertise of the ALRC – as an independent, specialist legal review body it is well placed to thoroughly examine this important area.
The terms of reference will, of course, be developed in close consultation with the ALRC.
I appreciate that a reference will need to be clearly defined in scope, given the broad range of complex issues and competing interests in the copyright sphere.
It will be important to not duplicate work undertaken by Government on various policy issues, or in the course of related reviews -for example the Government’s Convergence Review.
It will also be important to have regard to timing considerations in terms of the areas to be examined- as I outlined earlier, it is important to consider the speed of technological developments and practices in this area.
As the Australian Law Reform Commission has existing references that will take several months to complete, I anticipate that terms of reference would be provided later this year.”
The current inquiries in February 2011 are:
- Discovery of documents in Federal Courts
- Family violence and Commonwealth laws
Discovery of documents in Federal Courts
The Consultation Paper, Discovery in Federal Courts (CP 2), was launched in Melbourne on 17 November 2010 with a public seminar at which a panel of experts discussed the ethical issues canvassed in the Consultation Paper, including whether discovery was deliberately abused by lawyers and parties involved in federal litigation, and if so, how could this be avoided. The discussion was moderated by Professor Camille Cameron and Associate Professor Christine Parker (Melbourne Law School). The panel included:
- Rosalind Croucher (ALRC President)
- The Hon Justice Ray Finkelstein (Federal Court of Australia)
- Georgina Hayden (ASIC)
- Sue Laver (Telstra)
- Bernard Murphy (Maurice Blackburn Pty Limited)
- Stuart Clark (Clayton Utz)
- Michael D. Wyles SC
An account of the seminar and some of the issues discussed was provided on the Discovery blog: “Should professional conduct rules be amended to include specific legal ethical obligations concerning discovery?“
In Sydney, a round-table discussion was held in the Federal Court’s No.1 Courtroom. The discussion was moderated by ALRC President Rosalind Croucher and introduced by Chief Justice Patrick Keane of the Federal Court of Australia. Other participants at the table included:
- The Hon Justice Peter Jacobson, Federal Court of Australia
- Rebecca Gilsenan, Principal, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, and
- Stuart Clark, Partner, Clayton Utz.
Members of the audience also contributed to the discussion, including part-time ALRC Commissioner the Hon Justice Arthur Emmett and the Hon Andrew Rogers QC.
The closing date for submissions was 19 January 2011. Twenty-nine submissions were received, from law firms, law societies, barristers, bar associations, public interest advocates, Australian Government departments, the Family Court of Australia, and legal academics. Non-confidential submissions can be viewed on the ALRC website.
The Discovery Team continues to consider the direction of final recommendations in this Inquiry. The ALRC is due to report to the Attorney-General by 31 March 2011.
Family violence and Commonwealth laws
The Inquiry team has released a series of four Issues Papers covering the treatment of family violence in:
- immigration law;
- employment and superannuation law;
- child support and family assistance law; and
- social security law.
These Issues Papers are intended to encourage informed community participation in the Inquiry by providing some background information and highlighting the issues identified by the ALRC as relevant to the Inquiry.
The Issues Papers will be followed by the publication of a Discussion Paper in mid-2011. The Final Report is due on 30 November 2011.
If you wish to receive regular updates specifically about this Inquiry, please subscribe to Family violence and Commonwealth laws e-news.
We’d like to thank interns Kyrren Konstantinidis, Stacey McEvoy, Katie Batty and Catherine Farrell for their assistance.
News about the implementation of ALRC reports and recommendations between October 2010 and February 2011.
- Recommendation 5-5 stated: “Incidental to the review of ‘domestic violence offences’ referred to in Rec 5–4, s 44 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)—which deals with the failure to provide any wife, apprentice, servant or insane person with necessary food, clothing or lodgings—should be amended to ensure that its underlying philosophy and language are appropriate in a modern context.”
In November 2010, NSW Attorney General John Hatzistergos announced it would expand and modernise this archaic section the Crimes Act. It would be updated to include a host of other modern relationships where a person is dependent on another party for their day-to-day care.
The amendments to the Crimes Act will also remove the reference to an “insane person”, which is dated and disrespectful, and replace it with a more appropriate description of a person with a mental illness.
- Recommendation 6–4 called for a new and expanded definition of ‘family violence’ in the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), illustrated by examples of physical and non-physical violence. The Report also stated that the semi-objective test of reasonableness in the current definition should be removed—and the recommended definition omitted this test.
In November 2010, the Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department released the Exposure Draft Family Law Amendment (Family Violence) Bill 2010. One of its proposals was a new, broader definition of ‘family violence’ in the Family Law Act, which specifically includes both physical and non-physical forms of violence. The proposed definition also removes the semi-objective test of reasonableness.
Most provisions of the Australian Information Commissioner Act 2010 (Cth) and Freedom of Information (Reform) Act 2010 (Cth) commenced operation on 1 November 2010, with some provisions commencing on 1 May 2011. Enactment of this legislation substantially implemented many recommendations of the 1996 Report, Open Government: A review of the Federal Freedom of Information Act 1982 (ALRC Report 77).
On 20 October 2010, the National Security Legislation Amendment Act 2010 was passed. It implements a number of recommendations in the 2006 Report Fighting Words: A Review of Sedition Laws in Australia (ALRC Report 104), including the removal of the term ‘sedition’ from federal criminal laws and replacing it with ‘urging violence’.
The Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee recommenced its inquiry examining Exposure Drafts of Australian Privacy Amendment Legislation, Part 1 – Australian Privacy Principles and Part 2 – Credit Reporting. This inquiry had lapsed prior to the commencement of the new Parliament. On 30 September 2010, the Senate agreed to the Committee’s recommendation that the inquiry be re-adopted in the 43rd Parliament with a final reporting date of 1 July 2011.
This is another step in the government’s commitment to re-drafting the entire Privacy Act following ALRC’s 2009 Report For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice (ALRC Report 108). The Exposure Drafts are a move towards implementation of significant ALRC recommendations concerning the consolidation and reform of statutory privacy principles and of the credit reporting provisions contained in Part IIIA of the Privacy Act.
The Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs Inquiry into Gene Patents reported to government on 26 November 2010. It recommended that the government make a number of amendments to the Patents Act 1990 in line with recommendations of the 2004 ALRC report Genes and Ingenuity: Gene Patenting and Human Health (ALRC Report 99). The Senate Committee’s recommendations included the following:
The Senate Committee’s recommendations included:
3.156 The Committee recommends that the Government support and expand on the collection of data, research and analysis concerning genetic testing and treatment in Australia, in line with recommendation 19-1 of the 2004 Australia Law Reform Commission’s Report, Genes and Ingenuity.
5.161 The Committee recommends that the Government provide a combined response addressing the Committee’s inquiry into gene patents; the 2004 report on gene patents by the Australian Law Reform Commission; the review of patentable subject matter by the Australian Council on Intellectual Property (ACIP); and the review of Australia’s patent system by IP Australia. The Committee recommends that the response be provided not later than mid-2011 or three months after the release of the findings of all reviews.
5.179 The Committee recommends that the Patents Act 1990 be amended to provide that an invention will satisfy the requirement of ‘usefulness’ in section 18(1) only in such cases as a patent application discloses a ‘specific, substantial and credible’ use; the Committee recommends that such amendments incorporate the full set of recommendations on this issue from the Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2004 Report, Genes and Ingenuity (Recommendations 6-3 to 6-4).
5.185 The Committee recommends that the Patents Act 1990 be amended to clarify the circumstances in which the Crown use provisions may be employed; and that the Government develop clear policies for the use of the Crown use provisions. The Committee recommends that the Government adopt the Australian Law Reform Commission’s recommendations on this issue from its 2004 report, Genes and Ingenuity (Recommendations 26-1 to 26-3).
5.190 The Committee recommends that the Government amend the Patents Act 1990 to clarify the scope of the ‘reasonable requirements of the public’ test, taking into account the recommendation of the Australian Law Reform Commission on this issue in its 2004 report, Genes and Ingenuity (Recommendation 27-1).
2011 Kirby Cup – topic announced
Developments in technology, media convergence and the global availability of media content have, in recent months, led to the Australian Government establishing a review into communications convergence, a Senate Committee inquiry into the Australian film and literature classification scheme—including the effectiveness of the scheme in dealing with new technologies and new media—as well as a new Government copyright review into expanding the provisions of the so-called ‘safe harbour’ scheme. During this time there has also been some interesting copyright litigation considering whether an internet service provider had authorised alleged infringements committed by some of its subscribers. The Australian Government Attorney-General recently flagged two separate Inquiries for the ALRC. First, a review of censorship and classification and, secondly, a review of copyright. This year’s Kirby Cup topic feeds into both areas of law.
It is generally accepted that the internet has had a real impact on a variety of traditional creative industries. The internet provides a medium through which there is great potential for Australian users to infringe copyright in music and films andcommit classification offences such as selling or distributing unclassified films and computer games. How should the law respond to these challenges?
You may choose to address either classification or copyright, or both, in your response. In your response you may like to examine any of the following issues:
- Should the law control or guide the market and business practice?
- Should internet service providers be held responsible for breaches of copyright and classification laws or should the law target the end-users directly?
- What are the ways in which international jurisdictions have approached these problems.
Essays of not more than 4000 words are due to the ALRC by 26 August 2011.
Cultural awareness training
Photo: Senior Legal Officer, Virginia Marshall, and cultural awareness trainer, Lani Blanco-Francis
In November 2010, in accordance with the ALRC Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), all staff attended a full day of cultural awareness training. Held at Tranby Aboriginal College in Glebe, the day was facilitated by cultural appreciation trainer Lani Blanco-Francis from the Arrilla Indigenous Consultants and Services group. The program involved sessions on Indigenous culture, culturally appropriate consultation and community engagement, the role of the ALRC’s Indigenous Advisory Committee and reviewing the ALRC’s RAP.
The day commenced with introductions, with each staff member sharing their cultural background and level of understanding/knowledge of Indigenous peoples in Australia. Sessions focused on fostering a deeper understanding of Indigenous culture, including appreciation for cultural beliefs and differences, behaviour and traditional kinship knowledge. We discussed how the ALRC could expand this cultural understanding to Indigenous consultations held at various stages of our inquiries. Staff and the facilitator worked through intensive case studies on community consultations and how to provide effective feedback to the community.
Through case studies and group work, staff identified opportunities to further the ALRC’s engagement with Indigenous networks. In addition, there was a keen group discussion on the consultation process and delivering appropriate information to a diverse Indigenous community.
Overall the day was stimulating and provided a useful basis upon which the RAP Committee and the ALRC more broadly can continue to develop the RAP and engage with the Indigenous community.
Providing feedback to the Indigenous community
One issue identified during the Family Violence Inquiry and highlighted in the cultural awareness training is the need for the ALRC to better provide feedback to the Indigenous community.
Following the launch of the Final Report for the Family Violence Inquiry, ALRC President Rosalind Croucher prepared a podcast on Indigenous issues and consultation in the Family Violence Inquiry. The podcast is available on the ALRC website: https://www.alrc.gov.au/news-media/family-violence/podcast-indigenous-issues-and-consultation-family-violence-inquiry.
To provide additional feedback and encourage greater participation by Indigenous people in the law reform process, Legal Officer Amanda Alford and the President also wrote an article for publication in Indigenous Law Bulletin (Volume 7 Issue 22), re-published here on the ALRC website: ‘The ALRC and Indigenous People—Continuing the Conversation’.
In November 2010, the ALRC welcomed its first Indigenous staff member, Senior Legal Officer Virginia Marshall. This has led the way for a further RAP action (3.1) to evolve, in view of Indigenous employment strategies, and further confirms the ALRC’s commitment to encouraging greater participation by Indigenous peoples in law reform.
Virginia has law degrees from the University of Wollongong and the ANU and in 2010 completed a doctoral thesis in Law at Macquarie University. Virginia holds a practicing certificate in NSW as a solicitor to the Supreme and High Courts and has worked as a para-legal and solicitor in the civil and criminal section of Legal Aid. She has been a lecturer and a research associate, and most recently was employed as a Senior Research Fellow with the Nyikina Mangala Aboriginal Corporation in WA to research, report and implement sustainable economic livelihoods on traditional country in the Kimberley region. Virginia spent two years as the CEO of the NSW Aboriginal Water Trust, NSW Dept of Natural Resources and was also an Indigenous Research Associate at the Federal Court in Sydney.
ALRC legal intern program
The ALRC looks forward to welcoming three new interns on 18 March. They will work with us one day a week through the semester:
- Julie McKenziehas a PhD in Gender and Cultural Studies specialising in feminist, political and democratic theory from the University of Sydney and is currently a Juris Doctor student at the Uni of NSW, in her penultimate year of study.
- David Roweis currently in his last year of a combined Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws degree at ANU. He has completed an internships at DFAT and at the Environmental Defenders Office and a clerkship in the Intellectual Property Litigation team of Allens Arthur Robinson. David has also worked as a ministerial staffer to the Hon Bob McMullan.
- Jacqueline Serkowskihas a BA in Social Science and has just completed her BA of Laws at the Uni of Western Sydney. She is currently completing her Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice. She has undertaken practical legal training at Marrickville Legal Centre and has done a clerkship at LawAccess NSW.
We would also like to thank the five interns, who held full time summer positions in January and February 2011:
- Katie Batty—Katie is in her fourth year of a Bachelor of Law/Bachelor of Arts at Murdoch University in WA.
- Lucinda O’Dwyer—Lucinda is from Monash University, and is in her penultimate year of her law degree.
- Catherine Farrell—Catherine is currently completing her Juris Doctor at the University of Melbourne.
- Andrew Trotter— Andrew is in his final year of a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Arts Degree at QUT.
- Lauren Loz—Lauren is completing her Juris Doctor at the University of NSW.
At the end of their internships, Lucinda O’Dwyer and Catherine Farrell discussed with ALRC President, Rosalind Croucher, their experience as interns and what they feel they gained from it. Listen to the audio >>
Applications for Semester 2 close on Friday 8 July 2011.