The past four months since the inaugural ALRC Brief have seen many significant changes to the ALRC and a great deal of activity. As of 1 July 2011, the ALRC became a statutory agency under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997, and an employer subject to the Public Service Act 1996. This means a whole new governance regime for the ALRC and although I don’t expect the nature of our work to be affected, it will have an impact on our administrative and reporting systems.
At the end of April, just after Easter, we moved into our new home on level 40 of the MLC Centre in Martin Place. We are sub-leasing office space from the Australian Government Solicitor (AGS), which has itself contracted in recent years. This was a great opportunity for the ALRC, as we were able to halve our rent by cutting our office space to fit better with our current needs. Moving into a fully fitted-out office meant that we had no additional fit-out expenses and the AGS also gave us a six month rental holiday as an incentive. The move has also allowed us to share a number or resources and services with the AGS, including reception and meeting rooms as well as their wonderful hard copy library. In terms of the ALRC’s Michael Kirby Library collection, we have been able to retain the essential core of it intact and to move it into the office with us, while moving more of our new purchases to online access, recognising the fluid nature of our library needs in response to each new inquiry. Here we are very lucky to have our wonderful librarian and information manager, Ms Carolyn Kearney, to identify and source all the key resources we need as we move deftly from ‘family violence’ to ‘discovery’ to ‘classification’ from one moment to the next. We look forward to developing a relationship with AGS of mutual benefit in our new home and have already participated together to celebrate Reconciliation Action Week.
With the completion of the Discovery Inquiry at the end of March, the terms of the two part-time Commissioners appointed for that inquiry—Justice Arthur Emmett and Justice Bruce Lander—came to an end. I would like to record in the Brief the warm appreciation of the ALRC for their contribution to the Inquiry, alongside the contribution of our two standing part-time Commissioners, Justice Susan Kenny and Justice Berna Collier.
When the announcement of the inquiry into Censorship and Classification, the National Classificaiton Scheme Review, was made in March, I was delighted that the Attorney-General also announced the appointment of Professor Terry Flew as Commissioner to lead this inquiry. Terry is from the Media and Communication in the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology and joined us on 2 May—in our new home. I am also doubly pleased to say that the Attorney-General’s Department is providing the funds to support his appointment for the length of the inquiry!
The National Classification Scheme Review is roaring ahead, with more than four times the number of submissions ever received in an ALRC inquiry before—and this is only after the preliminary Issues Paper! More of this in the inquiry update later in the Brief.
In the last ALRC Brief, I included mention of the Senate Inquiry into the ALRC, chaired by then Opposition Senator, Guy Barnett. The Committee reported on 8 April and the Government responded on 8 July. It was very heartening to see throughout the Inquiry—in the evidence given and in both the report and the response—strong support for the quality of, and respect for, the ALRC’s work. After a rather unsettling period, this was very reassuring indeed.
There was disagreement in the Committee about the ALRC’s funding issues, which had been a key focus of the Senate’s Inquiry. The majority Senate report recommended a restoration of the ALRC’s budget cuts ‘as a matter of urgency’; the minority Senate report by Government Senators considered that the ALRC is ‘adequately resourced’ and did not accept the recommendation to restore our funding.
Putting that aside, the affirmation of the importance of our work and the respect for the ALRC from Government, from our stakeholders and the community, was welcome and timely. A fuller summary of the Committee’s Inquiry into the ALRC is included in this edition of ALRC Brief.
I am also delighted to report that, once again, the ALRC has been honoured in the Institute of Public Administration Australia (IPAA) Annual Report awards, winning another bronze award in the online category for a CAC agency for the second year in a row. This was a real tribute to the work of our website manager, Ms Marie-Claire Muir, who has transformed the way we use online tools and approach our communication strategies utilisting a wide range of techniques. I am also excited to report that the ALRC’s Executive and Project Assistant, Ms Tina O’Brien was nominated, and was one of four nominees shortlisted, for the EXPAND, Executive Assistant of the Year Award for 2011. Tina does an amazing job here supporting myself, our Commissioners and our inquiry teams, and this recognition is truly deserved.
In July I attended the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General with Commissioner Terry Flew. We were invited to give the assembled attorneys and ministers an update on our approach for the National Classification Scheme Review and on the consultation strategies for that inquiry—a clear sign of the importance of this review for the national law reform agenda. It was also very pleasing to note that one of the decisions coming from this meeting was to develop a national response to the report on family violence that we delivered in November last year, undertaken as a joint project with the NSW Law Reform Commission: Family Violence—A National Legal Response, ALRC Report 114 (2010).