Program 1: Conducting inquiries into aspects of Australian laws and related processes for the purposes of law reform

The objective of this program is to produce a report for each inquiry that contains the evidence base—including research and analysis, community consultation and feedback—and recommendations that will assist the government to make informed decisions about the development, reform and harmonisation of Australian laws and related processes.

In undertaking this program during 2011–12, the ALRC has:

  • conducted consultations with relevant stakeholders and experts interested in each area of law under review and reported on the consultation process;

  • produced consultation documents for each inquiry;

  • called for submissions in response to consultation documents, seeking information and responses to the questions and proposals, to inform final recommendations;

  • provided online consultation and communication strategies to increase public awareness and access to ALRC activities; and

  • presented at conferences, seminars and parliamentary inquiries, ensuring that the work of the ALRC is publicly debated and discussed and contributes to the community’s knowledge about the Government’s law reform agenda.

Table 2: Program 1—Deliverables


2011–12 budget

2011–12 achieved







Consultation meetings



Consultation papers




The law reform process

The Inquiry Process: Terms of Reference - Research - Issues Paper - Consultation - Discussion Paper - Consultation - Final Report

The exact procedure for each law reform inquiry may differ according to its scope, the range of key stakeholders, the complexity of the laws under review, and the period of time allotted. However, the ALRC has a well-tested framework for developing recommendations for reform. This consists of receiving Terms of Reference, producing an issues paper, consulting stakeholders and receiving submissions, producing a discussion paper followed by further consultation and submissions and then producing a report. A full description of the ALRC law reform process is included in the Special Features section.


During 2011–12, the ALRC has completed two inquiries and commenced work on another two.

Inquiry into family violence and Commonwealth laws

On 9 July 2010, the ALRC received Terms of Reference for a review of the treatment of family violence in Commonwealth laws, including child support and family assistance law, immigration law, employment law, social security law, superannuation law and privacy provisions in relation to those experiencing family/domestic violence and to report on what, if any, improvements could be made to relevant legal frameworks to protect the safety of those experiencing family/domestic violence. Terms of Reference in full are at Appendix C.

‘Reducing all violence in our communities is a key priority for the Australian Government and ensuring the nation’s laws are compatible with this aim is crucial.’

The Hon Nicola Roxon MP.

ALRC President, Professor Rosalind Croucher, led this inquiry, during which the ALRC conducted 110 consultations in two national rounds of stakeholder meetings, forums and roundtables, and received 160 submissions from a wide range of individuals and organisations. The ALRC published a series of issues papers on its website in March 2011, and released a discussion paper in August 2011. A number of Expert Roundtables on child support, employment, migration, social security and superannuation were held during the inquiry to assist the ALRC formulate the initial issues to be canvassed and to provide feedback on the proposals for reform. Members of the Expert Roundtables are at Appendix D.

The report, Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws—Improving Legal Frameworks (ALRC Report 117), was tabled in Parliament on 7 February 2012 and launched by the Attorney-General at Parliament House, Canberra on 8 February 2012.

The report contains 102 recommendations for reform of Commonwealth laws that affect people experiencing family violence. They are underpinned by seven principles that guided ALRC thinking and decision-making during the inquiry: seamlessness; fairness; accessibility; effectiveness; self-agency or autonomy; privacy; and system integrity.

The overall touchstone throughout the report and its recommendations is ‘improving safety’. In considering safety, the ALRC refers both to actual safety from harm and to financial security and independence, through mechanisms such as social security payments and entitlements, paid employment, and appropriate payments of child support. The net effect of the recommendations made by the ALRC would be to foster:

  • consistency in understanding and application of the law as a result of the adoption of a common definition of family violence;

  • appropriate education and training for decision makers leading to greater consistency and fairness in decision-making of family violence claims;

  • better identification of, and responses to, the disclosure of family violence, including in service delivery areas;

  • a greater sense of self-agency for those experiencing family violence by being provided information about family violence responses, and being able to act with confidence that such responses will be attentive to their needs; and

  • improved safety—physical, economic and financial—of people experiencing family violence.

‘We are thrilled with [ …] the results of the Commission’s work towards answers for women and children seeking safety from violence. We commend your work and the legacy it will leave for future generations.’

Libby Lloyd, Chair, and Heather Nancarrow, Deputy-Chair, National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.

The ALRC is pleased there has already been some implementation of recommendations from this report. On 17 June 2012, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen MP and the Minister for the Status of Women, Julie Collins MP, announced changes to Australia’s migration laws to help those experiencing family violence on provisional partner visas, as a partial response to the Commonwealth Family Violence report—in particular, recommendations 21–3 and 21–5.

Recommendation 21–3 stated that the Migration Regulations 1994 should be amended to provide that an applicant can submit any form of evidence to support a non-judicially determined claim of family violence.

Recommendation 21–5 stated that the Procedures Advice Manual 3 guidelines (PAM) should be amended to provide that evidence other than from competent persons: may be relevant to a non-judicially determined claim of family violence; and is entitled to weight as is appropriate in the circumstances of the individual.

Implementation is scheduled for 24 November 2012. In the interim, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) will update policy guidelines to confirm that any evidence provided by applicants in addition to the required statutory declarations should be considered.

There has also been some implementation of recommendations from the ALRC’s first family violence report, Family Violence—A National Legal Response (ALRC Report 114, 2010). The Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Act 2011 (the amending Act) has introduced two amendments to the Family Law Act—in particular, recommendations 6–4 and17–1.

Recommendation 6–4 sets out a new and significantly broader definition of ‘family violence’ for the Family Law Act. The amending Act has introduced a revised definition of ‘family violence’ substantially consistent with the recommended definition.

Recommendation 17–1 stated that s 60CC(3)(k) of the Family Law Act should be amended. This section previously provided that courts must, in determining parenting matters, consider relevant final or contested family violence orders. The report recommended that the Family Law Act should instead require consideration of evidence provided, and findings made, in relevant family violence order proceedings.

The amending Act has amended s 60CC(3)(k) in line with this recommendation, providing that courts must consider ‘relevant inferences that may be drawn’ from family violence orders—not limited to final or contested orders. These changes to the Family Law Act came into effect on 7 June 2012. The remaining Family Violence report recommendations are under consideration by the Australian Government. More information about implementation of ALRC reports can be found at Appendix F.

Inquiry into censorship and classification

On 24 March 2011, the Attorney-General provided the ALRC with Terms of Reference for an inquiry into censorship and classification. The ALRC had previously conducted an inquiry into laws relating to classification and censorship in 1991, Censorship Procedure (ALRC Report 55). This new reference asked the ALRC to inquire and report on the framework for the classification of media content in Australia, based on the Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995 and the Broadcasting Services Act 1992. Terms of Reference are at Appendix C.

On 21 April 2011, the Attorney-General announced the appointment of Professor Terry Flew as a full-time Commissioner for the Censorship and Classification inquiry. Professor Flew took leave from his position as Professor of Media and Communication in the Creative Industries Faculty at the Queensland University of Technology to oversee the inquiry.

‘Australia needs a new classification scheme that applies consistent rules to media content on all platforms … But the scheme also needs to be flexible, so it can adapt to new technologies and the challenges of media convergence.’

Professor Terry Flew.

On 20 May 2011, the ALRC released an issues paper, National Classification Review (IP 40), that provided an overview of the current classification system and an assessment of its strengths and weaknesses. It also discussed the important distinctions to be made between censorship and classification, and issues concerning what should be classified and who should do the classifying, in the context of rapid change in the media industries and media consumption patterns in a converging technological environment. Various options for revising the regulatory framework, including direct government regulation, co-regulation with industry, and industry self-regulation were also raised. The issues paper attracted more than 2,250 submissions—a record number for any ALRC inquiry.

On 30 September 2011, the ALRC released the National Classification Scheme Review discussion paper (DP 77). The discussion paper concluded that the existing classification framework was fragmented, approached content inconsistently across media platforms, and was confusing for industry and the wider community. The ALRC conducted a new series of consultations and received a further 78 submissions to the proposals contained in the discussion paper.

On 1 March 2012, the ALRC’s report, Classification—Content Regulation and Convergent Media (ALRC Report 118) was tabled in Parliament. The report made 57 recommendations for a national classification scheme in the new media landscape. The key features of the proposed scheme are:

  • Platform-neutral regulation with one set of laws establishing obligations to classify or restrict access to content across media platforms.

  • Clear scope of what must be classified: feature films and television programs, as well as computer games likely to be MA 15+ or higher, that are both made and distributed on a commercial basis, and likely to have a significant Australian audience.

  • A shift in regulatory focus to restricting access to adult content, by imposing new obligations on content providers to take reasonable steps to restrict access to adult content and to promote cyber-safety.

  • Co-regulation and industry classification, with more industry classification of content and industry development of classification codes, but subject to regulatory oversight.

  • Classification Board benchmarking and community standards, with a clear role for the Classification Board in making independent classification decisions that reflect community standards.

  • An Australian Government scheme that replaces the current cooperative scheme with enforcement under Commonwealth law.

  • A single regulator with primary responsibility for regulating the new scheme.

The ALRC recommendations acknowledge that there are a range of trends associated with media convergence that need to be factored into any new classification scheme, including increased access to high-speed broadband internet; digitisation; globalisation; accelerated innovation; the rise of user-created content and the changing nature of the media consumer; and the blurring of distinctions between public and private media consumption.

The Government is yet to respond to the report.

‘The ALRC has recommended a balanced approach, recognising that it is not practically possible in a digital age to classify everything. An effective scheme of content regulation must address this context.’

Professor Rosalind Croucher.

Inquiry into Commonwealth legal barriers to older persons participating in the workforce or other productive work

Following a general announcement in February by the Attorney-General, the Hon Nicola Roxon MP, the ALRC received Terms of Reference on 12 March 2012 for an inquiry into Commonwealth legal barriers to older persons participating in the workforce or other productive work.

Under the Terms of Reference, the ALRC was asked to identify any barriers in Commonwealth laws and propose reforms to address them, including in the areas of social security, superannuation, insurance, compensation and employment. Terms of Reference are at Appendix C.

On 7 February 2012, the Attorney-General announced the appointment of the Hon Susan Ryan AO, Age Discrimination Commissioner, as a part-time Commissioner for this inquiry. Ms Ryan is appointed until the conclusion of the inquiry on 31 March 2013.

‘A socially inclusive society is one in which everyone is valued and has the opportunity to participate fully in the life of our society, including participation in paid work where that is the person’s choice. To achieve such a society we must identify and remove the barriers to such participation, whether they be in our laws, or in the legal frameworks or procedures that surround those laws.’

The Hon Susan Ryan, Age Discrimination Commissioner.

The initiation of the ALRC inquiry forms part of the Australian Government response to population ageing and the Government’s overarching objective to encourage longer workforce participation by mature aged people (those aged over 45 years).

On 1 May 2012, the ALRC released an issues paper, Grey Areas—Age Barriers to Work in Commonwealth Laws (IP 41), providing background information and highlighting the issues identified by the ALRC to date. The ALRC focused on limitations on participation; disincentives to participation (and incentives to leave); and incentives to remain in the workforce.

During the reporting period the ALRC has conducted 55 consultations and received 55 submissions.

The ALRC called for submissions in response to the questions contained in the issues paper, or to any of the background material and analysis provided. This community input helps inform the development of draft recommendations for reform to be included in the next consultation phase—the release of a discussion paper, planned for September 2012.

The report is due by 31 March 2013.

Inquiry into copyright and the digital economy

On 29 June 2012, the ALRC received Terms of Reference for an inquiry into copyright and the digital economy. The ALRC is to consider whether exceptions and statutory licences in the Copyright Act 1968 are adequate and appropriate in the digital environment and whether further exceptions should be recommended.

The Attorney-General appointed Professor Jill McKeough as Commissioner in charge of the inquiry. Professor McKeough is a highly regarded academic, researcher and writer with a special focus on intellectual property—including copyright, designs, patents, trade marks, confidential information, biotechnology and indigenous cultural heritage.

The ALRC conducted 16 consultations during the reporting period, and will publish an issues paper in August 2012.

The report is due by 30 November 2013.

Consultation meetings

‘The ALRC is unique in its ability and experience to deal with such complex legal issues that require in-depth consultation with many diverse stakeholders, the ability to find a policy pathway that is acceptable to the community and stakeholders and where there is a need to be, and to be seen to be, completely independent.’

Professor Rosalind Croucher.

Consultation lies at the heart of the ALRC inquiry process, and during each inquiry the ALRC meets with relevant stakeholders around the country, as appropriate to each inquiry. These consultations assist the ALRC to identify key issues, shape research questions, and contribute to the ALRC’s policy analysis and considerations in formulating proposals and recommendations for reform.

During 2011–12, the ALRC conducted a total of 157 consultations around the country, with respect to the following inquiries:

  • Commonwealth Laws and Family Violence inquiry—51
  • Censorship and Classification inquiry—35
  • Copyright and the Digital Economy inquiry—16
  • Age Barriers inquiry—55

National distribution of consultation meetings 2011–12

Consultation map: WA 11, Qld 10, ACT 24, Vic 22, Tas 4, SA 1


Diversity consultation strategy

This year the ALRC formalised its consultation strategies for engaging with groups who often find their voices are not heard—Indigenous peoples, those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people with disability and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community. These formalised strategies act as a guide for legal teams at the beginning of each new inquiry to ensure that marginalised groups within the community are targeted for consultation and that consultation is appropriate. These strategies have already positively influenced the ALRC’s engagement with these communities. For example, at the end of the Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws inquiry, the ALRC produced one podcast and four community information sheets which outlined the key recommendations affecting each group to make the ALRC’s findings more easily accessible. At the end of the year, these strategies will be reviewed with input sought from the communities involved.

Distribution of consultation papers

Consultation documents are one of the key mechanisms the ALRC uses to identify and analyse the important issues in each inquiry. The number of consultation papers released in the course of an inquiry depends on the nature of that inquiry and the timeframe set by the Attorney-General. Generally, ALRC inquiries follow a two-stage consultation process that includes the release of an issues paper accompanied by a call for submissions, followed later in the inquiry by a discussion paper and a second call for submissions, and then the release of a report.

All ALRC consultation documents and reports are published on the ALRC website in both HTML and PDF versions. Reports are also produced in hard copy.

The target for hard copy distribution of reports for 2011–12 was 1,000, based on two inquiries and producing two reports. The ALRC distributed 1,300 hard copy reports in this reporting period, 700 for the Censorship and Classification inquiry and 600 for the Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws inquiry.

Table 3: Distribution of ALRC publications 2011–12


Date released


Hard copy access


Online access

Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws (DP 76)

discussion paper

August 2011


7,025 page views

2,249 unique views

National Classification Scheme Review (DP 77)

discussion paper


September 2011


8,987 page view

3,089 unique views


Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws—Improving Legal Frameworks (ALRC Report 117)

February 2012



10,609 page views

3,487 unique views

Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws—Improving Legal Frameworks (ALRC Report 117 Summary)

February 2012


3,894 page views

1,241 unique views

Classification—Content Regulation and Convergent Media (ALRC Report 118)

March 2012



9,490 page views

2,953 unique views


Classification—Content Regulation and Convergent Media (ALRC Report 118 Summary)

March 2012


5,319 page views

1,533 unique views

Grey Areas—Age Barriers to work in Commonwealth Laws (IP 41)

issues paper

May 2012


6,139 page views

2,153 unique views