The law reform process

Building an evidence base

1.23 Law reform recommendations cannot be based upon assertion or assumption and need to be anchored in an appropriate evidence base. A major aspect of building the evidence base to support the formulation of ALRC recommendations for reform is community consultation, acknowledging that widespread community consultation is a hallmark of best practice law reform.[14] Under the provisions of the Australian Law Reform Commission Act 1996 (Cth), the ALRC ‘may inform itself in any way it thinks fit’ for the purposes of reviewing or considering anything that is the subject of an inquiry.[15]

1.24 The process for each law reform project may differ according to the scope of inquiry, the range of key stakeholders, the complexity of the laws under review, and the period of time allotted for the inquiry. For each inquiry the ALRC determines a consultation strategy in response to its particular subject matter and likely stakeholder interest groups. The nature and extent of this engagement is normally determined by the subject matter of the reference—and the timeframe in which the inquiry must be completed under the Terms of Reference. While the exact procedure is tailored to suit each inquiry, the ALRC usually works within a particular framework, outlined on the ALRC’s website.[16]

Community consultation

1.25 The Terms of Reference for this Inquiry directed the ALRC to consult with ‘relevant stakeholders, including the community and industry, through widespread public consultation’. Other stakeholders listed included the Commonwealth AGD, the DBCDE, the ACMA, the Classification Board and Classification Review Board as well as the States and Territories.

1.26 After an initial period of research and consultation, an Issues Paper was released in May 2011,[17] to raise the issues surrounding the inquiry and suggest principles which could guide proposals for reform, as well as to educate the community about the range of issues under consideration, and invite feedback in the form of submissions. The ALRC received over 2,300 submissions in response. The public submissions and an analysis using qualitative data analysis software can be viewed on the ALRC website.

1.27 The ALRC released its Discussion Paper in September 2011.[18] The Discussion Paper provided a more detailed account of the ALRC’s proposals for reform, arising out of consultations and submissions undertaken and received. The ALRC received 77 submissions in response. The public submissions can be viewed on the ALRC website.

1.28 The ALRC also undertook 63 consultations with relevant companies and industry associations, government agencies, community stakeholders, academic experts and other interested individuals, in the period from May 2011–January 2012, in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide. In addition, there were meetings with visiting delegations from Singapore and Malaysia. A full list of consultations is provided in Appendix 1.

1.29 Internet communication tools—including an e-newsletter, blog, and online forums—were used to provide information and obtain comment. The ALRC also made use of a Facebook page and Twitter feed to provide information on relevant media reports, as well as to provide a further avenue for community engagement.

1.30 The ALRC acknowledges the contributions of all those who participated in the Inquiry consultation rounds and the considerable amount of work involved in preparing submissions. It is the invaluable work of participants that enriches the whole consultative process of ALRC inquiries and the ALRC records its deep appreciation for this contribution.

1.31 In this Inquiry, the ALRC also commissioned Urbis Pty Ltd to undertake a pilot study into community attitudes towards higher-level media content (content classified MA15+ and above, including RC) across films, publications, DVDs and computer games. The ALRC gratefully acknowledges the support provided by the Classification Branch of the AGD in facilitating this study.

Appointed experts

1.32 In addition to the contribution of expertise by way of consultations and submissions, specific expertise is also obtained in ALRC inquiries through the establishment of its Advisory Committees and the appointment of part-time Commissioners. While the ultimate responsibility for the final Report and recommendations remains with the Commissioners of the ALRC, the establishment of a panel of experts as an Advisory Committee is an invaluable aspect of ALRC inquiries. Advisory Committees assist in the identification of key issues, provide quality assurance in the research and consultation effort, and assist with the development of reform proposals. The Advisory Committee for this Inquiry had 17 members, listed at the front of this Report, and met in Sydney on 25 August and 15 December 2011.

1.33 In this Inquiry the ALRC was able to call upon the expertise and experience of its two standing part-time Commissioners, both judges of the Federal Court: the Hon Justice Susan Kenny and the Hon Justice Berna Collier. The ALRC was also assisted by Peter Coroneos and Nick Gouliaditis as expert readers who commented upon specific aspects of this Report.

[14] B Opeskin, ‘Measuring Success’ in B Opeskin and D Weisbrot (eds), The Promise of Law Reform (2005) 202.

[15]Australian Law Reform Commission Act 1996 (Cth) s 38.

[16] Australian Law Reform Commission, Law Reform Process <> at 30 November 2011.

[17] Australian Law Reform Commission, National Classification Scheme Review, ALRC Issues Paper 40 (2011).

[18] Ibid.