Processes of reform

Consultation processes

1.33 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.[29] 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.[30] 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.

1.34 The Terms of Reference for this Inquiry direct the ALRC to work closely with relevant Australian Government departments to ensure the solutions identified are practically achievable and consistent with other reforms and initiatives being considered in relation to the development of a National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children or the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children. Of particular relevance in this Inquiry are the following Australian Government departments: the Attorney-General’s Department; the Department of Immigration and Citizenship; the Department of Employment, Education and Workplace Relations; the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs; and the Department of Human Services. Within the latter Department, the ALRC has consulted Centrelink, the Child Support Agency, the Family Assistance Office and Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service Australia. Other relevant Commonwealth bodies include: the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner; the Australian Taxation Office, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the Treasury, Safe Work Australia, Fair Work Australia, the Superannuation Tribunal and the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Community consultation and participation

1.35 A multi-pronged strategy of seeking community comments is being used during the Inquiry. First, internet communication tools—an e-newsletter and an online forum—are being used to provide information and obtain comment; secondly, the four Issues Papers were released; and thirdly, a national round of stakeholder consultation meetings, forums and roundtables are being conducted. In addition, the ALRC is developing consultation strategies for engaging with Indigenous peoples, those from CALD backgrounds, people with disability and people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex.

Online tools

1.36 E-newsletter: Regular Commonwealth Family Violence Inquiry e-newsletters provide a way to keep stakeholders informed about the Inquiry progress, with a calendar of stakeholder consultations or other upcoming events, and a summary of consultations and other work to date.

1.37 The comments received in response to the Issues in Focus provided an important additional means of input into the Inquiry. At the date of release of this Discussion Paper, six e-newsletters had been published.

1.38 Online submission: After a successful pilot of integrating an online submission facility for Family Violence—A National Legal Response, this Inquiry is also using online submission, to enable people to respond in a focused way, addressing the individual questions set out in the Issues Papers. Each question was followed by an area to enter a response, with the option to upload a pre-prepared submission or supporting document. As with other methods of submission, online submissions can be marked ‘confidential’.


1.39 During this Inquiry to date, the ALRC has conducted 55 consultations, as listed in Appendix 2 of this Discussion Paper. Consultations were undertaken with individuals, academics, legal services and support agencies, advocacy groups, community legal services, research centres, government agencies and departments, and non-government organisations.

Appointed experts

1.40 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 Panels and the appointment by the Attorney-General of part-time Commissioners.

Advisory Panels

1.41 A key aspect of ALRC procedures is to establish an expert Advisory Committee or ‘reference group’ to assist with the development of its inquiries. Because of the complex nature of this Inquiry the ALRC has established Advisory Panels of experts in each of the key areas explored in the Discussion Paper, each of which is listed at the front of this publication.

1.42 While the ultimate responsibility in each inquiry remains with the Commissioners of the ALRC, the establishment of a panel of experts as an Advisory Committee or Panel, appropriate to the Terms of Reference, is an invaluable aspect of ALRC inquiries—assisting in the identification of key issues, providing quality assurance in the research and consultation effort, and assisting with the development of reform proposals.

Part-time Commissioners

1.43 In addition to the Advisory Panels, the ALRC was also 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.

Consultation documents

Issues Papers

1.44 To facilitate consultation in the Inquiry the ALRC released a series of four Issues Papers covering the treatment of family violence in:

  • employment and superannuation law;[31]

  • immigration law;[32]

  • child support and family assistance law;[33] and

  • social security law.[34]

1.45 Producing four Issues Papers enabled streamlined consultation with the range of stakeholders interested in the differing and specific areas under consideration in the Terms of Reference. Their aim was to encourage informed community participation in the Inquiry by providing some background information and highlighting the issues then identified by the ALRC as relevant to the Inquiry. Like all other ALRC consultation documents, they could be downloaded free of charge from the ALRC’s website, <>.


1.46 The ALRC received 82 submissions in response to the Issues Papers, a full list of which is included in Appendix 1. Submissions were received from a wide range of people and agencies, including: individuals; academics; lawyers; unions; employer organisations; community legal centres; law societies; women’s centres and legal services; single parents groups; social workers; Indigenous legal and other services; government agencies; peak bodies; tribunals; the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner; the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Australian Human Rights Commission.

1.47 The ALRC acknowledges the considerable amount of work involved in preparing submissions and the impact, particularly in organisations with limited funding, of committing staff resources to this task. It is the invaluable work of participants that enriches the whole consultative process of ALRC inquiries and the ALRC records its deep appreciation to all participants.

Discussion Paper

1.48 This Discussion Paper brings together all the matters considered so far in the Inquiry. It contains a more detailed treatment of the issues outlined in each of the Issues Papers, and indicates the ALRC’s current thinking in the form of specific proposals for reform as well as seeking further input in response to particular questions. The ALRC is now seeking further submissions and will undertake a further round of national consultations in relation to the proposals contained in this Discussion Paper.

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

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

[31] Australian Law Reform Commission, Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws—Employment and Superannuation Law, ALRC Issues Paper 36 (2011).

[32] Australian Law Reform Commission, Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws—Immigration Law, ALRC Issues Paper 37 (2011).

[33] Australian Law Reform Commission, Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws—Child Support and Family Assistance, ALRC Issues Paper 38 (2011).

[34] Australian Law Reform Commission, Family Violence and Commonwealth Laws—Social Security Law, ALRC Issues Paper 39 (2011).