Processes of reform

Consultation processes

1.34 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.[42] 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.[43] 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.

1.35 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.

1.36 Of particular relevance in this Inquiry were 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. The ALRC is grateful to these departments and bodies for their constructive discussions and reflective practice throughout this Inquiry.

Community consultation and participation

1.37 A multi-pronged strategy of seeking community comments was used during the Inquiry. Internet communication tools—an e-newsletter and an online forum—were used to provide information and obtain comment. Four Issues Papers were released online, in discrete areas of the Inquiry—employment and superannuation law;[44] immigration law;[45] child support and family assistance law;[46] and social security law.[47] This was followed by an extensive Discussion Paper, released online, divided into seven parts, again reflecting the discrete areas of the Inquiry. This was accompanied by a Discussion Paper Summary, online and in hardcopy, to facilitate focused consultations in the final stage of the Inquiry process.

1.38 Two national rounds of stakeholder consultation meetings, forums and roundtables were conducted. In addition, the ALRC developed consultation strategies for engaging with Indigenous peoples, those from CALD backgrounds, people with disability and people who identify themselves as LGBTI. The ALRC conducted 110 consultations, as listed in Appendix 2.

1.39 The ALRC received 165 submissions, 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.

1.40 The ALRC acknowledges the contribution of all those who participated in the Inquiry consultation rounds and the considerable amount of work involved in preparing submissions, which can have a significant impact in organisations with limited funding. 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.

Appointed experts

1.41 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, Panels, Roundtables and the appointment by the Attorney-General of part-time Commissioners. Because of the complex nature of this Inquiry, the ALRC established Advisory Roundtables of experts in each of the key areas reviewed, each of which is listed at the front of this publication.

1.42 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.

1.43 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, Panel or Roundtable 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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