Best practice examples of law reform agencies

59. Many submissions to the inquiry have described the processes of the ALRC as being of international best practice, and have noted the very high implementation rate of our reform proposals. The ALRC notes the comparative information provided by the Attorney-General’s Department in its submission, under the heading, ‘Best practice examples of like organisations interstate and overseas’. The value of comparisons with other law reform agencies is of limited utility, however, and requires careful consideration before useful conclusions are able to be drawn. In particular, information such as that presented in the Department’s submission tells only a limited story, unless information both about the complexity of the issues under review, the timeframes that each law reform commission took to complete these reports and the context within which they were working is taken into account.

60. As an illustration, the Law Commission of England and Wales, in 2009, produced 4 reports, published 1 consultation paper and 2 issues papers. Expenses for the year were £4,385,300—approximately two times the budget of the ALRC. Further analysis shows that of these reports one took fifteen years to complete, one took six years to complete, one took three years to complete, one of the consultation papers took four years t complete. The New Zealand Law Reform Commission has a larger budget than the ALRC of NZ$4,800,000—approximately A$3,883,764. In 2009, it is reported as having completed eight final reports, three issues papers, and one draft Bill. These took between two and four years to complete and were of varying complexity.

61. Comparing the output of various law reform agencies, in order to shed light on resourcing and output, is therefore difficult and complicated by both the time taken to complete a consultation document or final report, and the complexity of the issues and laws involved and the available resources.

62. The time taken by the ALRC to complete its reports is dictated by the Attorney-General in the Terms of Reference that are issued at the time an inquiry is referred. It is important to note that over the past ten years only two ALRC reports have taken over two years to complete—Privacy (26 months) and Human Genetic Information (24 months)—both of which were highly complex inquiries. All other inquiries during that time have taken less than 18 months to complete.

63. It is also important to note that the ALRC is only able to work on those inquiries referred to it by the Attorney-General. While a few submissions to the Inquiry questioned whether there would be value in community referrals to the ALRC, the ALRC considers that one of the factors contributing to the high rate of implementation of its recommendations is the fact that the ALRC only works on issues that are of high relevance to the government, and for which there is an appetite for parliamentary reform.

64. ALRC inquiries differ in their complexity and breadth, and while there is room for shorter more focused inquiries, the ALRC does not advocate that the ALRC should only focus on shorter, less complex inquiries, as a way of solving its current resourcing deficit. This would be a waste of the ALRC’s intellectual capital and knowledge—an organisation with the capacity and experience in dealing with complex legal issues, must not lose that ability. Gene Patenting in 2002, Australian Privacy Law and Practice in 2006, and of course the recent Family Violence Inquiry are further examples of highly complex legal inquiries of which the ALRC is capable. 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.