67. The ALRC notes the tabling of a document by the Attorney-General’s Department on 11 February, entitled ‘Organisational Audit of the Attorney-General’s Department’. Despite the fact that this audit concluded that there was ‘at least a prima facie case’ that the ALRC should be replaced with another body that would be brought ‘into the corporate centre’, the ALRC was not consulted as part of this ‘audit’, nor had it been shown the document, prior to its tabling.
68. The document states that:
Because of the constraints of time and budget, the Audit has consulted neither with the ALRC, nor external stakeholders. Nor has it examined ALRC reports and the action taken on them.
69. Given the absence of an appropriate evidence base supporting this report—and for the report’s recommendation to abolish the ALRC altogether—it is difficult for the ALRC to answer the issues it raises. However, with respect to one of the matters raised in the part of the document tabled, it is relevant to note that last year, with the report on family violence, the ALRC did recognise the need for our reports to ‘talk’ to a policy-making audience. As a result, the ALRC produced a slim focused volume, a Summary Report, and also included a discussion of the policy principles or framework that provided the context and drivers informing the law reform process. The ALRC has acknowledged the importance of making our reports accessible to those who are going to be implementing them and clearly identifying the bridge between the integrity of the evidence base included in the reports and the policy-makers who have the task of implementing the ALRC’s recommendations.
70. Moreover, the assertion in this document that ‘When referrals are given the work done is of outstanding quality but slow to produce’, does not acknowledge that the ALRC’s timeframe for its inquiries is always set by the Attorney-General in the Terms of Reference, and is somewhat dictated both by the breadth and complexity of the issues to be researched. As pointed out earlier in this submission, in the past ten years there have only been two reports that have taken the ALRC longer than two years to complete and both were complex and wide-ranging references, with extremely high and diverse stakeholder interest and engagement. Therefore the assertion that the ALRC is ‘slow to produce’ reports is not supported by the actual practice of the ALRC, even more so when the ALRC’s timeframes are compared with those of other law reform commissions.
71. The suggestion that independent law reform should be brought into ‘the corporate centre of the AGD’ conflicts directly with the importance of an independent law reform process that is non-partisan and not captured by government interests. Such independence is vital to maintaining a system of law reform that is separate from the state and the interests of a particular government at any one point in time. While still being relevant to a government’s reform agenda, the actual law reform process and reform recommendations must remain at arm’s length to government, and be perceived to be at arm’s length, for the community to have faith and trust in the independence of the legal system.
72. The ALRC records its strong objection to having been excluded from that process of ‘review’, and questions the validity of any report that could provide such a radical suggestion to disband a statutory organisation of 35 years standing—that is internationally renowned and widely acknowledged as being of best practice in the field of law reform, with an implementation rate of its recommendations of over 90%—based on no actual research of the organisation, its output or consultation with its stakeholders.
3 March 2011