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Review of Attorney-General portfolio agencies released



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THE HON NICOLA ROXON MP Attorney-General Minister for Emergency Management

MEDIA RELEASE

8 June 2012

REVIEW OF ATTORNEY-GENERAL PORTFOLIO AGENCIES RELEASED

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon today welcomed the release of the Report of the Strategic Review of Small and Medium Agencies in the Attorney-General’s portfolio (Skehill Review).

“The Gillard Government is already acting to implement Skehill Review recommendations in several areas, including in the courts, native title and legislative drafting,” Ms Roxon said.

“Taxpayers reasonably expect the Australian Government to use their money wisely, and this report is part of our ongoing efforts to improve efficiency in the public sector.”

Federal courts

The Government has agreed to a range of recommendations to optimise the efficiency and effectiveness of federal courts’ administration.

“We want to encourage administrative collaboration between the courts to ensure that court resources are directed where they should be, delivering justice for everyday Australians,” Ms Roxon said.

As recommended by the Report, and given the efficiencies already implemented within the Family Court and Federal Magistrates Court, the Government will not proceed with the previously announced merger.

The Government will also be working with the courts on their financial position over the forward estimates.

“We understand the pressures courts are under and we are working with them to help improve their financial position.”

National Native Title Tribunal

The Government will implement Mr Skehill’s recommendation to strengthen and streamline the native title system by transferring native title claims mediation functions from the National Native Title Tribunal to the Federal Court of Australia.

The National Native Title Tribunal will continue to perform its other current functions as a distinct organisational unit of the Federal Court of Australia.

This initiative builds on the Government’s 2009 reforms, which gave the Federal Court greater case management powers and increased the rate of consent determinations by five times.

Merits Review Tribunals

Ms Roxon said that while the Government has not accepted the Review’s recommendation for the establishment of an Administrative Review Tribunal, she welcomed the recommendation that the major Commonwealth merits review tribunals formally cooperate to identify further efficiencies between them.

“It makes sense to have the Commonwealth tribunals work together more effectively, and I have asked the new President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the Hon Justice Duncan Kerr Chev LH, to lead the drive for improved efficiency,” Ms Roxon said.

Legislative Drafting

In line with the Report, the functions of the Office of Legislative Drafting and Publishing will be transferred to the Office of Parliamentary Counsel.

“It’s just common sense to pool the Commonwealth's drafting resources so the Government is able to continue to effectively progress its legislative agenda,” Ms Roxon said.

“The Government has already passed over 300 pieces of legislation in this Parliament, including major and complex reforms. We need to ensure that drafters have the support they need to maintain their very high standards.”

Shared Corporate Services

In response to the report, the Attorney-General’s Department will also form a taskforce to analyse the cost of the portfolio agencies’ corporate services, such as recruitment and payroll.

The Taskforce will price a package of corporate services to the agencies that could be provided by the Attorney-General’s Department or another large agency.

The Review of Small and Medium Agencies in the Attorney-General’s Department is available at http://www.finance.gov.au/publications/strategic-reviews/attorney-general.html

For further details on the Government’s proposals with respect to the courts, the National Native Title Tribunal and the merits review tribunals please refer to the Attorney-General’s statement on the future of courts and tribunals below.

Strategic Review of Small and Medium Agencies in the Attorney-General’s Portfolio

Attorney-General’s Statement on Future Directions for the Courts and Tribunals

The Strategic Review of Small and Medium Agencies in the Attorney-General’s Portfolio, conducted by the Department of Finance and Deregulation and led by Stephen Skehill, makes a number of significant recommendations with respect to Commonwealth courts and tribunals, including the National Native Title Tribunal.

This statement sets out the Government’s position on the key recommendations in the Report as they relate to the courts and tribunals.

Federal courts

The key focus of the work on the federal courts is the efficiency and effectiveness of court administration. The Government has agreed to the key recommendation to improve court administration and collaboration, and identify efficiencies, through a new consultative

committee comprising heads of jurisdiction, heads of administration and other relevant officers, including an observer from the Attorney-General’s Department. Similarly, the courts and the Government will work more closely on strategic planning for utilisation of court buildings.

In considering the efficiency and effectiveness of court administration, Mr Skehill found the recent move to shared administration for the Federal Magistrates Court and the Family Court of Australia has been a genuine success. This finding was crucial to Mr Skehill’s recommendation that the family law restructure should not proceed. Instead, Mr Skehill recommended, and Government has agreed, that the shared administration arrangement be formalised, together with a formal process to encourage closer cooperation between the federal courts. This will promote clarity and the ongoing role of the Federal Magistrates Court and provide certainty for the future.

In a related matter, the Government will also change the name of the Federal Magistrates Court and title of Federal Magistrates to better reflect their important role in the judicial system. The Government will begin by consulting with the courts as to what the name of Court and the title of Federal Magistrates should change to before bringing forward legislation to make the changes.

Mr Skehill recommended a further review be undertaken of the courts’ financial position. While the Government considers that the issue requires further attention, another formal review is not necessary. The Government is working closely with the courts to consider options to address any financial pressures and maintain services. The Government also does not agree with Mr Skehill’s view that some aspects of court expenditure should be exempt from the efficiency dividend. The efficiency dividend is applied across all departmental expenditure.

Merits review tribunals

The Review recommended that the Administrative Review Tribunal as recommended by the Administrative Review Council should be endorsed as the Government’s desired end-state. The Government does not support this recommendation but does support the Review’s recommendation to establish a forum encompassing the five major Commonwealth merits review tribunals to identify initiatives for further efficiencies between them.

The relevant tribunals are the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), Migration Review Tribunal, Refugee Review Tribunal, Social Security Appeals Tribunal and the Veterans’ Review Board. As head of the Commonwealth’s premier tribunal, the President of the AAT would lead this forum and have the role of promoting cooperation and adoption of best practice tribunal administration, between the tribunals. The forum will provide six-monthly reports to relevant portfolio ministers and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation.

More generally, the AAT President will be responsible for promoting cooperation between tribunals and the identification and adoption of best practice by all Commonwealth merits review bodies. This will strengthen both government accountability and access to justice.

The Government supports the remaining recommendations in the Review with regard to tribunals, including the recommendation that except in exceptional circumstances no new Commonwealth merits review body should be established and that any new merits review jurisdiction should be conferred on the AAT.

National Native Title Tribunal

As part of the 2012-13 Budget, the Government announced that it would implement the recommendations of the Strategic Review as they relate to the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) to strengthen and streamline the native title system. The changes involve transferring native title claims mediation functions from the National Native Title Tribunal to the Federal Court of Australia. The National Native Title Tribunal will continue to perform all

of its other current functions, as a distinct organisational unit of the Federal Court of Australia.

The initiative builds on the Government’s 2009 reforms, which gave the Federal Court greater case management powers. The number of consent determinations rose from 11 in 2008-2009, the last full year before the Government’s reforms came into effect, to 24 in 2010¬-11.These reforms are expected to generate $19m in savings over the next four years, which will be reinvested in the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory initiative.

For all media inquiries please contact the Attorney-General’s office 02 6277 7300 or 0409 945 476.