From the Desk of the Attorney-General, the Events of March in Retrospect
Canberra, Australia (News4us.com) March 31, 2011
The Hon Robert McClelland MP
After Australians suffered through a summer of natural disasters in Australia, our Japanese and New Zealand friends are now facing their own extreme challenges. Severe earthquakes in both countries and the subsequent tsunami in Japan have had a devastating effect.
At the request of the Japanese Government, Australia deployed a team of 72 Urban Search and Rescue Experts from NSW and the ACT and a team of sniffer dogs from Queensland to the Miyagi region in northern Honshu – one of the most severely affected areas. These rescuers did a tremendous job in terrible conditions. Many of them had only recently returned from helping our Kiwi friends deal with the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake.
Australia deployed more than 500 personnel to New Zealand to help with the earthquake crisis. These rescuers, police officers and medical staff have now returned home. I had the chance to meet many of them in Christchurch when I visited in early March to say thanks alongside the NZ Minister for Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee.
The scale of the devastation wreaked by the earthquake was overwhelming – as you can see some of the photos on my website. The entire Christchurch CBD was cordoned off with only rescue teams and emergency workers allowed in.
Dozens of buildings on every block were completely destroyed. Rubble was strewn across the street and cars flattened by piles bricks lay by the side of the road. Someone remarked to me “it looked like a war zone without the soldiers”.
The Kiwis couldn’t speak highly enough of the efforts of our men and women on the ground. To all the rescuers, police officers, defence personnel, medical staff, Centrelink and Department of Foreign Affairs staff and Emergency Management Australia workers who have helped during these crises – thank you very much for your work.
Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG)
While in New Zealand, I attended the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (from the States, Territories and New Zealand) which was being held in Wellington. A number of important initiatives were discussed, including the Trans-Tasman treaty on court procedure which is in the final stages of implementation. This will help resolve Trans-Tasman legal disputes more effectively and at lower cost for all parties.
SCAG also resolved to introduce a national scheme for domestic and family violence orders, to improve protection for victims of domestic violence. This compliments the significant amount of work being done to reduce family violence (see below).
Parliament resumed in March and I am pleased to report progress on a range of matters.
Reconstruction Funding Flows
The Government’s Flood and Cyclone Levy Bill passed through Parliament on 22 March, allowing the Commonwealth’s $5.6 billion floods reconstruction package to assist communities hit by natural disasters over summer. The passing of this legislation is important news for disaster-affected communities who face the task of rebuilding local roads, rail lines, bridges and schools.
Family Violence Bill
Last week, I introduced landmark legislation that will create a safer and fairer family law system and prioritise the safety of children.
The Family Law Legislation Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011 removes disincentives to report family violence in the courts, makes it clear what constitutes family violence and child abuse and improves information sharing between the Courts and child protection agencies. It will help people within the system to understand and recognise family violence and child abuse, and encourage them to act.
The new legislation is a significant step and I’d like to thank members of the community who provided feedback on the draft Bill.
Earlier in the month I also launched AVERT Family Violence: Collaborative Responses in the Family Law System – a new national training package to help professionals within the family law system improve the way family violence is addressed. Visit the Attorney-General’s Department website to access the package.
Strengthening National Security
The Government introduced new legislation to further improve laws underpinning Australia’s national security and intelligence agencies. The work of these agencies is paramount in keeping Australia safe. Parliament also passed the Telecommunications Interception and Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2010, which will improve cooperation and information sharing between Australia’s security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
Legislation relating to our security and intelligence agencies remains under constant review, so that we can appropriately address the challenges of our modern security environment.
Journalist Shield Laws
The Government supported the passage of a Private Member’s Bill from Andrew Wilkie MP to provide additional protection for journalists and their sources. These amendments are not just about protecting journalists, they are about ensuring the public is able to access information, both in particular cases and on an ongoing basis.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Legislation was also passed in the last Parliamentary sitting period that encourages people to take genuine steps to resolve disputes before going to court. Early resolution of disputes is likely to be faster, less costly and less stressful than going to court – and also allows people involved to have better ownership of the negotiation process.
National Security Speech
Earlier this month, I spoke at the National Security College about the range of security threats faced by Australia, including the growing issue of cyber security and the ongoing threat of terrorist organisations such as Al-Qa’ida.
Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce
In Brisbane, I joined Minister for Home Affairs and Justice Brendan O’Connor and Australian Federal Police Commissioner Tony Negus to launch the Criminal Assets Confiscation Taskforce.
The taskforce will combine the resources of the AFP, Australian Crime Commission, Australian Taxation Office and the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions to pursue wealth collected by criminals at the expense of the community.
Australia’s Case Against Japanese Whaling
The International Court of Justice has accepted Australia’s choice of Professor Hilary Charlesworth AM as a Judge ad hoc in the Whaling Case taken against Japan. Australia has initiated legal proceedings in the International Court of Justice against Japan challenging its whaling program in the Southern Ocean.
Exporting Australia’s Legal Services Overseas
Despite the tough economic times experienced through the Global Financial Crisis, Australia’s legal sector as pulled through remarkably well. In fact, the latest figures show a growth in legal services exports of five per cent to nearly $710m a year.
Today, I announced the Government will undertake an international market study, to establish regions where Australian firms can grow their business overseas.
Reforms to Federal Judicial Complaints
I’m pleased significant reforms to the handling of judicial complaints – that will introduce greater transparency and accountability in the federal courts – have been broadly welcomed. Judicial independence and impartiality are vital to the smooth administration of justice and a transparent and impartial system of judicial complaints handling will strengthen public confidence in the federal judiciary.
Native Title – 500th Land Use Agreement
As this month ends, we also reach another significant milestone in native title with the registration of the 500th Indigenous Land Use Agreement.
It is important to remember that while there is still much to do, considerable progress has been made since the Native Title Act was first enacted and increasingly, parties are able to sit down and negotiate outcomes. This Government is committed to encouraging parties to focus on agreements which bring lasting benefits to current and future native title holders.
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