THE HON MARK DREYFUS KC MP
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
Launch of the Centre for Innovative Justice New Building
RMIT City Campus, Melbourne CBD
Thursday ,13 October 2022
Good morning, and thank you for that kind introduction Vice-Chancellor.
I acknowledge the Wurundjeri Peoples of the Kulin Nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we are gathered, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
I extend that respect to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people present today.
Thank you all for being here. I would particularly like to acknowledge:
- The Honourable Justice Iain Ross AO, President of the Fair Work Commission
- His Honour Judge John Cain, State Coroner
- Her Honour Judge Lisa Hannan, Chief Magistrate
- His Honour Judge Michael Rozenes AO KC, former Chief Judge of the County Court
- His Honour Judge Darcy Dugan, former Chief Magistrate
- Ms Kirsty Sword Gusmao AO, CEO of Woor-Dungin and former First Lady of Timor-Leste.
Thank you to the Centre for Innovative Justice, and Centre director, my friend Mr Rob Hulls AM, for inviting me to speak this morning as we celebrate the relocation of the Centre to this historic building – the Old Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.
I would like to acknowledge Rob’s extraordinary decade as the Attorney-General of Victoria, which he used to achieve significant reform. Rob’s many achievements include a ground-breaking Bill of Rights for Victoria, as well as significant reform of the Victorian judiciary. His work reminds other Attorneys-General to not waste a single day!
This significant building is now home to a thriving research centre with a strong focus on promoting, and delivering, new and innovative ways of expanding the capacity of the justice system.
I commend the way that the Centre operates beyond the sphere of pure academic research and provides workable solutions and achievable reform in the justice sector.
The Open Circle program, for example, provides restorative justice processes to support people that have experienced harm.
This work complements conventional criminal justice responses and ensures a victim-centred approach to justice.
I am particularly pleased to be at this launch, almost ten years on from the establishment of the Centre. It was during my previous tenure as Attorney-General in 2013 that the Commonwealth provided an initial research grant “to identify, develop and evaluate cutting edge strategies to reform the Australian legal system”.
The issues addressed in those initial research papers – affordable legal services; restorative justice in historical sex abuse cases; innovative early intervention strategies for family violence perpetrators; and a justice impact assessment framework – remain relevant today, evidencing the enduring value of the Centre’s work.
Today, I would like to highlight some of the key policy areas the Government is currently focussed on to strengthen access to justice.
It is not possible in the time available to touch on all the reforms I would like to achieve as Attorney General.
Instead, I will highlight work on the issues that most closely align with the research interests of the Centre.
JUSTICE REINVESTMENT AND MINIMUM AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY
I appreciate the Centre’s strong focus on how First Nations people engage with, and are treated by, the criminal justice system.
It has been over 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and it is unacceptable and tragic that rates of First Nations incarceration and deaths in custody remain high.
Addressing the over-representation of First Nations people in custody calls for a new era of partnership, and a new way of working with First Nations peoples.
It is also critical to our human rights agenda.
This is why the Government has committed landmark justice reinvestment funding of $79 million to partner with First Nations communities to establish and expand community-led, locally-tailored justice reinvestment initiatives across the country, as well as establishing a dedicated Justice Reinvestment Unit to support this work.
This commitment reflects our vision for a modern, community-centred approach to justice reform by investing in initiatives that address the underlying drivers that lead people into the criminal justice system.
I am working closely with the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, and my State and Territory counterparts on this – and other initiatives – to reduce the overrepresentation of First Nations adults and young people in detention.
This includes work on raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility, a current work priority of the Standing Council of Attorneys-General.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE RESPONSES TO SEXUAL ASSAULT
Another area of the criminal justice system that is overdue for reform is the response to sexual assault.
This is a priority I know the Centre shares.
Sexual violence continues to be underreported, and survivors of sexual violence who do come forward are too often failed by the systems supposed to deliver justice.
The need for a national effort and coordination to improve criminal justice responses to sexual violence was recognised at the recent meeting of the Standing Council of Attorneys-General which endorsed a five year Work Plan to Strengthen Criminal Justice Responses to Sexual Assault.
Under this Work Plan, Attorneys-General across Australia have committed to taking collective and individual action by:
- strengthening legal frameworks, including in relation to consent;
- building justice sector capability; and
- supporting research and greater collaboration across jurisdictions to identify best practice responses.
The Work Plan commits all jurisdictions to working together on innovative justice practices and promoting new approaches in responding to sexual violence, such as restorative justice, alternative reporting mechanisms and trauma-informed and specialised legal assistance.
I commend the Victorian Government for recently passing its affirmative consent laws, and look forward to continuing to work with all jurisdictions to improve legal frameworks across the country.
GOVERNMENT INITIATIVES TO ADDRESS FAMILY VIOLENCE
The Australian Government is also committed to restoring the family law system so that it is accessible, safe, properly resourced, simpler to use, and delivers justice and fairness for all Australian families.
There are some key initiatives being progressed by our Government to address family violence.
The first is an initiative to address coercive control.
The Government is working with the States and Territories to develop National Principles to establish a common national understanding of coercive control and its impacts.
The National Principles will help raise awareness of coercive control, inform more effective responses to family and domestic violence, and promote more consistent support and safety outcomes for victim survivors.
The Government is also committed to working with the courts to enhance the capacity of the family law system to respond to family violence in innovative ways, with the goal of keeping families out of court to the greatest extent possible.
This includes supporting the Lighthouse Project, a systematic approach developed by the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia to identify and manage family safety risks in parenting matters.
I acknowledge the work of Chief Justice Alstergren, Judges, and the Court staff, for their initiative in launching the Lighthouse Project pilot in Adelaide, Brisbane and Parramatta.
Consistent with our commitment to supporting First Nations people, the Government is also supporting the enhancement of culturally responsive services, including the employment of Indigenous Liaison Officers and the establishment of Specialist Indigenous Lists.
These initiatives at the federal level complement much of the excellent work being done by the Centre in supporting a number of Victorian initiatives, including:
- the implementation of Recommendation 77 of the Royal Commission into Family Violence;
- the evaluation of Victoria Legal Aid and the Federation of Community Legal Centres’ Specialist Legal Practice Model; and
- the evaluation of the state-wide rollout of the Family Violence Intervention Order online form.
LEGAL ASSISTANCE SECTOR
As highlighted by the Specialist Legal Practice Model I just mentioned, structural initiatives in the courts can have limited impact without the support of a properly-resourced, innovative and collaborative legal assistance sector.
Strengthening the legal assistance sector to deliver valuable assistance to Australians most in need is an area I have been addressing as a matter of priority since I took office.
My focus is on ensuring that the legal assistance sector is not only adequately resourced, but also that the administrative and bureaucratic burden on the sector is proportionate and reasonable.
The current National Legal Assistance Partnership expires in July 2025.
An independent review of the agreement commences early next year.
The review is an opportunity to ensure the legal assistance sector is best equipped to deal with future challenges.
This Government will always be grateful for the valuable work that legal assistance providers undertake to assist vulnerable Australians.
A HUMAN RIGHTS APPROACH TO JUSTICE
At the heart of all of these Government priorities, and the work of the Centre, is a focus on people.
The overview of the current work of the Centre that was provided to me captures this perfectly: “people need to be understood; to feel heard; and to experience the justice system as meaningful and fair”.
The Government cherishes the principle that all people are entitled to respect, equality, dignity and the opportunity to participate in the social, cultural and economic life of our nation.
I am committed to ensuring that Australia’s human rights framework appropriately protects these fundamental human rights.
An independent Human Rights Commission is fundamental to Australia’s human rights agenda – both internationally and domestically.
The Government strongly supports the work of the Australian Human Rights Commission and has already acted on its to restore integrity to the process of President and Commissioner appointments.
On 27 July 2022, I introduced the Australian Human Rights Commission Legislation Amendment (Selection and Appointment) Bill 2022.
On 2 August 2022, the Bill passed the House of Representatives without amendment. The Bill is due for debate in the Senate.
The Government will continue to consider whether the existing human rights framework adequately protects and promotes human rights for all Australians.
I am honoured to once again be serving our country as Attorney General.
As you can tell from my remarks today, much work is underway and there is plenty to be achieved in the months, and years, ahead.
There is so much for us to do together.
It is through meaningful partnership and collaboration with organisations such as the Centre that we can ensure the justice system is designed with those most important stakeholders – the Australian people – in mind.
It is my great pleasure to declare the new premises of the Centre for Innovative Justice open.