On 10 February, Prime Minister Turnbull released the 2016 Closing the Gap report. He spoke of being ‘heartened’ at the ‘positive gains’ this year, while acknowledging that there had been ‘mixed results’.The ‘positive gains’ seemed a bit like cherry-picking from last year’s tree. It is good that the Indigenous infant mortality rate is declining, although this was also evident in 2015. While Indigenous mortality rates generally are also declining, the figure is difficult to interpret as ‘closing the gap’, since there are no new figures on life expectancy. The PM pointed to ‘almost no employment gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous university graduates. Again, this obscures the main issue, which is that there is no ‘closing the gap’ in employment rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Developments around the country
DownUnderAllOver is a round-up of legal news from both State and federal jurisdictions, and contains topical articles and short pieces from Alternative Law Journal committees around the country.
In each Australian state and territory, there are legal protections in many civil and criminal proceedings to prevent self-represented litigants cross-examining former partners where there is a history of violence, including sexual violence. These protections recognise the traumatic impact of cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses by perpetrators of violence.
There are no equivalent provisions in the family law jurisdiction. The Family Law Act contains no protection against direct cross examination by perpetrators or any specific protections for vulnerability in general, for example for witnesses with disability.
On 23 December 2015, the uncertainty surrounding the ongoing existence of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (‘ACNC’) was ended with the release of the Exposure Draft Private Ancillary Fund and Public Ancillary Fund Amendment Guidelines 2015. The Turnbull government intends to amend the existing Guidelines to reflect the introduction of ACNC and the Charities Act, giving the clearest indication to date of federal support for the continuation of the ACNC.
These indications of support for the ACNC are a move away from the Abbott government’s policy, which was to dismantle the ACNC, create a National Centre for Excellence for Civil Society in its stead and return regulatory oversight of the not–for-profit sector to the Australian Tax Office and Australian Securities and Investments Commission. Abolition was a key part of the Abbott government’s overall deregulation agenda as well as their not-for-profit sector policy. However the Abbott government failed to gain Senate support to pass the necessary legislation to abolish the ACNC by the end of 2014, despite a supportive Senate Inquiry. Until December, however, there had not been a clear statement of policy intent in the wake of this failure, putting the ACNC’s future under a cloud of uncertainty.
Around Australia for much of 2015, the failure to address the issue of domestic violence against women was in the public spotlight. The public attention was so intense that by March, the Council of Australian Governments (‘COAG’) agreed that domestic violence was an urgent issue. In May, the Commonwealth launched a national awareness campaign to reduce violence against women and their children. The campaign pledged to spend $30 million over three years on a range of initiatives to ‘drive nation-wide change in the culture, attitudes and behaviours that underpin violence against women and their children.’
Just prior to the 2011 election, the NSW Coalition government stated in a press release that it would crack down on illegal brothels by ensuring all brothels were licensed and improve the co-ordination of councils’ compliance officers with authorities such as WorkCover NSW and NSW Health — ‘the best weapon for disrupting and dismantling illegal operations and forcing compliance by licensed operators.’ The primary focus of these promised reforms was crime and corruption associated with the sex industry.
Recently, the Select Committee on the Regulation of Brothels released a report recommending exactly those pre-election commitments made by the Coalition government. Although the Committee expressed strong support for the continued decriminalisation of the sex industry and rejected the Scandinavian approach (which criminalises clients rather than sex workers), the bulk of the report is dominated by a concern about crime.