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A-G commits $14.7m to improving sexual assault laws

Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has committed $14.7 million to improving sexual assault laws and the justice system’s response to victims of sexual violence. The president of Australian Women Lawyers (AWL), and the president of the Law Council of Australia (LCA) commented on the announcement. 

user iconJess Feyder 02 May 2023 Big Law
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Yesterday (1 May), Mr Dreyfus said the federal government will invest $14.7 million in the strengthening of the way the criminal justice system responds to sexual assault and to prevent further harm from being done to victims through the justice process.

Significantly, one in five women in Australia have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15, and only 13 per cent of these women reported their most recent assault to the police. 

For those who do report the crime, attrition rates are high, prosecution rates are low, and conviction rates are even lower.


“Seeking justice should not add to the trauma experienced by victims and survivors,” the A-G stated.

“Nor should they be forced to navigate different legal processes and face different justice outcomes based on which state or territory they live in,” he added. 

Mr Dreyfus stated that the Albanese government’s 2023–24 budget, being delivered on Tuesday, 9 May, will invest $6.5 million over four years.

This seeks to “deliver a key election commitment to work with states and territories to strengthen and harmonise sexual assault and consent laws, and improve criminal justice responses for victims and survivors,” A-G Dreyfus stated. 

The funding will be allocated to:

  • The establishment of an Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) inquiry into justice responses to sexual violence, with a focus on law reform proposals to strengthen sexual assault laws and improve the outcomes and experiences of victims and survivors in the justice system;
  • The hosting of a ministerial-level roundtable on addressing sexual violence, bringing together victims and survivors, the service and advocacy sectors, other experts and state and territory ministers to drive nationwide, cross-sector collaboration and inform the terms of the ALRC inquiry;
  • Convening an Expert Advisory Group to support the ALRC inquiry and advise the government on implementation of its recommendations, ensuring the voices of victims and survivors are centred in justice responses to sexual violence; and
  • To drive nationwide efforts to strengthen criminal justice responses to sexual assault, including implementing the Standing Council of Attorneys-General Work Plan to Strengthen Criminal Justice Responses to Sexual Assault 2022–2027.
A further $8.2 million will be made available through to 2026–27 to design, deliver and evaluate multiple small-scale trials of primary prevention and early intervention concepts for the prevention of sexual harm and violence.

Mr Dreyfus commented, “These trials will be the first of their kind in Australia and will help establish what interventions work in practice and guide future funding.”

The A-G also noted that the work will support the implementation of the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children 2022–2032, along with building upon the $1.7 billion record investment in women’s safety by the Albanese government.

The new funding also comes in addition to the more than $20 million provided in the Albanese government’s October 2022–23 budget to strengthen responses to sexual violence, which includes more specialised, trauma-informed legal services and training for sexual violence responses.

The work will progress “in close consultation with the states and territories and build on the important work already completed or ongoing in many jurisdictions,” Mr Dreyfus stated. 

The A-G continued, “We must give victims and survivors confidence that the justice system will deliver equitable and consistent outcomes while minimising the risk of re-traumatisation through the justice process.”

Astrid Haban-Beer, president of the AWL commented, "The ongoing issue of underreporting of sexual violence by women continues to be a serious issue requiring urgent attention in order that women can achieve justice through our legal system and perpetrators are brought to justice."

"It is unacceptable that women continue to be re-traumatised by the very same legal processes that are supposed to provide justice for survivors," she stated. 

"AWL has long advocated for reforms to the justice system to better support women seeking justice in the legal system.

"It is likely that reforms will also assist accused persons navigate their way through the legal system," Ms Haban-Beer highlighted. 

"The Commonwealth Government's commitment to working with states and territories to harmonise sexual assault and consent laws is also an important step forward that will create positive change for women across Australia seeking justice through the court system," she said.

President of the LCA, Luke Murphy, also commented, "The Law Council of Australia supports the overall objectives and emphasis of the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children, in particular the Plan’s recognition that there is a need to ensure victim-survivors have access to appropriate survivor-centred justice response."

"The Law Council also believes it is important to focus on prevention and early intervention, so is pleased funding has been allocated towards small-scale trials of primary prevention and early intervention concepts for the prevention of sexual harm and violence," Mr Murphy stated.

"However, if we are serious about protecting women and children, we must appropriately fund the legal assistance sector," he said. 

"Legal assistance providers, such as legal aid commissions, community legal centres, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services remain subject to strict resourcing limitations that reduce their capacity to provide support throughout the advisory and litigation process," he continued. 

"Much-needed additional resourcing of the legal assistance sector does not appear to be a part of today’s announcement and we call on the Government to ensure it is part of next week’s Budget," Mr Murphy added.