THE Australian Law Reform Commission is in dire need of funding, a Senate Inquiry has found.
After a Senate inquiry into the ALRC, a report released 8 April recommends that the federal government restore the ALRC's budget cuts for the next few years "as a matter of urgency".
The ALRC's budget was cut by $242,000 in the 2010-11 financial year and by $495,000 annually in previous years.
As a result of the cuts, the ALRC could only afford to have one full-time commissioner, president Rosalind Croucher, its education outreach program was discontinued and travel expenditure was reduced.
The report recommends that the ALRC Act be amended to provide for a minimum of two standing, fixed-term, full-time commissioners, and that an additional full-time commissioner be appointed for each additional inquiry referred to the ALRC when the ALRC already has two or more ongoing inquiries.
It recommends the ALRC's public information and education services program be resumed immediately, and that the LARC be provided with all necessary resources to enable it to continue to travel to undertake face-to-face consultations as part of its inquiry process.
The report states: "As [ALRC president Professor Rosalind Croucher] stated, the appointment of an inquiry-specific full-time commissioner is 'better than nowt'. However, in the committee's view, the appointment of standing fixed-term full-time commissioners is imperative to the operation of the ALRC. The ALRC needs to be led by specialists in law reform, and it needs to retain this intellectual capital.
The report scrutinised the adequacy of the ALRC's staffing and resources, and appropriate allocation of functions between the ALRC and other statutory agencies were weighed up.
Senator Guy Barnett, Liberal senator for Tasmania and chair of the Senate Committee that conducted the inquiry, said the inquiry, the first in 17 years, was timely.
“Over the last three years the ALRC’s resources have been stripped disproportionately to government outlays, which is putting serious law reform at risk in this country,” he said.
Barnett said the ALRC has reportedly suffered staff turnover of close to 100 per cent over the past year, “raising serious concerns about stability within the Commission”.
Speaking ahead of the inquiry, he said: “There are also questions over whether the ALRC is complying with its charter which sets out the minimum number of full time commissioners."
“Having fewer Commissioners and resources has diminished the capacity of the Commission, which the Government confirmed is now barely able to handle two inquiries at once.”
SenatorJoseph Ludwig, the Queensland Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, responded that the work of the Australian Law Reform Commission as regarded as “important to a vibrant and sustainable legal system”.
Ludwig said the government is confident that the commission's current level of membership is “sufficient to carry out its important work”.