The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) needs urgent funding, according to recommendations resulting from a recent Senate inquiry.
A report presented on 8 April by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, following its inquiry into the ALRC, outlined the committee's recommendations regarding the ALRC's recent budget cuts, the terms of appointment of full-time commissioners, the public information and education program, and the conduct of inquiries.
The inquiry - the first into the ALRC in 17 years - was announced on 23 November 2010 to address issues such as adequacy of ALRC staffing and resources and the appropriate allocation of functions between the ALRC and other statutory agencies.
"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," said Senator Guy Barnett, chair of the Senate committee, last year.
According to the report, 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, 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. Accordingly, the report recommends that the Federal Government restore the ALRC's budget cuts for the period of 2010-11 to 2013-13 as a matter of urgency.
The report also recommended that the Australian Law Reform Commission Act be amended to provide a minimum of two standing, fixed-term (not inquiry specific) full-time commissioners, with an additional full-time commissioner appointed for each additional inquiry referred to the ALRC in circumstances where the ALRC already has two or more ongoing inquiries.
Other recommendations called for the immediate resumption of the ALRC's public information and education services program, plus the provision of all necessary travel resources.
"The ball is now in the Government's court to address the committee's recommendations by providing urgently needed funding for the ALRC in the 2011 budget," said Rule of Law Institute of Australia CEO Richard Gilbert, endorsing the committee's recommendations.
"All five recommendations of the committee go to the heart of the nation having a viable and effective law reform body."