Federal election 2019

In advance of the federal election in May 2019, the Australian Lawyers Alliance surveyed major parties on priority issues for our members.

The issues that we addressed were:

  1. Human rights protections
  2. Access to justice — class action proceedings
  3. Access to justice — funding for community legal centres
  4. Insurance and mental illness
  5. Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry
  6. NDIS
  7. National Redress Scheme
  8. Comcare
  9. Work Health and Safety

Below are the responses that we received.

Human rights protections

Will you commit to additional legislative human rights protections for Australian residents and people subject to Australian jurisdiction in foreign territories?

Party Response

Coalition

The Hon Christian Porter MP, Attorney-General

Response from Department on behalf of AG:

The Australian Government has entered the caretaker period until the outcome of the upcoming federal election is known. The questions you have raised are all issues of policy for a returned or incoming government. It would therefore be inappropriate to comment on them.

Previous response — does not support a federal Charter of Human Rights.

ALP

The Hon Mark Dreyfus QC, MP, Shadow Attorney-General

At its National Conference in December 2018, the ALP committed to:

  • Consolidate federal anti-discrimination laws into a single Act to remove unnecessary regulatory overlap and make the system more user-friendly;
  • Review legislation, policies and practices for compliance with the seven core UN Human Rights treaties to which Australia is a party (which are listed in the framework); and
  • Review the Human Rights Framework and consider whether it could be enhanced through a federal statutory charter of human rights or other similar instrument.

Greens

Senator Nick McKim, Australian Greens Spokesperson Attorney-General

Greens published policy:

The Greens support a federal Charter of Human Rights that protects economic, employment, civil, cultural and environmental rights.

Access to justice — class action proceedings

Do you agree that statutes regulating the legal profession should permit solicitors to enter into ‘percentage-based fee agreements’ to promote access to justice?

Party Response

Coalition

The Hon Christian Porter MP, Attorney-General

Response from Department on behalf of AG:

The Australian Government has entered the caretaker period until the outcome of the upcoming federal election is known. The questions you have raised are all issues of policy for a returned or incoming government. It would therefore be inappropriate to comment on them.

ALP

The Hon Mark Dreyfus QC, MP, Shadow Attorney-General

No response.

Greens

Senator Nick McKim, Australian Greens Spokesperson Attorney-General

No response.

Access to justice — funding for community legal centres

Will you commit to additional funding of $120 million per year (as recommended by the Productivity Commission) for legal aid and community legal centres to enable improved access to justice for disadvantaged people in Australia?

Party Response

Coalition

The Hon Christian Porter MP, Attorney-General

Response from Department on behalf of AG:

The Australian Government has entered the caretaker period until the outcome of the upcoming federal election is known. The questions you have raised are all issues of policy for a returned or incoming government. It would therefore be inappropriate to comment on them.

Response to questions from Lawyers Weekly:

The AG emphasised the legal assistance package as announced in the 2019 budget as the basis of the government’s ongoing support of the legal assistance sector. It includes $918.4 million over four years for legal assistance to be delivered by LACs, CLCs and ATSILS. From 1 July 2020, combined with existing funding, the government will provide $1.2 billion over three years for legal assistance services to deliver front-line services to disadvantaged Australians.

ALP

The Hon Mark Dreyfus QC, MP, Shadow Attorney-General

Response to questions from Lawyers Weekly:

Restore $14 million of funding to Environmental Defenders Offices nationally.

A new $90 million Preventing Family Violence Legal Service Fund. This will include $42.5 million extra for Community Legal Centres, to assist 115,000 more women. It will also include an extra $21.5 million for Family Violence Prevention Legal Centres providing dedicated legal support available to First Nations women in more areas and $21 million to double the number of Specialist Domestic Violence Units and Health Justice partnerships which can provide specialist support to women in hospitals, health services and in the community.

Labor will more than double investment in the Fourth Action Plan to prevent and respond to family violence, delivering Commonwealth funding of over $660 million.

$107 million package to address the disadvantages experienced by First Nations people in the justice system, with $40 million for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, an extra $4 million for the service's governing body, a $21.75 million invested in the progression of justice reinvestment over the next four years.

Work with states and territories to adopt justice targets under the Closing the Gap framework.

$120 million over four years for specialist financial services lawyers in CLCs.

Greens

Senator Nick McKim, Australian Greens Spokesperson Attorney-General

The Greens Access to Justice Policy states:

Additional federal funding across the forward estimates of:

  • $92.6m for Community Legal Centres
  • $290.04m for Legal Aid Commissions
  • $183.09m for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services
  • $144.36m for Family Violence Prevention Legal Services
  • $6.99m for legal service peak bodies.

Insurance and mental illness

Will you commit to legislative and regulatory reform to remove barriers stopping people with past or current mental illness from accessing insurance products?

Party Response

Coalition

The Hon Stuart Robert MP, Assistant Treasurer

The Hon Josh Frydenburg MP, Treasurer

No response.

ALP

Ms Clare O'Neil MP, Shadow Minister for Financial Services

No response.

Greens

Senator Peter Whish-Wilson,
Australian Greens Spokesperson Consumer Affairs

Yes.

Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry

Will you commit to implementing the recommendations made by the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry?

Party Response

Coalition

The Hon Stuart Robert MP, Assistant Treasurer

The Hon Josh Frydenburg MP, Treasurer

Government’s public statement states:

The Government has agreed to take action on all 76 recommendations. While taking action on every recommendation, the Government will proceed cautiously with respect to upfront fees for mortgage brokers.

In addition to taking action on all 76 recommendations in the Final Report, the Government has agreed to go further in areas, including by:

  • paying around $30 million in compensation owed to almost 300 consumers and small businesses for the unpaid determinations of the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Credit and Investments Ombudsman;
  • expanding the remit of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority for a period of twelve months to accept applications for disputes dating back to 1 January 2008;
  • expanding the jurisdiction of the Federal Court to cover corporate criminal misconduct to expedite the consideration of cases brought by regulators; and
  • establishing an independent inquiry to review and assess in three years whether industry practices have changed following the Royal Commission and have led to better consumers outcomes.

Additional funding of $170 million has also been provided to ASIC, APRA, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and the Federal Court to ensure our regulators are appropriately resourced to hold those who engage in misconduct to account.

(Media Release, The Hon Josh Frydenberg MP, Treasurer, 6 Feb 2019)

ALP

Ms Clare O'Neil MP, Shadow Minister for Financial Services

ALP released policy states:

Labor will fully implement 75 of the 76 recommendations, and will implement the final recommendation, Recommendation 1.3 – Mortgage Broker Remuneration, in a manner that achieves the objectives but without harming competition in the retail mortgage market.

Greens

Senator Peter Whish-Wilson,
Australian Greens Spokesperson Consumer Affairs

Response from Australian Greens:

The Greens support in full all but one of the recommendations. On mortgage brokers, we are concerned that the recommendation of the Commission might lead to unintended consequences, and would prefer to see further detail on the proposed changes, and further examination of the proposed changes. The Commission’s relatively conservative recommendations are reflective of its shortcomings; the Commission did not fully examine the regulatory or behavioural economics behind the misconduct, including not calling un-vested academics or former-regulators to the witness box.

NDIS

Will you establish a national framework for the NDIS that:

  1. ensures consistency of eligibility across all states and territories?
  2. provides for a robust oversight and monitoring mechanisms that ensure high quality standards of service provision? and
  3. protects the common law and appeal rights of participants?
Party Response

Coalition

The Hon Paul Fletcher MP, Minister for Families and Social Services

Response from Department on behalf of Minister:

The Australian Government has entered the caretaker period and by convention, decisions are not taken or advice given that is likely to commit an incoming Government. Accordingly, while the matters you have raised have been noted, it is not possible to provide a more substantive response and you may wish to raise the issue with the incoming Government.

The eligibility requirements for the NDIS are nationally consistent. Any person with disability will be able to access assistance through the NDIS if they meet age, residency and disability or early intervention requirements set out in the National Disability Insurance Scheme Act 2013.

People with disability will be able to access assistance under the NDIS to meet their needs if their disability is permanent and significantly affects their communication, mobility, self-care or self-management. The NDIS does not differentiate between types of disability and provides individualised packages of support that match people’s circumstances and needs.

In the 2017-18 Federal Budget, the Australian Government committed $209 million over four years to establish the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission. This Commission replaces disparate state and territory regulatory systems with a single, national regulatory NDIS Quality and Safeguarding Framework for people with disability and NDIS providers. The establishment of the Commission will address many of the issues raised in recent federal and state levels inquiries into the abuse and neglect of people with disability.

The Commission is responsible for registering providers; handling complaints and reportable incidents; managing quality standards; enforcing a code of conduct for NDIS providers and workers; national policy setting for the screening of workers; national oversight and policy setting in relation to behaviour support and monitoring the use of restrictive practices; and facilitating information sharing arrangements between relevant regulatory bodies.

The NDIS Commission commenced operating in NSW and SA on 1 July 2018, and will commence operations in the ACT, NT, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria on 1 July 2019, and in WA on 1 July 2020.

The Government funds the NDIS Appeals program (NDIS Appeals) to ensure people with disability and others (such as parents and carers) affected by reviewable decisions of the NDIA have access to support when they are seeking review of those decisions in the AAT.

There are two main types of assistance available via NDIS Appeals: access to a skilled advocate who acts as a support person; and access to legal services based on the merit of the case and the capacity of the person to self-advocate. These supports are free and are provided by the National Disability Advocacy Program and Legal Aid Commissions across Australia.

ALP

The Hon Linda Burney MP, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services

Labor’s released policy states:

Labor will establish two-year local NDIS workforce trials in 2020 and 2021 to sustainably grow and maintain a skilled NDIS workforce. The trials will be a partnership between people with disability, providers, TAFE, government and workers.

This plan will help locals get the skills they need to fill the 90,000 NDIS jobs that will be created in the next five years.

The NDIS workforce trials will have three components:

  1. Ensuring NDIS workers have the foundation skills they need, with up to 3,000 training support payments of $2,000 for induction training.
  2. Supporting NDIS workers to achieve Certificate III qualifications, with up to 2,000 training support payments of $4,000.
  3. Providing a portable professional development entitlement for NDIS workers, with up to 5,000 training support payments of $750 per year, so people can take time off work to specialise and upgrade their skills.

The trials will establish the best flexible local solutions to skills shortages; gaps in the training curriculum and course availability; and barriers to getting the right people working in the NDIS.

Students in the trials will not have out-of-pocket training costs because up-front TAFE fees for 100,000 students will be scrapped, including 20,000 students studying to get skills for the NDIS and aged care.

The initial trial sites will be: Canberra, Townsville region, Joondalup. Labor will work with state and territory governments to expand the workforce trial to other locations.

Labor will also develop a comprehensive national NDIS workforce strategy. This will be done in partnership with people with disability, families and advocates; service providers; state and territory governments; TAFE; and workers. Labor will invest $40 million in building the NDIS workforce over the forward estimates.

Greens

Senator Rachel Siewert, Australian Greens Spokesperson Family, Ageing and Community Services

Senator Jordon Steele-John

Response from Australian Greens:

The Australian Greens have always fought for and supported the principle of no geographic disadvantage when it comes to the NDIS. We understand and share the concerns of the disability community around the underperformance of the NDIS and the inability for it to deliver on the promises of its original establishment under the current way in which it is operating. The Greens have consistently raised these concerns when funding-related debates have taken place, specifically around the policy implications for preliminary and subsequent plan usage data and budget needs of the NDIS as it moves towards national operation.

The Greens hold significant concerns around exclusionary criteria for accessibility in to the scheme and how these criteria substantially impede on the quality of life of individuals who are not accepted as participants. The Greens note that these exclusionary criteria are a contested space which require constant and extensive review to ensure that individuals are not being excluded as a result of false or outdated information about conditions which should permit them access to the NDIS.

The Greens have raised concerns about the lack of expertise and relevant qualifications of assessors who make decisions about whether or not someone is eligible.

The Greens are committed to ensuring that NDIS is fully funded, transparent, consultative and accountable in a nationally consistent scheme which meets the needs of disabled Australians. The Greens believe in a strong and effective National Disability Quality and Safeguards Commission.

The Greens agree that the NDIS must operate with an appeals framework which aligns with and adheres to existing judicial processes to ensure that applicants and participants can fully exercise their rights and protections. As a part of this, the Green’s also recognise the role that disability advocacy bodies play in appeals processes and as a reflection of this, will increase federal advocacy funding to disability advocacy bodies by $11.3million over four years to ensure that they can adequately support disabled Australians and their families.

Green’s released policy states:

The Greens are committed to creating a fully funded and adequately staffed NDIS that is transparent, consultative and accountable. The Greens will:

  • Fully fund the NDIS;
  • Provide adequate staff training and remove unnecessary staffing caps; and
  • Improve IT systems and interfaces for participants and service providers.

National Redress Scheme

Will you conduct a review of National Redress Scheme to assess whether it is addressing the needs of survivors as identified by the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse?

Party Response

Coalition

The Hon Paul Fletcher MP, Minister for Families and Social Services

Response from Department on behalf of Minister:

The Australian Government has entered the caretaker period and by convention, decisions are not taken or advice given that is likely to commit an incoming Government. Accordingly, while the matters you have raised have been noted, it is not possible to provide a more substantive response and you may wish to raise the issue with the incoming Government.

The NRS operates on an institutional pays basis. To ensure that as many survivors as possible can access redress, the Scheme is working with a significant number of institutions to encourage them to join. To date, 39 non-government institutions, the Commonwealth and all states and territory governments, covering more than 39,000 sites are participating in the Scheme.

Redress Support Services provide practical and emotional support to people engaging with the NRS, and are able to help people complete their applications. Free confidential legal support is available through Knowmore. Knowmore can provide information on the NRS’ access requirements and other options, including access to compensation through other schemes or common law rights and claims.

The Scheme will undertake two reviews of the NRS, at the two year and eight-year mark of the Scheme. These reviews are enshrined in the Scheme’s legislation.

ALP

The Hon Linda Burney MP, Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services

No response.

Greens

Senator Rachel Siewert, Australian Greens Spokesperson Family, Ageing and Community Services

Senator Jordon Steele-John

Response from Australian Greens:

The Australian Greens want the National Redress Scheme to be as extensive, functional and effective as possible. The Greens share the concerns of many organisations about many elements of the NRS differing from what was recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The Greens raised these concerns during the debate on the legislation.

The Greens continue to hold concerns about the scope for eligibility for the NRS. We do not agree with the exclusion of some survivors from accessing the scheme, including people who are convicted of criminal offences. We are also concerned about the maximum amount of redress available and continue to urge the Government to commit to a cap of $200,000 for survivors. The Greens are concerned that some institutions named in the Royal Commission have not yet joined the NRS.

The Greens will commit to a review of the NRS to evaluate whether it is currently addressing the needs of survivors as identified by the Royal Commission. We will continue to advocate for subsequent reforms to the NRS and address the unresolved concerns of survivors and victims.

Comcare


Will you protect the viability of Australian workers compensation schemes by:

  1. Committing to fair and adequate compensation for injured workers
  2. Stopping employers who sign up to Comcare from leaving their state or territory scheme
  3. Undertaking a root and branch review of Comcare and its adequacy in protecting and support injured workers?
Party Response

Coalition

The Hon Kelly O'Dwyer MP, Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations

No response.

ALP

The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
No response.

Greens

Mr Adam Bandt, Australian Greens Spokesperson Employment and Workplace Relations

No response.

Work Health and Safety

Do you agree that all Commonwealth workplaces should be covered by Commonwealth workplace health and safety legislation, wherever they are in the world?

Party Response

Coalition

The Hon Kelly O'Dwyer MP, Minister for Jobs and Industrial Relations

No response.

ALP

The Hon Brendan O'Connor MP, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
No response.

Greens

Mr Adam Bandt, Australian Greens Spokesperson Employment and Workplace Relations

No response.