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Chapter 11


This Statement aims to improve access to justice for all Australians. The Government is committed to delivering its services on a basis of equality, without discrimination based on factors such as language or cultural background. Services need to be provided in a way that is appropriate to the needs and characteristics of the people who will be using them and so that they provide equal access.

The measures in this Statement have been developed with careful attention to those commitments.

This chapter draws together the range of initiatives in the Justice Statement that are particularly oriented to meeting the legal needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people of non-English-speaking backgrounds. They include:

This Statement builds on the Government's commitment, since coming into office, to making the law and the processes of government accessible to all Australians. The Government acknowledges that there are a number of people in our society who may face particular difficulties in gaining access to justice for a range of reasons, including cultural differences, communication problems and difficulties in obtaining information.

Two groups of Australians who face specific difficulties in accessing the law are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people of non-English-speaking backgrounds. Many of the initiatives discussed in this Statement have particular importance for these two groups. Two reports to the Government have also made specific recommendations on ways to further improve access to justice for such people - the Australian Law Reform Commission report, Multiculturalism and the Law, and the Administrative Review Council report, Access to Administrative Review by Australia's Ethnic Communities. The Government's response to those reports is also reflected in the initiatives in this Statement.


The Government is involved in the provision of legal services in a number of ways. We provide some services directly and also fund other organisations that offer legal and associated services, such as community legal centres and family services agencies. The Government is responsible for the laws that form our society's regulatory framework. Policies that encourage the resolution of disputes by other than purely legal means also form an important part of our involvement in the justice system. In all of these areas, we are mindful of ensuring fair and equitable access.


The Government initiated an access and equity strategy in 1985 to meet the needs of immigrants of non-English-speaking backgrounds. The strategy has since been expanded to include all residents of Australia who may face barriers in gaining access to community resources because of their race, religion, culture or language. Under the strategy, Government departments have implemented a range of measures including cross-cultural training, collection and use of ethnicity data, consultation with client groups on design of programs, market research and consequent delivery of appropriately designed services.

Community Education about Government Services

An important component of the Government's access and equity strategy is community education about the services provided by government agencies. A number of departments are making use of innovative techniques and marketing principles so that community education programs about their services are tailored to suit the needs of the whole community. The following examples illustrate how Government departments are addressing the needs of non-English-speaking people in our communities.

The Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has implemented a strategy to educate the community about portfolio legislation and, in particular, changes to be made to legislation. Information is translated into community languages where appropriate and methods of delivery include:

Most recently, the Department's information strategy has been used to advise clients and others about changes to migration law brought about by the Migration Reform Act 1992, which came into force in September 1994. Over 3,600 people attended community briefing sessions.

Information about review rights to the Migration Internal Review Office, the Immigration Review Tribunal and the Refugee Review Tribunal is also distributed to the community by way of leaflets and community briefings. Where a Tribunal decision is reviewable, a leaflet about the review process is provided to the client with the notification of the decision. Further, the Immigration Review Tribunal holds preliminary meetings with applicants to discuss the review process where appropriate.

The Department of Employment, Education and Training has recently established Migrant Liaison Officers in the Commonwealth Employment Service Network. These officers will be sensitive to the needs of local communities and will aim to develop closer links between local communities and the Commonwealth Employment Service. They will provide information to local communities on access to services.

Responding to Calls for Further Improvement in the Delivery of Services

The Administrative Review Council report, Access to Administrative Review by Australia's Ethnic Communities, noted a need for further assistance to Australia's ethnic communities to increase their understanding of the administrative review system. That system provides people with access to government information and allows them to challenge decisions that affect their interests. In response to the Council's report, Government agencies will introduce a number of further initiatives to meet this goal.
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal will employ a Community Awareness Officer as part of an ongoing community awareness strategy, to inform ethnic communities about the Tribunal's role and functions. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal will conduct a review of agencies' correspondence to determine whether letters to clients, informing them of their appeal rights, are appropriate. The Social Security Appeals Tribunal will develop a model to identify which groups of people are under-represented in seeking review of Social Security decisions. Community education and awareness programs will then be developed more effectively for those groups. A number of Government agencies, which do not already do so, will include details of how information can be translated when advising clients of their review rights.


The Government funds the community sector to provide services across a broad range of areas. We are mindful of the need to ensure that the services provided by the community sector are accessible by all Australians. To this end, the community sector programs funded under this Statement will be resourced for the development of appropriate programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people of non-English speaking backgrounds.

The Financial Counselling Program provides an example of how government-funded community services can ensure that their services are accessible to the whole community. Financial counselling services provide specialist financial advice and education services to people facing financial crisis has a pivotal role to play in assisting all Australians on low to middle incomes.

Some 30 services funded by the Commonwealth assist the range of different cultures and communities that make up Australian society. For example, among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, financial problems are often not just individual problems, but affect an extended family or a whole community. This is especially so where it is common practice for a community to `pool' available funds and debts. Some financial counselling agencies employ people skilled in assisting those communities with financial management.

Other services cater for people from non-English-speaking backgrounds, who can be particularly vulnerable to bad practices if their English language skills are weak or their knowledge of government and community services is poor. Commonwealth-funded services have, for example, often helped people who have been victims of unscrupulous credit practices because they found it difficult to access mainstream services. Agencies in areas like Wollongong, Eastwood and Campbelltown in New South Wales and in inner Melbourne in Victoria are increasingly assisting people from non-English speaking backgrounds.

However, existing services that are able to meet the language and cultural needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-English-speaking background clients are relatively small in number and face a high demand.

The Government has responded to this need. This Statement provides additional funding for the Commonwealth Financial Counselling Program.[1] Special emphasis is to be given to setting up new services and expanding existing services to assist those communities that are physically or culturally isolated and face unique financial problems and language difficulties.

This funding will expand access to many communities in areas where support is most needed.


The Government believes that legislative reforms will not only assist individuals seeking redress, but will also have a long-term impact on community beliefs and expectations about people from different cultural backgrounds. In the same way that legislative measures addressing equality for women have assisted in leading to changed perceptions about the role of women in our society, so too can legislative measures aimed at ensuring equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and people of non-English-speaking backgrounds.

Racial Hatred Bill

A number of reports to the government in recent years have highlighted the problems of racism and racist violence. The Law Reform Commission[2] and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission[3] have both drawn attention to the pervasive nature of the problem and its damaging effects on individuals who are the targets of racist attacks as well as on social cohesion for the whole community.

In response to those reports and to community concern about racism, the Government has developed racial hatred legislation. The Racial Hatred Bill 1994 was developed after consultation with the Australian community. The legislation, which is currently awaiting debate in the Senate, addresses circumstances which precede actual violence and will create a Commonwealth criminal offence of threatening to cause physical harm to people or to damage their property because of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin. The actual causing of physical harm to people or property is adequately covered by the laws of the States and Territories.

The Bill will also create a criminal offence of intentionally inciting racial hatred in circumstances where incitement is a reasonably likely outcome. In addition, the Bill will provide for a civil prohibition on acts that are reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate people because of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin.

There are however important exceptions to the latter provision which, among other things, will allow the media, reasonably and in good faith, to make or publish a fair and accurate report of any matter of public interest, or a fair comment on any event or matter in the public interest providing that comment is an expression of a genuine belief held by the commentator.

Criminal Law

The Crimes Act contains a list of factors that are to be considered when a court makes a sentencing decision. The Act was amended to include `cultural background' in this list by the Crimes and Other Legislation Amendment Act 1994. This section came into force on 16 January 1995. Under the common law, cultural background could, when relevant, always be considered during sentencing. The express inclusion of `cultural background' in the Crimes Act will mean that this factor must be considered when it is relevant and will encourage consistency of approach by the courts.

Family Law

The Family Law Reform Bill 1994 makes provision for a number of factors to be taken into account in determining what is in the best interests of the child concerned in family law cases. The Bill provides, among other factors, that a child's maturity, sex and background and any other characteristics that the Court thinks are relevant may be taken into account in the decision-making process. This will ensure that the desirability of a child maintaining his or her links with the culture of each of the child's parents, and with other persons with whom the child has a relationship, can be considered. In addition, the Government proposes that the legislation should include specific reference to consideration of any need to maintain a connection with the lifestyle, culture or traditions of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders.


This Statement includes a number of initiatives that will expand on the Government's commitment to increase access to justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. These include:


This Statement includes a number of initiatives that will expand on the Government's commitment to increase access to justice for people from non-English-speaking backgrounds. These include: These initiatives will ensure that access to justice is improved for all Australians, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people of non-English-speaking backgrounds. They will increase the ability of such people to access our courts and tribunals and to receive services from a range of community support agencies that have been designed to appropriately address their needs.


[1] See `Families'

[2] Multiculturalism and the Law

[3] National Inquiry into Racist Violence

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Modification Date: Wednesday, 24 May 1995