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Attorney-General and Justice - OPCAT

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Tags: Human Rights, Justice, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, the Closing the Gap implementation plan notes that the Commonwealth will provide funding over two years to states and territories to implement OPCAT in 2021 22. For people listening, on December 21 2017 ratified the UN's Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. That funding doesn’t appear to be reflected in either the state or the Commonwealth Budget papers. Can you advise whether or not that's the case and whether you expect to see this funding?

Ms ARCHER - The Australian Government has only very recently committed funding to support the implementation of the OPCAT. I am very pleased about it. It has been something that states and territories played hard ball on. Some were refusing to sign up until there was Commonwealth funding. I'm happy that the Commonwealth has made that commitment. We welcome that announcement and we'll continue to work with the Australian Government to progress funding discussions in establishing the National Preventative Mechanism. We have not been provided with the figure, which is yet to be determined.

Going from a position of them not funding it to making a commitment to fund is a significant step for states and territories because it is a significant body of work and will require us to commit to a broad range of things that the Commonwealth should have a role in.

Dr WOODRUFF - Our Budget papers note additional funding for the Ombudsman will be used for additional resourcing to the custodial inspectorate, the appointment of a conciliation officer in 2023-24, improved remuneration and training for official visitors and for other statutory functions of the Ombudsman. None of that funding appears to be allocated to OPCAT even though the protocol is due to commence in January 2022. How do you intend to fund OPCAT?

Ms ARCHER - I regularly meet with the Ombudsman. I recently met with him. The Government will fund his office to conduct that work. We can't scope that amount yet. We are also in his hands as to what he'll need in that regard and we can't scope that until we have finalised that scoping. I can commit to the funding. It is not unusual for us to do that outside of a budget period if needed or if it kicks in in the next budget. There has to be funding for that and that assurance has been given.

Dr WOODRUFF - There is a new draft bill that needs to be presented to parliament?

Ms ARCHER - Yes, that is currently underway.

Dr WOODRUFF - Are you confident that we will be able to meet the January 2022 deadline?

Ms ARCHER - Yes.

Dr WOODRUFF - Excellent.

Ms ARCHER - I thank the Strategy, Legislation and Policy Department. They do a power of work. They have been working on this for quite some time and we know about the deadline. It is a difficult piece of work but they are working diligently on that. We are having close discussions with the Ombudsman about that.