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2. About the department

AGD is the central policy and coordinating department of the Attorney-General’s portfolio. It delivers programs and policies to maintain and improve Australia’s law and justice framework, strengthen national security and emergency management, and provide support for arts and culture.2 AGD is primarily a policy department with elements of delivery and legal advice functions. It plays an important role in the provision of legal and policy advice to the Commonwealth Government and the APS, though it is not a central agency.

AGD was established as one of the original seven Commonwealth departments in 1901 to serve as the legal and constitutional adviser to Government. Its support for the Attorney-General as the First Law Officer—the principal legal adviser to the Commonwealth Government—has remained an enduring role throughout the department’s 113-year history.

The department serves two ministers—Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, Attorney-General and Minister for the Arts, and the Hon Michael Keenan MP, Minister for Justice.

The department’s Strategic Plan 2012–153 sets out its mission of ‘achieving a just and secure society’. The plan also sets out AGD’s strategic aims of ‘building a safe, secure and resilient Australia’ and ‘protecting and promoting the rule of law’.

AGD has eight strategic priorities, six of which are outlined in its Strategic Plan 2012–15. The other two are described in its Provisional Annual Business Plan 2013–14, developed as an interim strategy following the September 2013 Federal Election. The strategic priorities are:

  • supporting the Attorney-General as First Law Officer of the Commonwealth
  • adapting law and law enforcement in the digital economy
  • promoting equity and efficiency to improve access to justice
  • protecting people’s rights
  • combating serious and organised crime and corruption
  • protecting national security and building resilient communities
  • ensuring the sustainability of Australia’s arts and culture sector
  • central enabling strategies (corporate functions and enterprise-wide strategies).

To support the Attorney-General in fulfilling the role of First Law Officer of the Commonwealth, the department provides constitutional policy advice to Government, oversees Commonwealth litigation, and scrutinises legislation and policy proposals to ensure alignment with Commonwealth legal concepts and the rule of law.

To support the Attorney-General in fulfilling ministerial responsibilities in relation to national security, the department produces national security policy advice. It supports the Minister for Justice’s responsibilities by taking a lead role in crime and law enforcement policy and through the coordination of national emergency management functions. To support the Attorney-General’s role as the Minister for the Arts, the department works to ensure broad participation in, and access to, Australia’s arts and culture.

The department provides services to ministers and the Parliament in various ways. In addition to policy and legal advice, AGD supports one national and three international ministerial councils and provides significant administrative and secretariat support.

AGD maintains formal engagement with the states and territories through ministerial committees such as the Law, Crime and Community Safety Council. In addition, the department interacts with state and territory government agencies on legal, casework, policy and operational matters.

Figure 2—Services to ministers and Parliament, 2012–134
Submissions to ministers Cabinet submissions Responses to ministerial correspondence Responses to questions on notice Briefs* Speeches
2,333 23 3,755 32 354 7

* Approximate number of individual AGD meeting briefs, possible parliamentary questions and ministers’ office briefs.

The Attorney-General’s portfolio

The Attorney-General’s portfolio comprises 32 agencies, which includes 12 statutory agencies (such as the courts and tribunals), four executive agencies (such as the Australian Financial Security Authority) and two prescribed agencies who engage personnel under their own Acts (such as the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation). Some portfolio agencies are larger than the department itself (for example, the Australian Federal Police with approximately 6400 staff) while others are micro-agencies (for example, the Australian Law Reform Commission with 14 staff).

The Attorney-General’s portfolio covers a number of areas, including:

  • national security and law enforcement
  • criminal intelligence and information
  • legal services
  • courts and tribunals
  • regulation and reform
  • APS records management
  • arts and cultural affairs
  • emergency management.

Attorney-General’s Department structure and office locations

AGD is divided into three organisational groups headed by deputy secretaries (Senior Executive Service (SES) Band 3)—Strategic Policy and Coordination Group, Civil Justice and Legal Services Group and National Security and Criminal Justice Group. The department has 12 divisions led by Division Heads (SES Band 2) and 39 branches. Within its structure, the department currently supports three independent Royal Commissions and the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce.

The department’s headcount was 1,319 (as at 1 April 2014). It also has more than 280 staff working on the three Royal Commissions and the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce.

AGD staff are mostly located in Canberra, with a small presence across Australia and internationally (Figure 3). With the addition of the arts function5, the department acquired 185 staff and state offices in New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. This built on its existing regional workforce in Mt Macedon (Emergency Management Training Centre), Sydney (Classification Branch) and Brisbane (Computer Emergency Response Team). AGD also has small international capability building contingents in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

Figure 3—AGD office and staff locations, including taskforces and Royal Commissions, as at 1 April 2014

Workforce metrics

The department’s workforce is relatively young. The average age is 38 years old compared with 43 years for the APS. Forty-one per cent of staff are in the 25 to 34 year age category compared with 24 per cent for the APS. The workforce is quite mobile, with ongoing staff having an average tenure in the department of 5.28 years.

AGD has a higher percentage of female staff than the APS (60 per cent) and an even split for SES officers, half of which are female and half male. The department has a well-educated workforce. At least 69 per cent of staff have a bachelor degree or higher, compared to the APS average of 51 per cent.

The average AGD employee is a 38-year-old female with a university degree. She works in a policy role and has worked in the department for five years.

Similar to other large APS policy agencies, most staff are employed at Executive Level (EL)1, EL2 and APS6 levels. The department has 58 SES officers.


Figure 4—AGD compared to the average APS large policy agency staffing profile6

Financial profile

In 2014–15, the department received direct resourcing of $1.367 billion ($241.4 million departmental funding and $1.126 billion in administered funding), as detailed in figures 5, 6 and 7.

Figure 5—Attorney-General’s Department 2014–15 Departmental Appropriation Funding

Figure 6—Attorney-General’s Department 2014–15 Administered Appropriation Funding

Figure 7—Attorney-General’s Portfolio Funding 2014–15

2 AGD Portfolio Budget Statements 2013–14

3 Strategic Plan 2012–15 www.ag.gov.au/Publications/Documents/Strategic%20Plan/StrategicPlan2012-2015.pdf

4 Attorney-General’s Department Annual Report 2012–13

5  AGD organisation chart, March 2014 www.ag.gov.au/About/Documents/Attorney-Generals%20Department%20Organisational%20Chart-March2014.pdf

6  APS Employment Database 2013

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018