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Community Law News Summer 2014-15

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Welcome to Summer edition

Welcome to our Summer edition of Community Law. This is the final edition in a busy year for the Federation, ending with a new State Government, and the prospect of further changes and some challenges for community legal centres at the Federal level.
The Federation closes for the year at midday on Wednesday 24 December, and will re-open on Monday 5 January 2015. We wish all our members, centre staff, volunteers and partners a safe and happy holiday season.

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Change of government in Victoria

The Federation welcomes the opportunity to work with the new Andrews Government following the 29 November Victorian State election. Then Shadow Attorney-General and now Attorney-General Martin Pakula showed a strong commitment to the work of community legal centres when he spoke at our Annual General Meeting on 30 October. We were heartened to hear his commitment to establish a $2 million community legal centre (CLC) assistance fund that will be used to help mitigate some of the impact of the CLC funding cuts that will affect 14 centres as of 1 July 2015.
Later in the election campaign we welcomed the commitment to provide immediate funding of $1.2 million to help CLCs to meet some of the most pressing demands on family violence duty lawyer services. This announcement shows a welcome acknowledgement of the vital role of CLCs in providing specialist duty lawyer support for victims of family violence when they seek an intervention order.
These announcements of additional funding are important first steps in better supporting centres in their work, though unmet demand for legal help is set to remain a challenge in 2015. The 2014 ACOSS Survey of community services found once again that community legal services are among the services facing the highest demand challenge, with 72 per cent of CLCs reporting that they cannot meet the needs of those who approach them for help.
Next year also looms as a critical year as community legal centres and family violence organisations aim to work constructively with the new government in framing immediate action to address family violence and ensuring an effective royal commission process informed by the knowledge and experience of those working on the front line and those affected by violence. We look forward to working with Fiona Richardson, Minister for Women and Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence in progressing this vital work.
In other areas of justice policy, we know that action is needed to improve community safety and tackle the explosion in prisoner numbers and the corresponding rise in recidivism rates. Early media comments by the Attorney-General and also Wade Noonan as the new Minister for Police and Minister for Corrections indicate a balanced approach that acknowledges both the primary importance of community safety and the need for approaches that address the causes of crime. Our Smart Justice project has built an evidence-base of what works to make the community safer, and we look forward to working with the new government as they look to implement effective responses to crime.

Productivity Commission releases report on access to justice arrangements

The Productivity Commission’s final report on access to justice arrangements was released on 3 December, and contains 83 recommendations to improve access to justice across a broad range of areas including access to alternative dispute resolution and ombudsman schemes, courts and tribunals, the operations and regulation of the private legal profession, legal education and training and, of course, legal assistance services.
Like our colleagues across the legal assistance sector, the Federation has welcomed the Productivity Commission’s clear affirmation that CLCs, legal aid and other legal assistance services provide a net benefit – not just to the individuals they help, but to the wider community. We have also welcomed the Commission’s finding that legal assistance is seriously underfunded in Australia, leaving a growing number of people who simply miss out on the legal help they need. The Commission recommended an initial investment of $200 million in legal assistance ‘to address the more pressing gaps’.
Importantly, the Commission affirmed the importance and value of law reform and systemic advocacy, finding that this should be a core activity for CLCs and legal aid, and recommending that governments should fund strategic advocacy and law reform activities. This finding flies in the face of the Commonwealth’s July 2014 changes to CLC services agreements that prevent centres from using Commonwealth funds for this work.
The Commission also canvassed a range of issues for CLCs that centres are aware of and, in Victoria, already working on and discussing at events like our recent Victorian CLC symposium. These include the challenge of how centres can continue to adapt to meet changing needs in a growing and shifting community, the challenge for some centres of how to maximise services from a very small funding base, and the importance of using legal needs analyses and planning to make sure scant resources are used to help those most in need.

Commonwealth consultations on reform of the legal assistance sector

Over the past six months the Federation and many member CLCs have been working to inform the Commonwealth’s consideration of changes to CLC and legal assistance funding.
While no decisions have been made, the Commonwealth is considering a number of changes. These include: providing CLC funding to the State Government for funding allocation decisions to be made at state level; requiring a state-based service planning process that would include all legal assistance providers; and new guidance for CLCs and others about which priority clients and services resources should be used for. These changes are generally in line with the recommendations of the Productivity Commission inquiry into access to justice (see above).
The Commonwealth is also developing a new funding allocation model that will be used to determine what proportion of Commonwealth CLC funding shall be provided to each state and territory. The Commonwealth has been clear that, as early as 1 July 2015, the percentage of Commonwealth funding to each jurisdiction may change and the amount of funding to individual CLCs may change.
For centres, this has brought an unacceptable level of uncertainty especially in light of the cuts already experienced by Environmental Justice Australia (formerly EDO Victoria) and the cuts we already know will affect 14 centres on 1 July next year.
The Federation will keep members and supporters updated as we learn more about the impact on CLCs and our services to clients. Meanwhile, anyone concerned about access to justice and the prospect of further Federal cuts to their local CLC should make sure the Federal Attorney-General and local MPs know they see this work as vital.

Community Law Australia campaign suspended (for now)

Community Law Australia has been suspended following a NACLC committee meeting on 5 November. While the committee heard State and Territory support for the campaign, other associations were unable to commit financial contributions for an ongoing campaign. The campaign website and Twitter account will be maintained for the next six months, with the capacity for active updating via NACLC should issues requiring a national response arise.
Carolyn Bond, spokeperson and Liana Buchanan, chair of the campaign have written to all community legal centres this week reflecting on the achievements of the campaign, summarising the campaign’s rationale and key messages for centres to use. It is important for centres to continue to work to raise their profile and share the stories of the people they help.

AGM & Symposium reflect a strong year for Victorian CLCs

Held at Melbourne Town Hall on 30 October, the Victorian CLCs Symposium 2014 and Federation Annual General Meeting reflected a strong year for community legal centres, attracting around 160 people from our 50 member centres and from stakeholder organisations.
On the theme of courage, change and commitment to community, the symposium featured a strong line-up of plenaries, panellists, and presenters, including Mind Australia Chair and CLC pioneer, Julian Gardner, ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie, (then) Attorney-General, the Hon. Robert Clark MP, and (then) Shadow Attorney-General, the Hon. Martin Pakula MP (audio available).
Following the symposium, the Annual General Meeting saw the election of a new committee of management, and the tabling of the Federation’s annual report.
For a full account, see the Community Law Blog.

Flemington & Kensington CLC takes out 2014 Tim McCoy Award

Tamar Hopkins (3rd from right) and her winning Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre team with Victorian Ombudsman, Deborah Glass (third from left) at the 2014 Tim McCoy Award Dinner.
Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre took out this year’s Tim McCoy Award for its work addressing police violence – in particular in the case of Corinna Horvath, which this year was subject to a UN Human Rights Committee complaint in which Ms Horvath was represented by the centre.
‘Flem Ken’ took the award ahead of six worthy nominees at the 27th Annual Tim McCoy Memorial Dinner, which featured a keynote address by new Victorian Ombudsman, Deborah Glass.
For more on the Award, and all the nominees, see the Community Law Blog.

Liana Buchanan speaks to the Centre for Innovative Justice on CLCs

Federation Executive Officer Liana Buchanan says CLCs are about making a difference.
On 3 October, Federation Executive Officer, Liana Buchanan, was interviewed on the role and contribution of community legal centres by the Director of the Centre for Innovative Justice, and former Victorian Attorney-General, Rob Hulls. The interview makes a succinct and powerful case for free legal help provided by community legal centres, which Liana says are there ‘to make a difference’. The interview is part of a larger series for students on careers in the law.
Watch the video interview (4.07) at the Community Law Blog.

Policy and law reform

Family violence a compelling cause for the Federation in 2014

With the tragic death of Luke Batty in February and deaths in following months, this year has seen an unprecedented focus on family violence – including, as noted by Victoria Police Chief Commissioner, Ken Lay, as a major issue in the Victorian State election.
In response, the Federation joined with other organisations in the No More Deaths campaign to focus the public debate on vital areas for action on family violence through a series of election ‘key asks’ (See under ‘Campaign Materials’) and a family violence election report card.
The campaign achieved prominent media attention and commitments from the new Andrews Government to hold a royal commission into family violence, to conduct a safety audit of the courts, and to reinstate funding for the Victorian Systemic Review of Family Violence Deaths.
The Federation will continue to work with advocates and government to determine immediate steps that can be taken to address family violence in advance of the royal commission, to help shape the royal commission itself, and to guide the further development of the death review process in Victoria to ensure a thorough and sustainably funded mechanism for the prevention of future family violence deaths.
In addition to a key role in leading the No More Deaths campaign, the Federation engaged in a range of law reform initiatives, maintaining strong broader advocacy on family violence.

Federation seeks changes on intervention order legislation

In August this year the campaign wrote to the Attorney-General, Robert Clark, to express concerns about a proposal in the Family Violence Protection Amendment Bill 2014 to introduce ‘finalisation conditions’. This meant that subject to certain requirements, including the victim consenting, a temporary intervention order would become final if the perpetrator of the violence does not object. At present, victims must return to court to obtain a more tailored final intervention order, at which stage they and the respondent are able to access legal advice. If a final order is made, magistrates are able to hold perpetrators to account in open court.
Various community organisations including the Federation, Women’s Legal Service Victoria, Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention Legal Service, and inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence had previously made a joint submission to the Department of Justice strongly opposing a proposal similar to that in the 2014 Bill. As a result, the 2014 proposed legislation was a substantially modified form of what had originally been proposed.
Following the more recent letter to Mr Clark, campaign representatives met with the Attorney-General’s office and the Department of Justice. As a result of our advocacy, the then Government made substantial amendments before the legislation was passed. These changes included stronger safeguards related to when finalisation conditions might be used, and a commitment to evaluating the impact of such conditions on women and children’s safety and perpetrator accountability.
Finalisation conditions have not yet commenced in Victorian law, and the campaign was always adamant that the changes would need to be supported by extra legal help to victims so that women can consider the implications in deciding whether to consent to finalisation conditions being included in their family violence intervention orders.
At present, CLC lawyers are funded to provide legal help at court for victims at the final order stage of the process, not when they first come in seeking a temporary order. The Federation believes the new finalisation conditions should not be implemented unless this additional support can be funded, and has written to Attorney-General Martin Pakula to this effect.

Seeking legislative change for bereaved families

Bereaved families spoke out on changes to proposed coronial laws.
Bereaved family members regularly contact CLCs or the Federation seeking help with the coronial process, or after an inquest has concluded because they do not feel that they have obtained sufficient answers about why their loved one died and want to try to prevent future similar deaths.
When the Federation learned of changes to Victoria’s coronial system proposed by the Courts Legislation Miscellaneous Amendments Bill 2014, we wrote to the Attorney-General, Robert Clark, welcoming a proposed broadening of grounds of appeal of coronial decisions. However, we also said that broadening appeal avenues would mean little if families are left without legal help in the face of prohibitive costs of appeal in the Supreme Court, and when the proposed changes narrow the timeframe within which families can appeal the refusal to hold or reopen an inquest, or to challenge inquest findings.
The Federation also opposed an amendment that risked weakening the scrutiny of deaths in care and custody, with inquests not required to proceed under the proposed amendments if the coroner considered a death had occurred due to natural causes.
The Federation then contacted representatives of families who they had been working with on various coronial issues. Within 48 hours, six people representing five different families had agreed to speak at a media conference. These families had experienced the Victorian coronial system via inquests into deaths from family violence, road trauma, home birth, psychiatric care and police shooting.
The families were particularly concerned about proposed changes to the timeframes for appeals, and they also supported the Federations’ call for affordable legal help and better information for families, and a clear path to monitoring and implementing findings to avoid future preventable deaths in similar circumstances.
The media conference led to coverage in major newspapers (Age, Herald Sun) and on radio, and was also an opportunity for all the family members to meet one another.
Several family representatives went on to continue their own advocacy via media and communicating with decision-makers.
The Bill passed with some amendments proposed by the Opposition, following advocacy by the Federation and other stakeholders. These changes limited the proposed reductions in time for appeals. Debate in the Legislative Council noted that the stakeholder consultation had led to significant dialogue between the shadow Attorney-General and the Attorney-General and had resulted in a much improved Bill.
One family member has since commented: ‘I am so glad that we had the opportunity to bring this to the public's attention. And I am so glad that I had the opportunity to meet some amazing people, even though it was under the most difficult circumstances’.
In 2015, the Federation will continue to work to enhance legal help for families via a new project, Wanting justice: Helping families through the coronial process after a family violence death. Funded by the Legal Services Board, the project will address a significant area of unmet legal need by developing a sustainable model to help families bereaved by family violence-related deaths to access legal and other assistance throughout the coronial process.

Working with Rosie Batty on family violence systemic advocacy

The Federation marched in November's Walk Against Family Violence
The Federation also undertook various forms of systemic advocacy on family violence with Rosie Batty, including in the lead-up and through the inquest into the death of Rosie’s son, Luke. Chris Atmore complemented extensive media coverage of the inquest by writing an in-depth systemic analysis of the issues raised at the inquest in a series of posts for the Federation’s Community Law Blog.
A coda for the year was provided by White Ribbon Day, where a prevailing sadness was met with a shared commitment to end family violence. The Federation participated in the Walk Against Family Violence, the No More Deaths campaign was strongly represented – including through the media – and Chris addressed the rally at Federation Square together with Rosie Batty, Annette Gillespie, and Victoria Police Chief Commissioner, Ken Lay.
The names of women and children killed as a result of family violence were again projected onto a screen in a tribute our continuing work with partners will strive to render unnecessary.

Smart Justice project targets Victorian election

State elections often prove concerning for those interested in evidence-based and effective criminal justice policy, with political parties too often tempted to engage in a law and order auction, competing for who might be judged ‘toughest’ even when the evidence shows that focusing solely on harsher sentencing is likely to make the community less safe, not more so.
In the lead-up to the 29 November Victorian State election, therefore, the Smart Justice project focused on promoting an evidence-based approach to justice policy, including alternative approaches to prison where consistent with community safety.
Factsheets and infographics were launched to highlight research findings and trends in the justice system, including data showing a marked increase in prison expenditure, prisoner numbers and in reoffending. We supported our Smart Justice partners with materials they could use when talking with politicians and others, and wrote to candidates.
The project also hosted two public events, focusing respectively on tackling crime using evidence-based Smart Justice approaches (with the Human Rights Law Centre), and on the rehabilitation of prisoners to reduce reoffending.
Tackling crime the smart way was held on 11 September with a panel featuring former Victorian Attorney-General, Rob Hulls, Magistrate Pauline Spencer and EO of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Eddie Cubillo. The forum was broadcast on Radio National’s The Law Report. Rethinking rehabilitation and aftercare was held on 22 October and featured Singaporean rehabilitation expert, Jason Wong. A report based on the presentation was broadcast on the ABC Current Affairs PM program.
Smart Justice spokesperson, Michelle McDonnell, also published a critique of the former State Government’s law-and-order agenda as part of the Guardian Australia’s pre-election coverage.
For further Smart Justice media releases and media coverage, see our Media wrap, below. We were pleased that law and order announcements were not a significant feature of the election campaign, reflecting a growing understanding that simplistic, prison-based responses are ineffective and costly.

Employment report focuses on unmet need

Putting the law to work, a report released in October by the Federation of Community Legal Centres, recommends increasing low-cost legal help for employment law matters to address the limited services, high need and unmet demand in Victoria.
A 2012 Australia-wide legal needs survey found that, in a sample of 4,410 Victorians, 5.9 per cent reported having employment problems, with 58.5 per cent of these having substantial legal problems.
The report examines options for meeting this need, recommending increased funding and improved referral pathways. To read more, or to download the report, visit the Community Law Blog.

Sector development

Accreditation update

It has been a very full year for the accreditation scheme in Victoria. We are really excited to report that 43 out of 47 eligible Victorian CLCs are now certified under the National Accredittation Scheme (NAS). A number of CLCs have had the accreditation placed on hold as they undergo some organisational change. We’re hoping to have the remaining CLCs certified as soon into 2015 as possible.
Highlights from the accreditation scheme this year included:
  • In May, our much-loved Accreditation Coordinator, Cate Edwards, moved into the Sector Development Manager role. Cate was replaced by Lucy Barrow in July, who is now well settled into the role. Lucy will continue to meet and work with you all next year.
  • In November, NACLC released the final report of the review of the NAS, which they commissioned earlier in the year. The reviewers made a broadly positive assessment of the NAS and its implementation to date, and recommended improvements to streamline the scheme and national consistency in implementation. We will be working with NACLC next year, as they consider the review recommendations in time for Phase 2 of the NAS. 
  • In December, the Standards and Performance Pathway (SPP), the online self-assessment platform has been re-launched, as the developer made a range of changes to streamline and improve the site. 
Lastly, big congratulations to all our members for the considerable amount of work that they have done to participate in the NAS!

CLC discussion forum update

In October, the fourth CLC discussion forum was well attended and facilitated by community legal centre lawyers Hala Atwa and Stephanie Tonkin. A range of CLCs was represented to discuss the clients that CLCs serve and the ways in which decisions are being made about who Victorians CLCs are serving. The discussion was a great opportunity to get a better understanding of individual community legal centre approaches to identifying and targeting their centre’s priority clients. It highlighted the need to better share data across the sector, ensure that the sector maintains community involvement in identifying legal need, and discussed some possible mechanisms for articulating who our clients are and why we serve them.

Spotlight on family violence intervention orders

A Thursday 4 December event hosted by Darebin Community Legal Centre launched new resources to guide women seeking family violence intervention orders through the courts.
The resources were launched by Regional Coordinating Magistrate in the Family Violence Heidelberg Court, Her Honor, Susan Wakeling, who spoke on new court initiatives to provide specialist family violence registrars, better training for court staff, and video conferencing to enable women to give evidence in family violence matters without attending court (audio).
Rodney Vlais, Chief Executive Officer of No To Violence, spoke on strengthening perpetrator accountability in the family violence system (audio), while Bridget Dwyer and Tabitha O’Shea spoke respectively about the Darebin Intervention Order Service and the perspective of family violence victims.
The Darebin service helps more than 1000 women every year, with Magistrate Wakeling describing the CLC as ‘a mainstay of the Family Violence Division’.
Additional materials on intervention orders are also available from Eastern Community Legal Centre – including the excellent Steps2Safety video available in six languages – and from Victoria Legal Aid.

Media wrap

Dr Chris Atmore speaks to the ABC's Karen Percy at the White Ribbon Day rally.
Below are highlights of media coverage, our media releases, and community legal centres in the media. If your centre needs media advice, please call Darren Lewin-Hill, Communications Manager, on 0488 773 535 or email darren.lewin-hill@fclc.org.au

Federation media coverage

Jail rates soar in states and territories, statistics show, Guardian Australia, 12 December 2014
Brandis rewrites funding for community lawyers, The New Daily, 10 November 2014
NFP advocacy under threat, Pro Bono News, 21 October 2014
774 ABC Melbourne News on employment law report, 1 October 2014

Media releases


CLCs in the media

Many member CLCs achieved significant media coverage since our last edition.
Police exceeded powers and breached the human rights of African man, says judge, The Age, 18 December 2014 (Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre)
Daniel Webb on Senate report into violence on Manus Island, ABC The Drum, 11 December 2014 (Human Rights Law Centre)
Darebin Community Legal Centre sheds light on domestic violence, The Weekly Review Melbourne Times, 9 December 2014
Need for greater family violence emphasis, Bendigo Advertiser, 5 December 2014 (Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre)
High-cost lease companies accused of preying on vulnerable consumers in remote Queensland, ABC News Online, 2 December 2014 (Consumer Action Law Centre)
Flemington: ‘Justice fighters’ shortlisted for human rights award, The Weekly Review Moonee Valley, 25 November 2014
Tenant wins $1000 compensation over cracked toilet seat in Kensington rental home, Herald Sun, 25 November 2014 (Footscray Community Legal Centre)
Big plans for White Ribbon Day, Bendigo Advertiser, 19 November 2014 (Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre)
Opportunity missed to discuss justice, Bendigo Advertiser, 19 November 2014 (Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre)
Acquire Learning facing ASQA scrutiny amid allegations of unethical behavior, news.com.au, 5 November 2014 (Consumer Action Law Centre)
Denis Nelthorpe on the unfair impact of tollway fines, ABC 774 Melbourne Mornings with Jon Faine, 29 October 2014

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Feedback and ideas regarding this newsletter are welcome, and should be emailed to darren.lewin-hill@fclc.org.au
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