Community Law News Summer 2015-16
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Welcome to our Summer 2015–16 edition
Welcome to our final Community Law Newsletter for 2015. The year has finished with many achievements by the Victorian community legal sector, and some significant challenges – notably the failure of December’s Federal budget update to reverse planned funding cuts to centres, a challenge that will continue into the 2016 Federal Budget as we work with our state and national colleagues to campaign for resources to meet climbing unmet demand for legal help.
In Victoria, opportunities will also arise as we contribute to the Victorian Government’s access to justice review and await the findings of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. Through continuing challenges and new opportunities and with our shared commitment to achieving access to justice and a fairer, safer justice system, the Federation looks forward to working with our members and supporters on achieving change together. We wish you all a safe and restful break.
Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook fails on funding for free legal help
In 2015, in our advocacy to ensure decision-makers understand the work done by community legal centres and the devastating impact of funding cuts, we have had some significant wins. In March the Federal Attorney-General reversed cuts planned for this year and next and, in September, the Prime Minister’s Women’s Safety Package included funds to increase the family violence support offered in three Victorian centres.
We were therefore disappointed that the December Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) failed to reverse further cuts planned to affect community legal centres and their clients in 2017. The Federal Government's failure to restore cut funding will impact many disadvantaged and vulnerable Victorians who need help with relationship breakdown, housing, debt and other issues community legal centres help with.
Family violence work will be particularly impacted.
‘September’s Women’s Safety Package failed to make up the massive shortfall from broader Federal cuts to community legal centres, and now MYEFO has failed again as the Federal Government states it is committed to family violence action and a national intervention order scheme,’ Federation executive officer, Liana Buchanan, commented on the release of the budget update.
Access to justice review
Following an election commitment, on 22 October the Victorian Government announced an access to justice review spanning legal assistance services including legal aid, pro bono legal help and community legal centres.
The review will provide a vital opportunity to focus on the national access to justice crisis from a Victorian perspective, including a consideration of the Productivity Commission’s recommendations and the impacts of the National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services, which will see community legal centres lose nearly 30 per cent of their Federal funding in 2017.
The Federation will be making a submission to the review, as well as supporting submissions from its 50 member community legal centres.
AGM celebrates achieving change together
The Federation came together with member centres on Thursday 29 October to celebrate a year of achieving change together and to hold its 2015 Annual General Meeting at Library at The Dock. The meeting saw the presentation of the 2014–15 annual report
, the confirmation of committee of management members for 2015–16, and a panel event on the role of community legal centres in advocacy and law reform.
Community legal centres in the age of 'lawfare'
An eminent panel including Leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Richard Di Natale, Federal Labor MP Tim Watts, Magistrate Anne Goldsbrough and leading community lawyers considered the value of ‘last resort’ free legal help by community legal centres, and some of the issues that Victorian centres e to face as they work daily to deliver justice for disadvantaged Victorians.
Doing justice on the front line: community legal centres in the age of ‘lawfare’ highlighted the role of community legal centres, and considered how their work can be protected and strengthened despite political characterisation of strategic litigation as ‘lawfare’, the silencing of community legal centres through restrictions on law reform and speaking out about the issues affecting their clients, the narrowing of eligibility for legal help and funding uncertainty.
Federation welcomes new chair
At the first committee of management meeting following the AGM, Belinda Lo was elected as the new chair of the Federation’s committee of management for 2015–16.
Belinda has worked as a community lawyer since 2001 following private practice and a role as a judge’s associate. Bee has volunteered and worked with various community legal centres (CLCs) including Darebin, Youthlaw, Broadmeadows, Whittlesea, Fitzroy and Eastern CLC where she is the centre’s current principal lawyer.
Bee’s work has mainly focused on advocating for the rights of victims of family violence and sexual assault – work that has included legal advocacy, law reform and education.
The Federation thanks Barwon Community Legal Service Executive Officer Nick Hudson for his contribution as chair for the past four years. Nick remains on the committee of management.
For the full membership of the Federation’s committee of management for 2015–16, see the Community Law website
. Our 2014–15 annual report is now also available online
State Government grants boost CLCs
In October, the Victorian State Government announced
recipients of $3.2 million in grants to community legal centres through the Community Legal Centre Assistance Fund and the Family Violence Duty Lawyer Fund at an event held at West Justice Community Legal Centre.
Included in the funding announced by Attorney-General Martin Pakula MP, 28 centres received assistance funding and 23 centres received duty lawyer funding to bolster services for disadvantaged Victorians, including women and children facing family violence.
The CLC Assistance Fund grants are supporting many examples of centres developing tailored legal responses to tackle specific pockets of serious need. Among the funded centres, West Justice Community Legal Centre is using the funds to expand its employment law service supporting new arrivals facing exploitation, and to publish findings from two years of casework. Murray Mallee Community Legal Service is using the funds for a new youth lawyer working with disadvantaged young people.
Federation executive officer Liana Buchanan noted the welcome funding came with deep Federal cuts still in prospect, commenting that ongoing and increased funding, especially for family violence, is needed beyond the interim, one-year investment.
The Federation is providing information to the Victorian Government about the scale of need and the resources needed in the State Budget to make sure victims of family violence get the help they need.
Anna Brown takes out Tim McCoy Award for LGBTI advocacy
In November, Anna Brown won the 2015 Tim McCoy Award for outstanding work to promote and protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Victoria, Australia and worldwide.
Anna was one of the State finalists for Australian of the Year for 2016. The Australian of the Year website commented, ‘An unsung hero in the fight to advance equality, Anna Brown’s fingerprints are on almost every recent legal and political win for Australia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community’.
‘I am very honoured and delighted to receive this award. We still have a long way to go but it’s been a privilege to have worked with incredible advocates, lawyers and clients on really exciting and rewarding projects to advance LGBTI equality,’ Anna said.
Fastrack program highlights innovative solutions to legal problems
Federation executive officer Liana Buchanan was one of four judges in this year’s new Access to Justice Through Technology Challenge, judged on 9 November following a competition of RMIT student teams to develop technology solutions to access to justice problems including fines and infringements, and family violence.
The challenge was an initiative of RMIT’s Fastrack program in collaboration with the Centre for Innovative Justice, Victoria Legal Aid and the Federation.
‘In just 12 weeks, these students have gone from knowing relatively little about the challenges faced by legal aid and CLC clients to developing innovative ideas that will improve access to justice,’ Buchanan said.
‘The final outcomes were amazing and the students should all be proud of their work,’ she said.
The teams were assisted in developing their IT solutions by a number of community and legal aid lawyers, with Brendan Lacota of Moonee Valley Legal Service and Eila Pourasgheri of Women’s Legal Service Victoria making particularly valuable contributions. Work is continuing to look at how the Fastrack projects can be further developed for practical implementation and roll out.
Federation takes part in communications fellowship
Federation communications manager Darren Lewin-Hill this year completed the Messaging and Communications Fellowship with the Centre for Australian Progress.
‘The fellowship offered valuable insights not just about the aims of messaging and communications in campaigning, but ways to assess current approaches to see how they support those aims. I look forward to sharing those insights with our members,’ he said recently.
To find out more, contact Darren on 0488 773 535 or darren.lewin-hill[at]fclc.org.au
Comings and goings
In August, Phillip ‘Phil’ Marshall finished up with the Federation after seven years as office coordinator – a role that often stretched to data analyst, researcher, tech guru, demo participant, wry satirist, and resident hipster (with and without beard). We will miss him, and occasional canine companion, Klaus.
In November, Veronica Hopkins commenced as office coordinator in a job-share with Patrick Sloyan. The Federation team also welcomed Rohan Thwaites, who commenced as Project Manager – Outcomes Measurement Project and Emily Cousins who works one day/week as as Project Officer for the ‘Wanting justice’ Family Violence Coronial Project.
Holiday close and 2016 open
The Federation will close from 12.30pm on Thursday 24 December 2015, and will re-open on Monday 4 January 2016.
Policy and law reform
Community legal centres influence Sargun Ragi inquest recommendations
The Federation continued to advocate for a consistent, rigorous process to identify system failings and future prevention opportunities for every family violence death.
Having worked alongside Rosie Batty and her legal team throughout the inquest into Luke Batty’s death, the Federation welcomed the Coroner’s 29 strong recommendations for reform when the inquest findings were handed down on 28 September. The recommendations demonstrated what is possible when there is a rigorous examination of systemic issues, when the inquest is informed by multiple family violence experts and when the family has access to legal representation.
‘We need to be very sure that all family deaths are subject to this kind of inquest. They are not at the moment,’ said executive officer Liana Buchanan speaking as part of a media panel with Rosie Batty after the findings.
Just weeks later the findings in another inquest, into the death of Sargun Ragi, were handed down. Concerned that systemic family violence issues had not been fully examined at inquest, the Federation, Eastern CLC and Broadmeadows CLC had joined together to make submissions to the Coroner early in 2015. Together the community legal organisations welcomed the Coroner’s adoption of a number of our recommendations
Retiring State Coroner Ian Gray has since supported the Federation’s position
that there should be a transparent system for tracking the implementation of coronial recommendations.
Smart Justice update
The report sets out a blueprint for reform, which will be a focus of Smart Justice advocacy, including through a symposium to be held early in 2016.
Among positive signs this year were the slight slowing in the growth of prisoner numbers, the increased use of community corrections orders as an alternative to imprisonment, and the review of baseline sentencing.
Also positive is bail reform for children, though growth in remand for adults and the risk that bail amendments intended to prevent bail by high risk defendants will capture a far broader group of people remain of concern.
Meanwhile Smart Justice has updated data and information about the evidence that should be informing criminal justice policy, publishing new infographics on problem-solving courts (No.3) and justice reinvestment (No.4) – both available at the Smart Justice Blog
Federation takes part in police accountability forum
Should police investigate themselves – or is there a better way? This was the question asked at an 18 November public policy forum to discuss this critical part of Victoria’s accountability and integrity landscape.
Corinna Horvath, who successfully brought her complaint before the UN Human Rights Committee made a rare public appearance at the event and spoke about her decades-long experience trying to find justice via an inadequate and outdated complaints system.
The forum included a panel of expert speakers including Tamar Hopkins, Anna Brown, a finalist for the 2016 Australian of the Year Award from the Human Rights Law Centre and Michelle McDonnell, Senior Policy Adviser responsible for police accountability projects at the Federation.
Following thorough review and consultation, changes to the standards and certification process for Phase 2 of the National Accreditation Scheme (NAS) are currently being finalised. The revised NAS will support CLCs to consolidate achievements made during Phase 1 and strengthen organisational systems to focus beyond compliance towards continuous quality improvement.
The main changes to the standards and requirements are in Section D, now called ‘Access, Inclusion and Client Feedback’. A new cultural safety standard has been added and the accessibility standard has been made more detailed to include specific requirements relevant to people with a disability and from CALD communities.
Some requirements will be considered ‘primary’, requiring prompt attention if compliance isn’t demonstrated at the time of the on-site assessment. Improvement plans (previously known as work plans) will detail action to be taken to meet requirements that are not fully met and CLCs will be expected to include action to improve organisational systems on an ongoing basis.
Complaint and appeal processes have been further developed and the NAS Guidelines have been revised to reflect changes and provide clearer information about the scheme.
All CLCs will receive detailed information from NACLC confirming the changes soon.
Victorian CLCs due for re-certification in 2016 will commence self-assessment soon and I will be in touch to arrange on-site assessment dates early in the new year.
Measuring outcomes for community legal centres
The Federation has commenced a two-year project to help community legal centres (CLCs) improve their ability to measure outcomes. The project will contribute to improving access to justice for the community by assisting CLCs to achieve better outcomes and helping to develop an evidence base that further demonstrates the value of their work. The project has two key objectives:
- To work with CLCs to build an Outcomes Measurement Framework for the Victorian CLC sector. This will provide an overarching framework that CLCs can use when measuring the outcomes of their work. The framework will be accompanied by monitoring and evaluation tools and resources.
- To undertake intensive evaluation capacity building with seven Victorian CLCs through training and ongoing mentoring for CLC staff. The participating CLCs will be selected through an expression of interest and will be supported to build systems that enable them to evaluate their programs and service.
Our project manager, Rohan Thwaites, has just started and in the coming months we will be recruiting a specialist evaluation consultant. In early 2016 we will put out a call for expressions of interest from CLCs interested in participating in the intensive evaluation capacity-building and advise further how CLCs can be involved in building the outcomes framework.
Infringements working group rocks another training day
The Federation’s Infringements working group organised another stellar workshop in November at the Melbourne Town Hall. Over 200 participants attended the day that was opened by Julian Burnside AO QC. Panellists from the Department of Justice and Regulation, the Infringements Court, the Magistrates’ Court, the Sheriff’s Office, Victoria Legal Aid and the Financial and Consumer Rights Council discussed best practice and impending changes to the Victorian infringements system.
Some anonymous feedback from the evaluation:
Excellent job & as always Gary Rothman is the fines guru & does a wonderful job in his MC role & in asking many of the questions we are all thinking. Well done Gary & all of the panellists they were really informative & all bought different aspects of the Infringements process.
CLC Law Graduate in action
The Federation’s Law Graduate for 2015–16, Kathleen O’Callaghan, has begun her community legal sector career at the Eastern Community Legal Centre (ECLC) supporting their many programs and making court appearances. Kathleen is working across the centre’s offices, including gaining rural experience by contributing to the work of the Healesville branch.
Kathleen completed her Bachelor of Laws at La Trobe University in 2014. During her studies she volunteered at Broadmeadows CLC and Fitzroy Legal Service, as well as working part-time as the Federation’s training coordinator. Before her studies in law, Kathleen worked at the Australian Council of Trade Unions for several years on law reform, campaigns and policy, as well as completing a Bachelor of Media Studies, also at La Trobe University.
Kathleen is the eighth CLC Law Graduate and we are now into the fifth year of the scheme. More than 80 per cent of law graduates who have completed the scheme have remained in the CLC sector in Victoria since their graduate year. Of those, five are active members of the Federation’s new lawyers network and other related sector forums. All continue to show leadership capacity and capability, presenting at the National Association of CLCs conference and various other events. We are confident these graduates will be future leaders in the community legal sector.
Below are recent highlights of Federation media coverage, community legal centres in the media, and media releases for the Federation and Smart Justice. If your centre needs media advice, please call Darren Lewin-Hill, Communications Manager, on 0488 773 535 or email darren.lewin-hill[at]fclc.org.au
Recent media coverage
CLC report influential in coronial findings on death of Sargun Ragi, ABC TV News Victoria, 30 October 2015
Call for reform to prevent FV victims being cross-examined by perpetrators in family law cases, ABC TV News Victoria, 18 October 2015
Time for Vic prison rethink: lobby groups (VO prison rehabilitation report), AAP, 18 September 2015
VO prison rehabilitation report, ABC 774 Melbourne, 18 September 2015
Recent media releases
CLCs in the media
Many member CLCs achieved significant media coverage since our last edition. Here are some member contributions.
What led you to become a community lawyer?
At the time I went to law school, I found it really isolating that there was no recognition of or value given to careers outside the corporate and business sphere. I was lucky enough to be accepted as a volunteer at Darebin CLC in my early years as a student and witnessed people like Tiffany Overall (who was the Principal Lawyer at the time) practising community law. It was an eye-opening experience to see the practice of law applied in an accessible and compassionate manner. Darebin CLC was also involved in funding campaigns related to proposed funding cuts during the Kennett Government times and I, as a student volunteer, was exposed to the implications of these proposed cuts to the community who relied upon their local CLC. I volunteered with Darebin CLC for a number of years because my experience there made a significant impression upon me. I basically wanted to be Tiffany Overall – I still sort of do.
What do you see as the biggest challenge/s for the community legal sector?
People outside the CLC sector often don’t understand how law reform, community legal education/ community development and direct client work are completely linked together. CLCs obviously know this, however it’s a challenge teaching those outside the sector.
What are you most looking forward to in your new role as chair of the Federation’s committee of management?
I’ve been around the sector for over 15 years now and witnessed how CLCs and our partners have come a long way. It’s an exciting time!
You do a lot of work with women facing family violence. Can you comment on the balance we need between longer-term culture change and services to help women facing family violence right now?
I don’t think that these two priorities should be considered as competing against each other as they are clearly both equally important. Family violence has been occurring for many generations. Whilst it’s positive that governments are turning their attention to changing cultural attitudes to family violence to achieve long-term change, those who have worked in this area know that it will be at least a generation of time to shift this culture. Of course, we need more resources both in prevention and response work.
If you could do three things that would strengthen Victoria’s family violence response, what would they be?
Significant cultural change to understand that family violence is a community responsibility.
Integration of services to enable women to be supported comprehensively.
More family violence services for women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, Aboriginal and non-mainstream client groups.
You recently spoke at the Federation’s AGM Lawfare event. How critical is advocacy and law reform in the work of community legal centres?
Advocacy and law reform are core elements of CLC work. The law reform/community legal education and direct service work is clearly integrated and it is the role of CLCs to ensure that our community’s needs are advocated for.
CLC people should read this book/see this film…
My seven-year-old niece has converted me to watching anything to do with Despicable Me and Minions. Watching those little yellow creatures is an excellent diversion from the sorts of work that we do at CLCs. In fact, I recommend you watch any slapstick kids’ movie with a seven-year-old.
Feedback and ideas regarding this newsletter are welcome, and should be emailed to darren.lewin-hill[at]fclc.org.au
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