Community Law News Winter 2013
- New staff join Federation
- State and Federal budgets
- Call to refund Mental Health Legal Centre
- New Victoria Legal Aid eligibility guidelines
- Law reform
- Government response to taxi inquiry
- Smart Justice project
- Young people in adult prison
- Let's help Victoria police beat racism
- Senate inquiry considers Federal Court fees
- Council debt report launched
- Sector development
- NACLC Accreditation Scheme
- Law Graduate Scheme now open
- Professional development
- CLC Adaptive Leadership course
- Media wrap
- CLCs in the news
- Community Law Australia campaign
- NACLC update
- Royal Commission Legal Advisory Service
- National CLCs conference
- Newsletter feedback
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On 22 April 2013, Liana Buchanan commenced as the new Executive Officer of the Federation following the departure of Hugh de Kretser for the Executive Director role at the Human Rights Law Centre after six years leading the Federation.
Liana started out working in community legal centres, particularly the South Australian Women’s Legal Service, and has since worked in a range of law reform and legal policy roles with a focus on social justice, including at the (then) Equal Opportunity Commission, the Victorian Law Reform Commission and as an adviser to the former Victorian Attorney-General, Rob Hulls. Immediately before joining the Federation, Liana was responsible for monitoring and review of Victoria’s prisons and other correctional services in her capacity as Director, Office of Correctional Services Review. For more information, read the media release.
On 6 June 2013, Amanda Lamont joined the Federation as Sector Development Manager following the departure of Claudia Fatone for the Executive Officer role at Fitzroy Legal Service.
Amanda has a diverse professional background, including work as a lawyer, in a range of NGOs and not-for profits in Australia and overseas, and most recently at World Vision in the International Programs department. She has a strong commitment and passion for social justice and looks forward to supporting community legal centres in their critical work for Victorian communities, especially the disadvantaged and marginalised.
With the May announcement of State and Federal budgets, the Federation issued media releases welcoming new Federal investment in community legal centres and expressing concern at further State investment in new prison capacity.
Commenting on the State Budget boost for prisons, Senior Policy Adviser Michelle McDonnell stated, “In tight economic conditions, there are far better investments in community safety than $131.5 million for 357 new prison beds and a new 40-bed high-security unit at Barwon Prison. We need to invest in alternatives to prison that address the causes of crime, reduce offending, and do not contribute to a spiralling prison population that hardens criminals and is economically unsustainable”.
Of the Federal boost, Federation Executive Officer Liana Buchanan stated, “The allocation of $10.3 million to community legal centres, $30 million to Legal Aid and $12 million to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services will improve access to justice for people who can’t afford a private lawyer. The funding announcements mark a good start on more appropriate levels of resourcing to a chronically under-funded community legal sector”.
For further details, see:
Budget brings welcome boost for legal assistance, Federation media release, 15 May 2013
Community safety not served by Budget prison boost, Smart Justice media release, 7 May 2013
On 7 February 2013, Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) withdrew funding from the Mental Health Legal Centre (MHLC) and redirected the funding to its own mental health legal services. In June, the Department of Health announced that VLA had secured the tender for funding also currently held by the MHLC. This has resulted in the transfer of the majority of current MHLC funding to VLA and a significant risk that the MHLC will close should alternative funding not be secured.
Representations by the Federation and MHLC to the Victorian Government and VLA to restore funding have so far failed to reverse the decision. The Federation has questioned the basis and timing of the decision, the lack of a transparent process leading up to the defunding, and the capacity of VLA to replace the independent community-based legal services and advocacy provided by MHLC, which currently helps more than 1500 people a year.
For further information:
Legal funding blow for mentally ill, The Age, 19 June 2013
Victorian legal centre for mentally ill may close, ABC TV News Victoria, Saturday 18 May 2013
Jeopardising access to justice for people experiencing mental illness, Castan Centre blog, 3 April 2013
Cutbacks spark calls for Vic Legal Aid review, ABC 7.30 Victoria, 22 February 2013
Community legal centres meet over VLA defunding of vital mental health legal service, Federation media release, 13 February 2013
Legal crisis looms for mentally ill, The Age, 12 February 2013
Victoria Legal Aid cuts vital mental health legal service, Federation media release,12 February 2013
Among the changes, the availability of representation in family matters has now been limited, including for women who may now be cross-examined in court by unrepresented former partners against whom family violence has been alleged.
The Federation has heard from some centres about flow-on impacts to community legal centres, including increased referrals. The Federation encourages centres to measure and record these impacts wherever possible, and to share their concerns with us to inform our work on behalf of our membership.
Since the establishment of the Victorian Taxi Industry Inquiry, the Federation has been making the case for improvements to taxi drivers’ pay and working conditions. When Professor Allan Fels released his final report in late 2012, he endorsed our view that insurance should be made compulsory to protect drivers from ruinous accident-related debts. He also confirmed the urgent need to improve drivers’ pay and working conditions.
In May this year, the Napthine Government responded to the Fels report, adopting almost all of its recommendations. We have started meeting with the new Taxi Services Commission and look forward to assisting with the implementation of these reforms.
For further information, please see the media release issued by the Federation following the Government’s response to the Fels report.
On 6 March 2013, Dr Norman Swan launched Saving lives by joining up justice: Why Australia needs coronial reform and how to achieve it. The report urges comprehensive national reform, with 11 recommendations to ensure coronial recommendations result in meaningful, effective action to better prevent future avoidable deaths, and to ensure families are properly supported to participate in investigations and inquests into the deaths of their loved ones.
The relevance of the report has been highlighted by recent information about forthcoming changes to the Coroners Court of Victoria, which will reduce resourcing available to support prevention, including through the Victorian Systemic Review of Family Violence Deaths. The Federation is working with a coalition of family violence organisations and advocates to ensure this work continues and is appropriately resourced.
The last few months have highlighted the need to influence decision-makers to shift towards a smarter, more effective approach to tackling crime, with an increase in crime shown through the latest crime statistics, increased spending on prisons in the May State Budget, and reports by the Sentencing Advisory Council on Victoria’s growing prison population and the link between imprisonment and reoffending.
There has also been charged public debate of parole in the context of high-profile serious crime that has underlined calls for a tightening of parole laws that goes beyond the need to protect the community from high-risk offenders and may undermine the rehabilitation benefits of parole for the broader group of low-risk parolees.
The Smart Justice project is currently seeking case studies to illustrate the benefit of evidence-based justice policies focusing on early intervention and prevention. If you are aware of potential case studies and programs that have helped prevent offending, please contact Michelle McDonnell on 9652 1507 or Darren Lewin-Hill on 9652 1510.
For the latest on the Federation’s Smart Justice project – including a new fact sheet for drug-related crime, an updated fact sheet on mandatory sentencing, reports, resources and Smart Justice media – visit www.smartjustice.org.au or see the latest Smart Justice newsletter.
The Federation continues to participate in the No Prison 4 Kids campaign through a coalition of community members, advocates, and self-advocates who are deeply concerned by the treatment of young people in adult prison in Victoria.
The campaign is calling on the Victorian Government to immediately stop the transfer and placement of young people in adult prisons, and to ban the use of solitary confinement.
Part of the campaign is providing a network of advocates who are able to visit young people in adult prison to support them and liaise with stakeholders working to protect their best interests. If you are a lawyer or law clerk in your community legal centre's legal practice per s40(3) of the Corrections Act, and are able to assist in this work, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
You can keep up with the campaign by visiting www.noprison4kids.org.au, where you can find out more about what the campaign is aiming to achieve, read blog posts by participating organisations, and follow coverage of the issues in the media. You can also follow the Twitter conversation through the #noprison4kids hashtag.
The Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs has completed an inquiry into the impact of recent increases to federal court fees on access to justice in Australia.
On 17 May 2013, Federation Senior Policy Adviser Lucy Larkins appeared before the committee and gave evidence about the impact of fee increases on community legal centre clients.
The Federation expressed concern that the fee increases have made the federal courts inaccessible to a number of Australians. In this regard, we are pleased that a number of our recommendations were adopted in the final report – including that the test for financial hardship be reviewed, and that a fee waiver be introduced for divorce applications.
In December 2012, State Attorney-General Robert Clark launched a report by the Federation and the Footscray Community Legal Centre, Council debt collection: Alternatives to suing ratepayers in hardship. The report found that Victorian local councils are rushing unfairly to legal action to recover unpaid rates, despite legal protections guaranteeing rates revenue, the existence of effective alternative payment strategies, and the severe impact of legal action on disadvantaged ratepayers.
Combined, the State’s 79 councils sue around 6,000 people per year in the Magistrates’ Court for unpaid rates. The number of claims has tripled over the last eight years, and 15 of the court’s top 25 most prolific litigators for debt claims under $10,000 are councils.
Councils with similar demographics sue at different rates, with one council suing at more than ten times the rate of another, the report found.
The Federation works with its members and stakeholders to build a stronger and more effective community legal sector. Resources and information on our sector development work are available at www.communitylaw.org.au. For more information, contact Amanda Lamont on email@example.com. NACLC Accreditation enquiries can be directed to Cate Edwards on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The NACLC Accreditation Scheme is well underway. We are pleased to report that three CLCs are now fully certified under the NACLC Accreditation Scheme. These CLCs will be provided with ongoing assistance from the Federation to address additional organisational and service improvements identified in their work plans. A further 13 CLCs have had their full-day site visits and are now very close to being certified. The Federation is aiming to have completed all the site visits by June 2014 and is working very closely with Victorian CLCs to achieve this.
The 2014 Community Legal Centre Law Graduate Scheme is now open for applications, which will close on Monday 22 July 2013. For information about the scheme, including how to apply, visit the Federation website and download the recruitment pack.
Applications for the 2014 program open as the Federation welcomes two new graduates to the 2013 program – Bethany King and Gemma Cafarella.
Beth worked as an intern with the Federation in early 2012 and also held volunteer/intern positions at the Human Rights Law Centre, Native Title Services Victoria, Africa Mental Health Foundation, Kenya, Friends of Kolkata Inc., and with the Civil Justice Program at Victoria Legal Aid. She has also worked at the Australian Labour Law Association, Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, Melbourne University Student Union, Asylum Seekers Resource Centre and Kirby & Co Law Firm. Beth has also volunteered with the Northern Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency’s Civil Division in the Northern Territory and participated in a study exchange in Amsterdam for the final semester of her law degree.
Beth is currently undertaking her Practical Legal Training placement at Footscray Community Legal Centre and will commence her first CLC placement there in September. She then moves to Barwon Community Legal Centre in January 2014, concluding her rotation at Women’s Legal Service Victoria.
Gemma graduated with a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts from La Trobe University.
In 2011 she was accepted to undertake two volunteer internships in New Orleans, USA with death penalty defence organisations Louisiana Capital Assistance Center and Center for Equal Justice. She undertook a placement at West Heidelberg Community Legal Service and she has also volunteered at Footscray Community Legal Centre and completed a native title internship with South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council in Perth.
Gemma is currently undertaking her Practical Legal Training placement at Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre and will commence her first CLC placement there in early September. She will then move to Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre early next year and conclude her rotation at PILCH’s Homeless Persons Legal Clinic, finishing in September 2014.
The Federation continues to offer professional development opportunities for CLC staff and volunteers, recent sessions covered included working with difficult and aggressive people, and human rights for people with disability, advocates and lawyers. Video of some past CLC training sessions are now available for viewing on the www.communitylaw.org.au intranet’s ‘Toolkit’ under ‘Training Materials’.
The CLC Adaptive leadership course is being offered to CLCs for the third time by the Federation in conjunction with leadership expert Jil Toovey. The course has been a great success and is intended to provide managers in the sector with the skills required to grow CLC’s performance and relevance. The course began in June and the Federation looks forward to following the 13 CLC workers through their time aimed at nurturing talent and developing people within community legal centres to ensuring a healthy and strong sector.
Double-bunking shows urgent need to reduce prison demand (letter), The Age, 3 July 2013
Legal funding blow for mentally ill, The Age, 19 June 2013
Holding cells being built at Melbourne train stations, ABC TV News Victoria, 6 June 2013
Criminals who spend time in jail more likely to reoffend, ABC TV News Victoria, 4 June 2013
Prison study shows jail not an effective deterrent, ABC Radio National PM, 4 June 2013
Funding the battle against family violence, The Age, 3 June 2013
Plan to axe family violence unit, The Age, Friday 31 May 2013
Victorian legal centre for mentally ill may close, ABC TV News Victoria, Saturday 18 May 2013
The Conversation Hour, 774 ABC Melbourne, Tuesday 14 May 2013
Law Week special with Jon Faine, Liana Buchanan, State Coroner Ian Gray and Peter Norden.
Budget the ‘last chance’ for legal aid, The Age, Monday 13 May 2013
Door-to-door sales ban sought, The Age, Monday 6 May 2013
State Coroner responds to restructure concerns, ABC 7.30 Victoria, Friday 26 April 2013
Review of Coroners Court causes concern, ABC 7.30 Victoria, Friday 26 April 2013
Police ready to listen, African Australians have plenty to say, The Citizen, 17 June 2013
Unease at inner-city policing, ABC 7.30 Victoria, Friday 5 April 2013
Victoria Police to hold racial profiling inquiry, ABC Radio National The World Today, 18 February 2013
Victoria Police settles racial profiling case, ABC Radio national PM, 18 February 2013
Footscray Community Legal Centre pushes for ban on pushy doorknockers, Maribyrnong & Hobsons Bay Weekly, 14 May 2013
Victoria Legal Aid finds a case for more funding of Whittlesea Community Legal Service, Northern Weekly, 6 May 2013
Finally, the real story on legal aid, The Australian, 24 May 2013 (paywall)
State funds come with proviso not to protest, The Sydney Morning Herald, 24 May 2013
On Thursday 20 June 2013, the Community Law Australia campaign held a “Day in the Life of a CLC” online event for CLCs to share their stories of how they help people every day. CLCs were encouraged to tweet their stories using the #unlockthelaw hashtag, and to post on the Community Law Australia Facebook page.
The action drew a strong Twitter response, and CLCs are encouraged to continue sharing their work delivering vital access to justice for ordinary people.
The online event also helped support the launch of an email campaign to encourage people to contact their local Member of Parliament to ask them about their plans to ensure access to justice for Australians. Members are encouraged to participate in this campaign and to publicise it through their networks.
The Community Law Australia campaign was launched on 6 July 2012 by a coalition of community legal centre bodies led by the National Association of Community Legal Centres. There are around 200 community legal centres (CLCs) providing Australians with around half a million free legal services each year – including advice, information and representation.
In April 2013 NACLC received funding from the Australian Government through the Attorney-General's Department to set up a free legal advisory service for people engaging with or considering engaging with the Royal Commission.
The service will provide free legal advice and assistance, information, referral, including warm referral, and support services via a national phone advice service, and face-to-face services in key locations.
The service will also link people with victims' support groups and ongoing support services and assist an individual or a group with preparing statements or submissions about needed reforms.
Services will be provided by specialist lawyers and counselling staff, experienced and trained in working with survivors of sexual assault and people who have experienced trauma. Specialist staff for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will be part of this team.
For more information about the service and any updates about its commencement refer to the NACLC website www.naclc.org.au
The National CLCs Conference will be held at the Cairns Convention Centre from 24–26 July 2013, with a Networks Day to be held on 23 July. For details, please check the NACLC website regularly.
Information will also be posted via email and on Twitter – follow @NACLCComms and use the #naclc13 hashtag.
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