Community Law News Winter 2015
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Welcome to Winter edition
Welcome to the Winter 2015 Community Law newsletter. This edition comes at a critical time for community legal centres nationally, with negotiations between the Federal Government and States and Territories on a new National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services having just concluded. Victorian centres, together with the Federation, are also actively engaging in the Royal Commission into Family Violence. This issue also includes the latest policy developments, sector development news, and media coverage of the Federation.
New National Partnership Agreement follows deep cuts in Federal Budget
A new National Partnership Agreement on Legal Assistance Services is set to be concluded with States and Territories to take effect from 1 July. The Agreement comes on the back of significant cuts to community legal centres in the May Federal Budget, including a national funding cut of nearly 30 per cent in 2017-18.
The Federation has been working with the Victorian Government and speaking out in the media to raise awareness of the funding shortfall and to address the most concerning aspects of the agreement, including means-testing of free legal help through CLCs with the new requirement that services be targeted to clients experiencing ‘financial disadvantage
We have also opposed a clause in the agreement banning the use of Federal funds for ‘campaigning’ and ‘lobbying’ – policy and law reform advocacy– activities, which runs counter to recommendations of the Productivity Commission and would limit the broader benefit of community legal centre casework in addressing systemic legal problems.
The Victorian Government has taken a strong stance in support of Victorian community legal centres on these issues, with Attorney-General Martin Pakula confirming in correspondence to the Federation that the Victorian Government will continue efforts to have the Commonwealth reconsider community legal centre funding cuts. The Victorian Government has also been clear that it will not impose the same flawed restrictions on the work community legal centres conduct using state funds.
As part of these efforts, the Federation has engaged in concerted media advocacy, contributing to coverage achieved by our State and Territory counterparts and the national association (see Media update
and related coverage on the Community Law Blog
State Government opens CLC grants and moves to increase pro bono partnerships with CLCs
Applications can now be submitted for a total $1.2 million funding committed to community legal centres prior to the state election to help meet urgent demand pressure on family violence duty lawyer services pending the outcome of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. In addition, applications are open for a share of $2 million to assist community legal centres deliver vital supports and programs to the community, also committed to community legal centres in October last year.
Attorney-General Martin Pakula acknowledged the vital role played by community legal centres when advising these grant processes were open.
‘Community legal centres provide effective and innovative solutions to legal problems to help the most disadvantaged Victorians – from young people in remote areas, to women and children in our suburbs living in fear of family violence’, he said.
Applications are now open
, and are due on 27 July 2015.
Making a separate announcement about the new tender arrangements for the Government Legal Services Panel on 1 July, the Attorney-General revealed he has increased the requirement for Panel firms to undertake pro bono work from five to 10 per cent. This change will result in partnerships between private firms and community legal centres and ultimately more support for Victorians in need of legal help.
The new Panel arrangements will also require firms to report on briefing of women barristers and report on equal opportunity arrangements in their workplaces.
Community lawyers awarded
Antoinette Braybrook, chief executive of the Family Violence Prevention Legal Service won the LIV Access to Justice/Pro Bono Award, with Barwon Community Legal Service lawyer Elsie Stokie taking out the Community Lawyer/Organisation of the Year Award.
Flemington Kensington CLC’s Tamar Hopkins received her Reichstein award for outstanding work on racial profiling in Victoria, while Brendan Sydes, chief executive officer of Environmental Justice Australia was awarded for his work relaunching the new organisation in its transition from the Environment Defenders Office Victoria. As part of their awards, Tamar and Brendan will take part in the third annual Australian Progress US study tour.
Productivity Commissioner speaks in support of CLCs
In April Productivity Commissioner Dr Warren Mundy spoke at a Federation Access to Justice Forum on the Commission’s report on Access to Justice Arrangements. The report was a landmark inquiry covering all aspects of the civil justice system and made a number of positive findings for the legal assistance sector, including that the sector is under-resourced, and that policy advocacy and law reform are appropriate and in fact core activities of community legal centres.
Dr Mundy spoke to these findings in his presentation, noting also that the Commission had found no wastage in community legal centres. He reiterated these comments in June’s Monash University Access to Justice Symposium, in which he commented that advocacy produces public good, that sector reform was mainly about funding, and that the Federal Budget had failed to reflect the Commission’s recommendation of a $200 million annual boost to legal assistance services.
A new guide has been developed by the Federation to support community legal centres’ law reform and policy work, showing centres how they can advocate effectively to change laws, policies and practices that are having a negative effect on their clients.
‘We’ve developed this guide because we recognise – together with the Productivity Commission – that policy advocacy and law reform are an essential and irreplaceable part of the work of community legal centres.
‘People who can’t afford a private lawyer need access to free legal help, but they also need a fairer system in which legal problems are not needlessly repeated because unfair laws, policies and practices are allowed to stand,’ said Federation Executive Officer, Liana Buchanan.
We encourage all community legal centre staff, and others seeking to effect positive change for the people they work with, to make use of the guide.
Research highlights Indigenous legal need
Federal cuts to Indigenous legal services and other legal centres risk worsening the underservicing of high legal need among Indigenous people around Australia according to a recently completed national research project undertaken by the Cairns Institute of James Cook University.
Earlier this year, researchers Fiona Allison and Professor Chris Cunneen presented findings from the Indigenous Legal Needs Project to an audience of community and legal aid lawyers seeking to improve service delivery to Indigenous people in Victoria in the face of the worsening constraints of chronic underfunding.
‘Since the Victorian research was released in late 2013, a national picture has emerged from five jurisdictions across 32 project sites. That picture shows lack of resourcing feeding underservicing of civil and family law need, which has profound impacts for Indigenous people and leads to further cost to government in criminal justice and other areas,’ said Fiona Allison, Senior Research Fellow with the Cairns Institute of James Cook University.
Victorian community legal centres, including Indigenous services the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention Service Victoria, have since started working together on how to ensure centres provide a culturally appropriate, accessible service to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Federation appoints new Accreditation Coordinator
Jen Missing started as the Federation’s new Accreditation Coordinator on Tuesday 23 June. Jen has a varied background including quality improvement programs, training and consultancy mainly for community organisations. She was most recently employed in the mental health sector as a Quality and Safety Project Officer and has previous experience in primary and community health services, including VicHealth.
Jen will be working Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Policy and law reform
Royal Commission into Family Violence
The Federation has met with and made a formal written submission to the Royal Commission into Family Violence
including 63 recommendations to improve the integrated response to family violence in Victoria.
Drawing on interviews and case studies from member centres, the submission highlights statewide gaps in the system and recommends action to address a lack of sustainable funding for free legal help and support services, variable accessibility to the family violence system across Victoria, including through the courts, and the need to better study and learn from each family violence death to prevent avoidable deaths in the future.
‘Not enough courts have appropriately specialist responses to family violence, as well as legal and other supports for women navigating the process, not enough courts are as safe as they should be, and the police response to intentional breaches of intervention orders needs to be more consistent to better protect women and children. There is also a lot more we can do to tighten the net of accountability around family violence perpetrators,’ Dr Atmore said when the submission was publicly released
on 25 June.
The Federation is also coordinating the online publication of submissions from our member centres and will publish a range of guest posts from participating centres on the Community Law Blog.
Download the Federation’s submission
to the Royal Commission into Family Violence (PDF)
Human Rights Charter Review
The human rights charter should be strengthened to make it more accessible, proactive measures should be introduced to embed a rights culture across the public sector and breaches of the charter should be directly actionable through VCAT, according to the Federation’s submission to the recent charter review.
The submission found that in its first eight years of operation, the charter had led to some positive outcomes for community legal centre clients, but its potential was yet to be realised through more consistent understanding and compliance by public authorities, better training, support from ministers and public sector leaders, and clear and accessible means of redress.
Following last year’s State election where we advocated for a smarter, evidence-based approach to justice policy focused on preventing crime, expanding alternatives to prison and supporting rehabilitation to achieve a safer Victoria, this year’s State budget revealed the unsustainable cost of Victoria’s prison system under the previous government’s tough-on-crime policies.
The cost of the prison system on the current trajectory is set to top $1 billion each year excluding construction costs, while the recidivism rate is predicted to climb to an alarming 45 per cent in 2015. Prison operating costs have increased by 44 per cent in just two years.
We look forward to working with the new government on evidence-based approaches that hold people who have committed crimes to account but work to support community safety, rather than satisfy populist law-and-order politics that ultimately result in more victims.
There is some indication
from government that it may be receptive to a smart justice approach. Recently Attorney-General Martin Pakula acknowledged that tough on crime policies amounted to a ‘phony debate’ and accepted the need to adopt an evidence-based approach to criminal law and sentencing policy.
This year we continue to raise awareness of Smart Justice issues though our public events. Last month, the project participated in a Q and A event organised by Monash Criminology at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. ‘Beyond imprisonment’ contributed towards generating a new conversation about how innovation can reduce the prison rate and result in better outcomes for Victoria.
Other panellists included Karenza Louis-Smith from our partner organisation Australian Community Support Organisation (ACSO), and Professor Mark Halsey from Flinders University. We look forward to hosting Smart Justice events throughout the remainder of the year.
Karenza Louis-Smith CEO of Smart Justice partner organisation Australian Community Support Organisation (ACSO), Smart Justice spokesperson, Michelle McDonnell, and Professor Mark Halsey from Flinders Law School, Flinders University.
For Smart Justice media releases and media coverage, see our Media update
Tracking train station PSOs: Insights from our project
Our work highlighted the need for change in three broad areas – preventing PSOs exceeding their powers with unwarranted demands for personal information, reducing the risks around PSOs using excessive force by introducing public reporting, and independent monitoring of use of force.
Our report also found that there is a lack of evidence and evaluation to support PSO deployment to every train station, which justifies a reconsideration of the PSO policy when the Auditor-General’s current evaluation
into the effectiveness of the policy in reducing crime on train stations is complete. Our report recommends evidence-based policing, calling on the State Government to provide Victoria Police with greater flexibility on where and when to deploy PSOs so that PSOs can be targeted towards those train stations with the greatest crime problems. Media coverage of our report is included in the media wrap below.
The final stage of the Your Rights on Track
project involves advocacy around implementing our recommendations.
As the National Accreditation Scheme (NAS) comes to the end of its first cycle, 47 Victorian CLCs are now certified under the scheme. This has been an extremely large piece of work for the Federation in partnership with the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC), as well as for our member centres that have achieved certification. The NAS has been developed to provide an industry-based certification process for community legal centres that supports and gives recognition to good practice in the delivery of community legal service.
Consultations with the sector are now occurring as the NAS is reviewed and modified in preparation of the next round of certification.
RRR Day and CPD Day
The RRR Day is coordinated by the RRR network, and brings lawyers and other CLC workers at RRR centres to Melbourne for a day, to share information and stories, build networks, and learn about other RRR CLCs. This day included an information session about their specialist services provided by Villamanta Disability Rights Legal Service Inc, and Mental Health Legal Service; basic media training from the Federation; information about training provided by Women’s Legal Service; and access to justice-themed singing led by Belinda Gillam Derry from Eastern CLC in Healesville.
It was a full house at the Federation’s RRR day.
The Federation of CLCs CPD Day for community lawyers was held on 17 March. This full day of training enables CLC lawyers to access five CPD points, and hear from colleagues and experts on issues such as conflicts of interest, professional writing, and mental health programs for lawyers. The day was attended by 120 lawyers from across the sector.
Adaptive Leadership Program
The first part of the Adaptive Leadership Program was held on 20–21 April. Sixteen leaders from CLCs across Victoria participated in this five-day program, which was provided by Jil Toovey and Geoffrey Still of Innovative Knowledge Development. Participants learned about strategies to improve their complex adaptive thinking and worked in small teams on projects to hone these skills. The second part of ALP was held from 16-18 June.
This year’s program saw some exciting projects aimed at improving and strengthening the sector through a focus on healthy workplaces, induction and mentoring for community legal sector staff and new approaches to communicating the value of the sector and its work. Program participants will continue to work with each other and the Federation to take these projects forward.
New networks for CLC staff
The Federation has initiated new ways to help CLC staff build networks so they can share information, provide peer support, and exchange best practice. In December the Federation began managing a Yammer online network for CLC Administrators, CLC Principal Solicitors, and CLC CEOs/Managers to enable chats online. More than 40 CLC staff have subscribed to date, and information has been requested and shared on topics including photocopier recommendations and how to find a pro bono accountant.
Of course, Yammer is no substitute for face-to-face meetings, so CLC Network meetings have been established for Victorian CLC CEOs, Principal Lawyers and Administrators. Two meetings of each network have been held, and these have been successful forums for information sharing and peer support, as well as providing valuable information about the sector to the Federation. We’ll continue to support these networks in the next year.
VLA Review of Family Law Services and Federation submission
The Federation coordinated a meeting of CLC lawyers who undertake family law work, in order to discuss CLC responses to the recommendations in the review. This group reviewed the Federation’s submission and provided further input. The Federation has subsequently met with VLA staff to provide further input into the review.
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 email@example.com
Federation media coverage
For national media on Federal funding of community legal centres, see this NACLC media wrap
CLCs in the media
Many member CLCs achieved significant media coverage since our last edition. Here are some member contributions.
Left in harm’s way
, ABC RN Background Briefing
, 8 March 2015 (Far West Community Legal Centre and Murray Mallee Community Legal Service)
In this edition of our member spotlight we caught up with Brendan Sydes, Lawyer and Executive Officer with Environmental Justice Australia on the challenges and opportunities of the transition from Environment Defenders Office Victoria and no longer receiving Federal funding.
What has been the biggest challenge in the transition from EDO Vic to Environmental Justice Australia?
With the withdrawal of a significant part of our funding, our strategy has been to maintain our capacity and to focus on developing projects that are attractive to donors. It’s been a big challenge and has required lots of hard work, relationship building and a fair bit of innovation in how we go about things. The big challenge here has been assuming a fair bit of risk – we’ve continually reminded ourselves that our mission is about people and the planet and that there is no point just existing if we are ineffective. Fortunately it looks like the strategy will pay off but we’ve still got a way to go before we can say that we’re financially sustainable.
Can you talk about a key environmental justice issue that has been a highlight for the new organisation?
One of our big efforts over the last year has been to develop a national campaign focused on better air pollution regulation. The Hazelwood fire really brought home to us how unfair and ineffective our current air pollution regulation regime is, not just for the residents of the Latrobe Valley but also for Australian’s living next to coal mines and power stations and other sources of air pollution across the country. The death toll from this pollution exceeds the road toll, but is a largely hidden issue, a situation that our current pollution regulations supports. We’re keen to change that and we’re pleased that we’ve already had some early successes in developing the case for much better pollution laws.
What limits and what freedoms and opportunities have resulted through no longer receiving Federal funding?
Well as much as I would like to be able to say that we are now much more ‘free’ when it comes to our funding, the reality is that having to rely so extensively on donors big and small for support makes you far more accountable, particularly for outcomes rather than just ‘inputs’. I actually think this is a good thing – we’re about achieving social change and improving the relationship between people and the planet and it’s only appropriate that we’re thoroughly scrutinised on whether we can play a part in delivering this. The main opportunity is that the need for rapid transition has meant that we’ve had the licence to try a few new things and make some rapid changes that in normal circumstances might have required a much more protracted decision making process – a crisortunity as Homer Simpson says.
Has your recent experience leading Environmental Justice Australia led you to new insights about the environmental movement in Australia that you would like to share?
I suspect that working with the environment movement, especially across the whole diversity of areas we’re engaged in, gives us far more exposure to working with the range of NGOs than is usually the case at most CLCs. There are some real challenges and some days we all have collaboration fatigue, but mostly it’s really inspiring to work with such a diverse range of capable people all focused on making the world a better place. For me personally the past twelve months have really highlighted the importance of relationships – many people have been very generous with their time and support – I’m sure this is not limited to the environment movement.
You’ve just received a Reichstein award that will see you undertake a US study tour. Can you tell us how you think that tour might influence and benefit the work of EJA?
I’m really looking forward to learning from the scale and diversity of the progressive movement over there. Just in the area of public interest lawyering, I’ve always been impressed from afar that there seems to be so many different ways of going about things compared to here in Australia. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of inspiration that will be application to my work at EJA.
What do you particularly admire in the environment movement and why?
Tenacity! It’s just as well that the environment movement has a lot of this as there are some big challenges.
CLC people should read this book/see this film…
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. The evolution of Star Wars roughly coincides with the evolution of the CLC movement. In this latest instalment we can expect lots of analogies for the CLCs – respect for the legacy for the true believers, something new for those pushing new boundaries (and the inevitable questions about whether it’s lost its original spark and sold out). Plus good always prevails in the end, even when the forces of darkness have what might seem like impossible fire power – just like in real life. Also like the community legal centres it’s not clear which movie came first – it depends on how you frame the question.
CLC people can help EJA by…
Singing our praises to your wealthy progressive aunty and encouraging her to donate. You could also consider how ‘the environment’ affects the life circumstances of your community – many CLCs have community campaigns about environment quality as part of their story, however too few reflect how legal support for community based campaigns on local environmental issues might contribute to community wellbeing and cohesiveness.
If you would like to support Environmental Justice Australia, you can donate here
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