A just and fair Victoria: Our submission to the 2018/19 Victorian budget
Inequality in Australia has grown faster than in almost all comparable countries.
Billionaires amassed the equivalent of half of the federal health budget last year, while almost three million Australians live below the poverty line. Workers face record insecurity and chronically slow wage growth. Victoria is experiencing an unprecedented housing crisis, with a record number of homeless people across urban and regional areas.
This economic inequality means that people are more likely to experience disadvantage and discrimination that lead to legal problems.
Councils fine people with rental stress who cannot pay for parking; the police charge people who are homeless for not having a tram ticket; real estate agents blacklist tenants for standing up for their rights; the government takes a person to court for not paying a fine to a private toll company; and the courts imprison rather than rehabilitate people convicted of crimes driven by poverty.
Systemic racism, sexism and all forms of discrimination work together with poverty to entrench this legal inequity. Many of the people experiencing the most acute inequality and injustice are Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples, people with a disability, culturally and linguistically diverse communities, women, and LGTBIQ people.
Community legal centres are experiencing unprecedented demand for our legal and social support services.
But there are clear steps that the Victorian Government can take to make the legal system work for all Victorians:
1. Deliver Fairer Safer Housing:
Homes not housing. Legislate the ‘Make renting fair’ policy commitments and seize the opportunity to build more public housing.
2. Fix Our Fine System:
For our fine system to work, it must be fair. People should not be slugged with exorbitant fees on top of small fines. When there are special reasons a person cannot pay off a fine, they should get help not a prison uniform.
3. Be Smart About Justice:
Too many people are in prison for struggling with addiction, homelessness and poverty. Victoria can be smarter about investing in poverty prevention and investing in people rather than building more prisons.
4. Keep Families Safe:
We can keep families safe and realise the vision of the Royal Commission into Family Violence only if we make sure legal help is integral to victim-survivor recovery. When a person escapes a violent partner, they shouldn’t have to face the legal system alone.
5. Make Justice For All A Reality:
The law will only be equal when everyone has access to the rights and protections it affords us. People doing it tough are locked out of accessing justice and they deserve a fair go. Community legal centres are the safety net that catches people when they experience injustice. Strong community legal centres mean a strong community and a fair legal system for everyone.
We can build a fair Victoria – one that delivers just outcomes for all Victorians, no matter their income or background.