July 09, 2020 |
Hume Riverina Community Legal Service plays a unique role as a cross-border community legal centre whose catchment is split by the NSW-Victorian border.
The closure of this border for the first time in 100 years as a result of increased cases of COVID-19 in Victoria is creating additional challenges for the community.
Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) Manager and Principal Lawyer Sarah Rodgers said they were expecting an increase in family law issues and family violence as a result of the closure.
“There’s already been an influx of people wanting our advice on parenting arrangements and we’re hearing threats are being made to withhold children due to the border closure,” she said.
“We are also concerned about the impact this border closure will have on the vulnerable, our young people and those in our community who need a range of supports.”
People living on the Victoria/New South Wales border frequently travel “interstate” to access medical appointments and healthcare, childcare, schooling, Courts, for child contact purposes, and many other reasons.
According to a HRCLS survey, 47% of people living in Albury-Wodonga cross the border more than seven times per week and over 14% said they did so more than 16 times. People in other border towns such as Moama/Echuca, Mulwala/Yarrawonga and Corowa/Rutherglen live similar experiences. They view their community as one, despite the river flowing between them.
Border residents often have interrelated Victorian and NSW legal problems and it can be extremely complex to get these issues resolved. It’s not unusual to have multiple agencies on both sides of the border involved in one matter just to try to reach a solution, and this creates its own set of challenges from a legal perspective.
“We are used to working in this environment every day, but how the community who call the border home adapts to the closure remains to be seen,” said Ms Rodgers.
“But they can be assured we will be here for them when and if they need our help. We will be continuing to provide all services by phone, with staff working from their NSW or Victorian homes.”