The impacts of COVID, and the government responses to it, have been felt across almost all facets of life in Victoria, from education, housing and work, through to the experience of family violence and conditions in our prison system. Each of these areas is governed by laws and policies which set out Victorians’ rights and responsibilities and serve to protect against unfair or harmful treatment.
The Community Legal Centre sector has seen first-hand how COVID-19 has affected the Victorian community, especially those most affected by discrimination and injustice. The pandemic has highlighted and worsened existing weaknesses in the effectiveness of these legal protections and the processes in place to uphold them. Some government measures have been vital in softening the blow of COVID-19 and the economic slowdown, others have not worked as well as they should. While some actions taken by government agencies have improved welfare and access to justice, some are pushing people further into hardship.
The plan A Just and Equitable COVID Recovery - A Community Legal Sector Plan for Victoria sets out the CLC sector’s recommendations that seek to embed protections for those members of our community most impacted by disadvantage, discrimination and injustice, to ensure no one gets left behind in the transition to the ‘new normal’.
We recognise too, that Indigenous Victorians have been particularly impacted by the effects of COVID and that ongoing underfunding of organisations such as the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service has reduced their ability to support Victoria's Aboriginal communities, particularly during times of crises. We support VALS' release of the Building Back Better COVID-19 Recovery Plan and urge you to read the document and help VALS ensure Aboriginal people are not left behind.
A just and equitable recovery must:
- expand and entrench vital protections for financially disadvantaged Victorians
- improve the fairness and resilience of our housing systems
- make sure no workers are left behind in Victoria’s economic rebuild
- embed access to justice for all victim-survivors of family violence and build on best practice legal supports in measures to respond to the ‘shadow pandemic’
- protect the welfare and human rights of people in prison throughout the COVID recovery, and move towards a safer prison system
- protect children and young people impacted by the crisis and keep them out of the justice system
The pandemic has placed many Victorians in financial hardship. The re-opening of businesses and reactivation of the economy is rightly a core priority for governments at the local, state and federal level, and will support many people to return to financial stability. However, it is crucial that Victoria’s COVID recovery is a recovery for everyone – especially people who were experiencing disadvantage before the pandemic hit, and who have been disproportionately affected by its impacts.
The Federation is calling for measures to support everyone in Victoria – no matter their socio-economic position – to recover and live in financial security in a ‘COVID Normal’ world. This includes recommendations to retain measures that have softened the blow of COVID, to embed protections against predatory behaviours targeting people experiencing hardship, and to change parts of our legal and administrative systems that are – contrary to government recovery goals – entrenching financial hardship within our community.
What can you do?
Read our recommendations for responding to economic hardship in response to the pandemic here.
Sign up to Stop the Debt Trap.
Join the Raise the Rate campaign to urge the government to permanently raise the social security payment rate.
Some of the most significant fault lines exposed by the pandemic have related to housing. Rental and mortgage stress have increased, and the consequences of Victoria’s long-standing lack of social housing for our most disadvantaged community members have become more acute than ever. The recovery must embed and enhance the protections for tenants experiencing hardship that have been so important in keeping some renters housed, while sustained and meaningful investment in public and community housing is an essential part of ensuring that the rebuilding of Victoria’s economy sits on just foundations. Both measures will be crucial to improving our society’s resilience to future economic shocks.
What can you do?
Read our recommendations to improve housing security for Victorians here.
Learn more about renters’ rights at Tenants Victoria.
Read the Make Social Housing Work paper to understand why Victoria needs 6000 new homes for those in need every year for the next 10 years.
Join the Everybody’s Home campaign by asking Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to support Victorians who are homeless and ensure those who are currently in temporary housing do not end up back on the street.
The COVID-19 crisis has seen the rate of family violence increase across Victoria, at the same time as public health measures have placed new pressures on the legal system’s capacity to process Family Violence Intervention Order (‘FVIO’) applications. The large and growing backlog of FVIO matters will need to be addressed through the mobilisation of, and cooperation between, community legal assistance providers, Victoria Police and the courts to ensure that access to justice is not sacrificed in the rush to process matters. Meanwhile, as the legal system transitions towards COVID Normal, it is vital to ensure that appropriate and adequate support is available to victim-survivors, including through improving the accessibility of the courts and of legal assistance services.
What can you do?
Read our recommendations to better support those affected by Family Violence here.
Find out more about the services that help victim-survivors of family violence here.
The impact of COVID-19 has exposed weaknesses in Australia’s employment protection system for individuals employed in insecure work arrangements, and the grave consequences those protection gaps can have on individual workers and the community. With a lack of legal protections and the legal literacy to assert the few rights they do have, casually and precariously employed workers had little choice but to continue working as the health crisis unfolded, putting themselves, their families, and communities at risk.
As has been acknowledged by the Victorian Government, our workplace laws have not kept pace with changes in the employment landscape in Australia in recent decades. The COVID recovery will – rightly - include schemes to boost employment opportunities for those hardest-hit by the pandemic, most of whom have not been adequately protected by Australia’s employment laws to date. It is vital that any recovery plan embeds better protections for vulnerable workers to improve the long-term resilience of Victoria’s workforce, and to ensure the fair treatment of workers as the economic downturn continues to pose challenges for businesses.
What can you do?
Read our recommendations pushing for secure work for Victorians here.
Understand your workplace rights
People in prisons
People in Victoria’s prisons are acutely vulnerable to the physical health risks of COVID, but also to adverse wellbeing and human rights consequences of COVID-related restrictions. As Victoria recovers, and restrictive quarantine measures remain in place, the Government must take proactive steps to fulfil its duty of care towards those in its custody. This includes ensuring that people in prison can remain connected with loved ones and legal representatives, and that restrictions are not disproportionately severe compared to the actual level of COVID risk.
Ultimately, the best way to mitigate the health and wellbeing risks posed to people in the prison system is to reduce the prison population. The second-best way is to ensure that conditions within prison are stringently monitored to protect against unnecessarily punitive or harmful measures. Both pathways are an essential part of a just and equitable recovery transition to the COVID Normal in the correctional context.
What can you do?
Read our section on improving conditions for those in prison during the pandemic here.
Read our Pathway to Decarceration strategy here.
Protecting young people
The isolating effect of COVID-19 has been felt acutely by Victoria’s young people, with lockdown measures disrupting the routines and connections that keep young people safe and engaged. Some Victorians will be exposed to increased risk of family violence, mental health pressures due to financial and health stresses and financial disadvantage as a result of the pandemic. For children and young people, who have less agency and fewer resources to protect themselves, especially in the context of increased social isolation, the impact may be more severe.
The community legal sector and youth advocacy services are concerned that as more children and young people are impacted by the risks and changes from COVID-19, there may be other longer-term consequences experienced by these groups. For example, young people may become disengaged from education, and as a result, we may see an increase in interactions with the justice system – especially among already marginalised groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, and children from refugee and newly arrived culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. A just and equitable recovery from COVID-19 must be one that protects, rather than punishes, children and young people at risk of coming into contact with the justice system.
What can you do?
Read our recommendations for protecting young people against the impact of COVID-19 here.
Read the Youth Advisory Council of Victoria’s COVID-19 Recovery Plan for Young People here
Sign the petition to Raise the Age young people can be sent to jail to 14.
Write to your local MP to urge them to have fines against children and young people dropped
Read a full copy of the report here.