On the Record issue #25 December 2013 / January 2014
Community Legal Centres: Community, Compassion, Justice
Issue #25 December 2013 / January 2014
This is the 25th edition of On The Record, the quarterly e-bulletin of Community Legal Centres NSW Incorporated (CLCNSW). CLCNSW is the peak representative body for Community Legal Centres (CLCs) in NSW. CLCs are independent community organisations providing equitable and accessible legal services. To find out more about CLCs in NSW visit www.clcnsw.org.au
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Hunter Community Legal Centre and Legal Aid Team up for Regional Outreach
Expanding regional legal assistance: from Armidale to Coffs Harbour
Insurance Law Service Making Plans for Next Disaster
Kingsford Legal Centre Aboriginal Outreach: wills and family law
Educating school students in the Hunter about sexting
Legal Help for Refugees Law Clinics
Legal Advice and Hula Hoops in Raymond Terrace
Central Coast Multicultural Expo 2013 an overwhelming success
Western Sydney Tenants’ Service funding expansion
Pregnancy Discrimination Roundtable
Legal Centre stages fight for Folbigg
Balancing privacy with the right to freedom of artistic expression
Auditor-General’s Report highlights problems with the NSW public housing system
Consumer Credit Legal Centre to actively participate in Financial Services inquiry
Long-term KLC volunteer wins CLCNSW Justice award
HIV/AIDS Legal Centre (HALC) volunteers commended at 2013 Justice Awards 2013
Human Rights Day – the power of words
RLC Tenant Advocate wins People’s Choice Award
Do you have an idea for a project to improve access to justice?
For most people in the community, the Christmas/New Year season is a time to relax with family and friends and to take time out from work. In the words of a well-known Christmas carol, it is the season to be jolly. Many of us head to the beach for long lazy days in the sun and in the water. We read books that we’ve been wanting to read all year, we make plans to have long lunches and dinners with family and friends, and we take up leisure activities such as watching the latest release movies on the big screen. We also take the opportunity to catch up with people we haven’t seen in a while. People are happy and relaxed and glad to be away from the pressures of work and the daily routine of our lives.
For many of our clients, however, Christmas is a sad and distressing time. Take, for example, the plight of the more than 27,000 asylum seekers who have arrived in Australia by boat since August 2013. These are people who have left their native homes, fearing persecution for their religious, cultural or other beliefs, and many fearing for their own safety. They have uprooted their lives from places where their families have been for generations. They arrived in Australia, often under treacherous conditions via boat, only to be put in detention camps where conditions can only be described as inhumane. These asylum seekers are a long way from the festive and relaxed atmosphere many of us take for granted – no latest release movies, no relaxing by the pool or beach with a good novel, and certainly no fine dining in cafes and restaurants. And many asylum seekers are separated from their families, where children are growing up without one parent.
As we return to work after our relaxing breaks, it is important that we spare a thought for these clients, along with many other CLC clients, such as people in prisons, people escaping domestic or family violence, and people who are experiencing financial distress due to unrealistic consumer contracts. Our governments, both Federal and State, owe an obligation to ensure that all in the community have access to the legal information and advice that they need to ensure that disadvantaged people can live in our Australian community in a fair and humane way. Working together, we can ensure that all in the community can have the opportunity to be jolly in festive seasons in the future.
Alastair McEwin, Director CLCNSW
Send him an email
It was with a great sense of disappointment and alarm that CLCNSW received the news of funding cuts to CLC and other legal assistance programs by the Federal Government. These cuts, announced in mid December, mean that the Government will reduce funding by $43.1 million over the next four years for the legal assistance sector, including CLCs, ATSILS, Aboriginal Family Prevention Legal Services and Legal Aid Commissions.
Cuts effective immediately were made to the Environment Defenders’ Offices across Australia, including the EDO NSW. The previous Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus QC MP, provided additional funding to the EDOs, however the current Government has now cancelled this funding and will not be extending their service agreements under the Community Legal Services Program (CLSP) beyond 30 June 2014. Further, CLSP funding to the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) will also not be extended beyond 30 June 2014.
The EDO and PIAC, along with many other CLCs in NSW, undertake a great deal of strategic litigation casework which result in positive changes to legislation and policy affecting many thousands of people in the community; their work is respected by many in the community, including government MPs and public servants. The public interest work of the EDO NSW and PIAC will be severely curtailed by these funding cuts and the community will be much poorer for this curtailment.
CLCNSW understands that there are no further cuts in CLSP funding to occur before July 2015. However, further cuts from July 2015 have been foreshadowed. CLCNSW, along with NACLC and other colleagues, are extremely concerned about these cuts. The cuts appear to be aimed at the law reform and policy work of CLCs. If this is the case, there has, through these cuts, been a failure to understand the immense value of this work. Time and time again, studies and reports have demonstrated the significant cost benefits of CLCs. Law reform and policy work is an integral and effective part of the holistic service delivery of CLCs; allowing staff to work on policy projects informed through the frontline service work of CLCs is an effective way of working with government to ensure laws and policies are just and fair for all in the community.
CLCNSW will continue to work with its member CLCs and national colleagues to ensure that any future cuts are minimal and that essential services are not curtailed. It is vital that government recognises that any further cuts to CLC work will result in a community where thousands of people will be denied basic access to justice.
Further information: Alastair McEwin, Director CLCNSW. Send him an email
The inquiry by the Productivity Commission into Australia’s system of civil dispute resolution continues. This 15-month process has a focus on constraining costs and promoting access to justice and equality before the law. Amongst its terms of reference, the Commission is looking at: the level of demand for legal services: the impact of the costs of accessing justice services, and securing legal representation, on the effectiveness of these services; and the economic and social impact of the costs of accessing justice services, and securing legal representation.
CLCNSW, along with NACLC and national colleagues, has taken an active approach to the inquiry, as we feel that this is an important opportunity to demonstrate the vital role that CLCs play in the wider justice system. Two joint submissions were made in response to the Commission’s Issues Paper.
The first submission dealt with early intervention measures and alternative dispute resolutions. It highlighted some of the early intervention work undertaken by CLCs and the ways in which CLCs currently use informal alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to prevent disputes or prevent disputes from escalating. The second submission outlined the work of CLCs, noting the effective and responsive nature of their services, including its focus on meeting legal need through a range of generalist and specialist services. Case studies were provided to outline the impacts that CLCs have for individual clients, complemented by associated activities that increase access to justice. The submission also outlined our efforts for particularly vulnerable groups, our expertise in working with marginalised communities and individuals with complex legal and social issues and the extent to which CLCs have been at the forefront of developing both targeted and integrated models of legal service delivery.
A large number of CLCs also made individual submissions to the inquiry. They are to be congratulated for taking the time to prepare these and to add to the knowledge base of the Commission. CLCNSW and its colleagues will continue to engage with the Commission as the inquiry progresses.
Further information: Alastair McEwin, Director CLCNSW. Send him an email
The Board and staff of CLCNSW extend their very best wishes to its member CLCs and NSW and national justice sector colleagues for a safe and successful 2014. We have very much enjoyed working with you in 2013 and look forward to continued collaboration as we meet the opportunities and challenges a new year always brings.
Throughout 2013 the Hunter Community Legal Centre and Legal Aid have teamed up to deliver free fortnightly legal clinics in key rural centres in the Hunter Region. Since the clinics started at the end of March 2013, Hunter CLC and Legal Aid have seen 77 clients in Cessnock and 35 clients in Muswellbrook.
“The shared clinics with Legal Aid have really enabled us to make the most of our resources. It would be difficult to get a solicitor to Cessnock and Muswellbrook fortnightly on our own,” said Ellie Ryan, Outreach Coordinator at Hunter CLC. Tijana Jovanovich, Solicitor and Outreach Coordinator at Legal Aid Newcastle, agrees. “It’s great to be able to work with the Hunter Community Legal Centre to take our services to high need regional areas in the Hunter. It’s a real benefit for those communities to have access to face to face legal advice.”
Hunter CLC and Legal Aid will continue to share clinics in Muswellbrook and Cessnock in 2014.
Further information: Ellie Ryan, Outreach Coordinator, send her an email or phone (02) 4040 9121
In partnership with the Coffs Harbour Neighbourhood Centre, Redfern Legal Centre will be expanding its Regional Legal Assistance Program to deliver free legal advice via webcam to people living in Coffs Harbour.
Coffs Harbour is an area that, until now, has not been serviced by any community legal centre. RLC solicitors will now hold appointments via webcam on Wednesday evenings, connecting with clients using computers at the Coffs Harbour Neighbourhood Centre and with clients using their home computers. Residents of Coffs will be able to receive advice on police and government complaints; credit, debt and consumer complaints; employment matters and discrimination.
The expanded service was launched on 5 December in Coffs Harbour by Jenni Eakins, Director of Community Development at Coffs Harbour City Council. The service is part of the Federal Government’s push to promote greater access to legal services in regional Australia.
RLC solicitor and coordinator of the Regional Legal Assistance Program Kate Gauld said, “As the oldest community legal centre in New South Wales, our top priority has always been assisting people to assert their rights and access justice. We’re thrilled to be working with the Neighbourhood Centre and the people of Coffs to do just that.”
Coffs Harbour Neighbourhood Centre Manager Anna Gleeson commented, “From what we see in the community, there is a real need for free and accessible legal advice here in Coffs. While the local services provide invaluable assistance, there’s always a constant demand for more. We’re very excited to be using this technology to help reach more people and address their needs.”
See a video on the expansion of this service.
Further information: Sophie Farrell, Communications & Volunteer Manager, Redfern Legal Centre, phone 02 9698 7277 or send her an email
The Insurance Law Service (a specialist project of the Consumer Credit Legal Centre (CCLC)) has committed to focusing on Natural Disasters Insurance as one of its top five policy priorities in 2014.
As CCLC believes that the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events will only increase in coming years, it intends to focus on natural disaster-related insurance assistance as a policy priority. Australians affected by bushfires, floods and storms often have questions and concerns about their insurance claims that the Insurance Law Service helps with.
CCLC intends to focus on the greater promotion of its service to areas affected by natural disasters, upskilling its staff to be able to give advice at recovery centres when necessary, and prepare effective action plans to have in place when rapid response is needed.
CCLC has teamed up with Legal Aid NSW to have an action plan in place before the next disaster strikes to help insurance consumers on the ground. This plan will complement the Insurance Law Service hotline that operates 5 days per week Australia-wide and the extensive information available on the ILS website (www.insurancelaw.org.au).
Further information: Karen Cox, Coordinator, Consumer Credit Legal Centre NSW, phone 02 82041340 or send an email
KLC, together with Ashurst Australia, hosted a community education event, ‘Free Wills and Planning Day’, for local Aboriginal community members on 19 November at Yarra Bay House in La Perouse. The seminar was well attended and a great success. KLC hopes to host further sessions with Ashursts in 2014.
KLC has also entered into a partnership with Legal Aid’s Family Law Early Intervention Unit to attend its fortnightly outreach clinic at Yarra Bay. A solicitor from the Unit will be providing family law advice specifically to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients via drop in.
Further information: Anna Cody, Director, Kingsford Legal Centre, send her an email
On 2 December 2013, the Hunter Community Legal Centre participated in Maitland Grossmann High School’s ‘Who am I?” day. On the day, over 200 Year 9 students participated in interactive workshops delivered by local community service providers. The students were taught about a range of topics including basic first aid, mental health issues, safe sex and maintaining healthy relationships.
The Hunter Community Legal Centre ran a session on the laws around sexting. In this session, the students were provided with a number of sexting case studies and asked to make suggestions for possible reforms to this area of the law.
Further information: Georgia Marjoribanks, CLE & Law Reform Coordinator, send her an email or phone 02 4040 9121.
The Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) will be co-ordinating Legal Help For Refugees Law Clinics, commencing early 2014, with the aim of providing free legal assistance and advice to those who would otherwise not have access to legal services. Over 27,000 asylum seekers have arrived by boat since 13 August 2013. Many of these will not be able to access legal services because of the cessation of funding under the Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme (IAAAS) to those who did not arrive in Australia with a valid visa.
RACS is in need of volunteers to participate in the clinic in order to provide a legal response to this significant area of unmet legal need. RACS holds significant concern about the way in which prolonged delays and uncertainty are very likely going to negatively affect the ability of these asylum seekers to articulate their claims.
Volunteers for the clinics are required to have a current Legal Practicing Certificate or be a Registered Migration Agent. Experienced practitioners working at RACS will provide the training. The time commitment involved is likely to be Monday evenings from 5:45pm to 8:00pm and clinics are held at RACS’s office near St James Station, Sydney CBD.
To volunteer: please email RACS with “Legal Help For Refugees Law Clinic” in the Subject Heading.
Legal advice wasn’t the main attraction when Hunter Community Legal Centre (HCLC) attended the Community Opportunity Growth (COG) Day in Raymond Terrace recently.
Rather than handing out brochures, HCLC embraced the family aspect of the day by setting up a stall, where local children could make and decorate their very own hula hoops. HCLC’s Family Solicitor Luke Shearston and Outreach Coordinator Ellie Ryan were on hand to help with hoop assembly and decoration advice.
While their children were occupied, parents were able to take a legal health test to identify any legal issues they might have and receive some free legal information. Jumping through hoops to access legal assistance has never been more fun!
Other services present at the event included the Cancer Council, RSPCA, Centrelink, education providers and many other community groups from around Port Stephens. COG was organised by The Smith Family’s Communities for Children Program.
Further information (including tips on Hula Hoop Construction): Ellie Ryan, Outreach Coordinator, Hunter CLC, send her an email or phone 02 4040 9121.
The Central Coast Community Legal Centre (CCCLC) attended the eighth annual Central Coast Multicultural Expo on 24 October 2013. The event, held at Wyong Shire Council, brought together service providers on the Central Coast to ensure culturally and linguistically diverse people have access to essential services on the Central Coast. According to the 2011 Census, twelve per cent of Wyong Shire Council residents are born overseas. Five per cent of these people come from countries where English is not the first language.
The CCCLC was one of forty service providers on hand at the Multicultural Expo to ensure multicultural residents are aware of the community groups and organisations able to assist them on the Central Coast. Residents were able to get assistance and advice at the Multicultural Expo on a variety of areas including legal, health, disability services and accommodation.
The response to the Multicultural Expo was overwhelmingly positive, with the CCCLC able to make referrals to legal and community organisations for several attendees on the day.
Further information: Bronwyn Ambrogetti, Principal Solicitor, Central Coast Community Legal Centre, phone: 02 4353 4988.
Western Sydney Tenants’ Service (WESTS) at Macquarie Legal Centre recently received a grant from the NSW Fair Trading, Department of Finance and Services to provide tenancy assistance and advocacy to North Western and Western Sydney. Since 2008, WESTS has provided tenancy advice, referrals, community education, advocacy, and some representation to people who experience residential tenancy issues in the Auburn, Blacktown, Holroyd and Parramatta Local Government areas. From December 2013, WESTS will extend its service to the Baulkham Hills, Hawkesbury and Penrith Local Government areas.
NSW Fair Trading will provide early intervention and impartial advice to resolve residential tenancy disputes. They will manage issues such as repairs, maintenance and ending a tenancy.
WESTS will continue to assist clients in areas such as rent arrears, evictions, bond returns, terminations, and urgent health and safety concerns. WESTS helps tenants understand their rights and responsibilities under the legislation. They do so, through negotiated or conciliated outcomes, Consumer, Tenancy & Trader Tribunal (CTTT) assistance and referrals.
WESTS operates Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm at Macquarie Legal Centre in Parramatta.
Further information: WESTS Information and Referral Officer, phone 02 8833 0933 or send an email
The Hunter Community Legal Centre hosted a consultation session on 8 November 2013 for the Australian Human Rights Commission’s National Review of Pregnancy Discrimination. This consultation session was attended by the current Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick, as well as representatives from the community sector. During the session, Commissioner Broderick heard first hand from people from the Hunter Region who had experienced pregnancy discrimination.
The aim of the National Review is to identify the prevalence, nature, and consequences of discrimination in the workplace related to pregnancy at work and on return to work after parental leave.
Online submissions can still be made to the National Review up until Friday 31 January 2014. Log on to www.humanrights.gov.au/pregnancy-discrimination for more information.
Further information: Georgia Marjoribanks, CLE & Law Reform Coordinator, send her an email or phone 02 4040 9121.
The University of Newcastle Legal Centre will seek a judicial inquiry into Kathleen Folbigg’s convictions for killing her four children. Folbigg was sentenced to 30 years’ gaol for the manslaughter of her first child Caleb, 19 days, and the murder of Patrick, eight months, Sarah, 10 months, and Laura, 19 months, at Singleton between 1989 and 1999, but has always maintained her innocence.
Folbigg’s questioning of her convictions gained support after a 2011 thesis by academic lawyer Emma Cunliffe. She concluded Folbigg had been wrongly convicted of killing her children because of the lack of proof beyond reasonable doubt, and despite real expert disagreement at trial about the cause of death in each of the Folbigg children.
The centre is supported by three Newcastle barristers providing pro bono assistance to compile the submission. Fourth year Newcastle University law students have undertaken detailed research on scientific and medical advances since the 2003 trial, supporting concerns raised about the reliability of the original evidence.
‘‘This is a public interest case the students are working on, a miscarriage of justice case, and an opportunity for students to work on a very high profile case while completing their studies.’’ Mr Shaun McCarthy, Director, University of Newcastle Legal Centre, said.
The final submission will include extensive reports from both Australian and international experts.
Further information: Shaun McCarthy, Director, University of Newcastle Legal Centre, phone 02 4921 8666 or send an email
Arts Law has continued to advocate for the rights of artists in a recent submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) in relation to its issues paper on privacy.
Arts Law’s position is that any rights to privacy must be carefully balanced against the right to freedom of expression and freedom of artistic expression. Arts Law is particularly interested in protecting the rights of photographers and film makers to document life in public, and included a number of current examples of photographers and film makers who do this in the submission. They eagerly await the release of the discussion paper at the end of February next year.
Further information: Suzanne Derry, Senior Solicitor, Arts Law Centre of Australia, phone 02 9356 2566 (ext.105) or send her an email
On 30 July 2013 the Auditor-General released his report Making the Best Use of Public Housing. The Report was commissioned by the state government to answer the question of how well the public housing system is addressing the needs of tenants in NSW.
One key problem identified by the report was the state of repair of many Housing NSW properties. The Report found that a quarter of public housing properties are over 40 years old. These ageing properties require more maintenance and repairs but over the past decade, Housing NSW’s spending on maintenance has decreased rather than increased. There’s a growing shortfall in funds to maintain properties. In the past year, approximately $85 million worth of maintenance and upgrades have been delayed due to funding constraints. For tenants, this means longer waits for repairs, especially if they are major.
Redfern Legal Centre regularly assists tenants who live in Housing NSW properties that are in a bad state of disrepair. The process of applying to the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal (CTTT) to have repairs done can be daunting. In instances where tenants do take action at the CTTT, it is RLC’s experience that there can be significant delays with compliance. Tenants can renew proceedings in the CTTT if the orders are not complied with, which involves returning to the Tribunal. This process is stressful and frustrating for tenants who have already taking steps to compel the repairs.
In response to the large number of cases where Housing NSW did not comply with Tribunal orders, RLC lodged a complaint with the NSW Ombudsman. RLC’s complaint has resulted in new procedures and training being put in place by Housing NSW.
Further information: Sophie Farrell, Communications & Volunteer Manager, Redfern Legal Centre, phone 02 9698 7277 or send her an email
Commonwealth Treasurer Joe Hockey has announced an inquiry into Australia’s financial system. This will be a part of the Government’s broader deregulation agenda. It has been 16 years since Mr Stan Wallis AC led a similar inquiry, the findings of which led to major reforms in the financial services sector.
Draft terms of reference for the Financial System Inquiry (FSI), chaired by former Commonwealth Bank CEO David Murray, were released in the last week of November. They included the consideration of cost, quality, safety and availability of financial services. The Treasury is aiming to have an interim report finished by September 2014 with a final report by November 2014.
CCLC’s coordinator Karen Cox attended a Government Consultation Roundtable run by the Treasury to discuss the Terms of Reference (TOR) of the Inquiry. She says she was one of only two consumer representatives in attendance at the Sydney consultation (compared to 10 industry representatives).
As was noted in CCLC’s submission to Treasury, the TOR give the inquiry a broad scope to address a wide range of issues of concern to our organisation. CCLC made several comments in the interests of ensuring the inquiry, which is no doubt likely to be dominated by the concerns of financial service industry participants, keeps a firm eye on the end-users of the financial system. The financial system has the potential to create significant benefits for (or cause significant harm to) the community as a whole, or particular groups within it.
CCLC’s main recommendations for the TOR were:
- The TOR should specifically mention access to the financial system or financial inclusion.
- The TOR should be amended to recognise that competition, efficiency and innovation are not objectives in themselves, but are only beneficial to the extent that they contribute to achieving optimal end-user outcomes.
- The TOR need to include the benefits of regulation (to consumers, the market as a whole and the public interest) in addition to its costs and impositions.
- There should be a panel representative with experience and expertise in consumer policy and financial inclusion.
Further information: Julia Davis, Policy & Communications Officer, Consumer Credit Legal Centre (NSW), phone 02 8204 1384 or send her an email
Three international students from China, Yin, Zhen and Zi, moved into a central-city apartment together after seeing an advertisement for the property on a Chinese language website. They interacted primarily with a woman named Claire, who claimed she owned the property. Claire told the three girls that they could stay in the property until November 2013, and that rent was to be paid monthly into her bank account. The rental agreement did not mention the rental amount and Claire had signed the contract as both the landlord and the witness.
One day, Yin and Zhen both received text messages from Claire telling them to move out of the apartment within a fortnight. She claimed that because she was the owner she was entitled to evict them and she would call the police if they refused to leave. The girls felt very threatened.
The girls attended an appointment at RLC and were advised to seek information from Land and Property NSW about whether or not Claire was the real owner of the property. A title search revealed that she was not the registered owner. Yin and Zhen were advised by RLC that their eviction notice was not valid as it was in a text message, not written and signed as required by the Residential Tenancies Act 2010. Yin, Zhen and Zi were all advised about their right to move out of the property if they wished to.
Bearing this advice in mind, two girls decided to leave the apartment after receiving the text message. Claire initially tried to deduct $100 from each of their bonds, though when Yin and Zhen showed her the certificate obtained from Land and Property NSW, Claire returned the full amount.
The experience of Yin, Zhen and Zi demonstrates the difficulties experienced by international students navigating the Australian rental market. Although the girls came into RLC distressed, their issues were able to be resolved and their full bonds were returned.
Further information: Sophie Farrell, Communications & Volunteer Manager, Redfern Legal Centre, phone 02 9698 7277 or send her an email
Samantha (not her real name) came to RLC after receiving a final payment notice from a debt collection agency, threatening legal action. The debt was almost $10,000 and seemed to have arisen from her agreeing to pick up some items for a relative’s business partner from a service provider. Over the years many members of Samantha’s family had taken advantage of and been abusive towards her.
Samantha was unaware of the debt. Despite telling the debt collection agency she had no knowledge of the debt, they continued to contact her. As a result of the continuing pressure she paid $600 towards the debt although she could not afford it. Both the agency and the service provider failed to give reasons why Samantha was liable for the debt.
It was only after months of pursuing this matter that the service provider told Samantha she was liable because she was listed as a company director and a secretary for a company set up by a close family member. Samantha did not remember signing any documentation that made her a director or company secretary. Samantha reported this to the police as she believed she had been a victim of fraud.
When no further clarification was provided, RLC demanded return of the $600 and confirmation that the debt agency would no longer pursue the debt unless they could provide evidence of why Samantha was personally liable for what appeared to be the debt of a company. RLC argued that the debt collection agency had engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct when it demanded payment from Samantha under the threat that legal proceedings could be commenced against her. In doing so the agency had contravened section 10 of the Debt Collection Guideline: For Collectors and Creditors (2005) (the Debt Collection Guideline).
RLC argued that threatening Samantha with imminent legal action for a debt for which she had no apparent personal liability, amounted to undue harassment and intimidation, which contravenes sections 16 and 19 of the Debt Collection Guideline. The $600 was repaid to Samantha and RLC was informed that the matter was closed and finalised. However, to add to the complexity, the agency stated that they could not provide written confirmation of this. After further contact, confirmation was finally received that there is no money owing on the account.
This case illustrates the following:
- People can be taken advantage of by someone they trust, particularly when in abusive relationships and when they are anxious, exhausted and easily overwhelmed;
- Some debt matters can be very complex and that not all requests for payment from debt collection agencies are valid; and
- It is useful for those helping people with debts to be aware of codes of conduct relevant to the parties.
In the course of resolving the matter, RLC identified other legal issues and support needs that Samantha had and was able to address those with her. Samantha gained confidence and ability to address her problems during the time she was an RLC client.
The NSW Government has passed the Law Enforcement (Power and Responsibility) Amendment (Arrest without Warrant) Bill 2013, which is legislation that will allow police to apply a lower standard when deciding whether or not to make arrests. The new amendments, first proposed by former Labor Police Minister Paul Whelan and former Liberal Shadow Attorney-General Andrew Tink, allow police to make an arrest if they believe the arrest is “reasonably” necessary when considering the nature of the offence.
The legislative changes are aimed at individuals who would “reasonably” be considered to be responsible for engaging in criminal behaviour, but who would escape being charged or arrested under the previous regime because of a lack of clarity about the extent of police powers. However, legal experts suggest that the amendments may encourage poor policing by discouraging police from more skilled and in-depth investigations.
RLC’s Police Powers Solicitor David Porter was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald as saying, “Under the Bill, police officers will be able to arrest someone where they have no intention of taking them to court for the offence … Even if they only want to give them a $100 fine, they will be able to hold them in custody for hours.”
A primary concern of RLC is that the new legislation would apply to everyone in NSW, but would impact most harshly on those from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with no criminal background at all who may not be able to afford legal representation. RLC staff regularly assist vulnerable people accused of an offence because a police officer did not adequately evaluate the available evidence.
“By continuing to lower the bar for the exercise of police powers, the government is effectively ushering in a generation of police who do not have daily experience of the skilled investigation that is needed to catch the criminal organisations the people of NSW are actually worried about,” said Porter.
Police powers are being reviewed elsewhere in an examination of the oversight of police critical incidents arising out of recent Police Integrity Commission investigations. Commissioned by Premier Barry O’Farrell in September 2013, the review is headed by former Attorney-General Robert McClelland who recently met with RLC’s David Porter to discuss investigation procedures for police-related deaths.
Sydney’s specialist LGBTI Legal Centre, the Inner City Legal Centre (ICLC), has expressed disappointment about the set back for marriage equality in Australia, following the High Court’s finding that the ACT’s same-sex marriage law was invalid. The Director of ICLC, Dan Stubbs, said, ‘Although we understand the legal constraints the High Court was under when making this decision, we are profoundly disappointed for the many people in same-sex relationships who continue to be denied equality under the law regarding their relationships’.
On Thursday 12 December 2013 the High Court of Australia handed down its decision on the Commonwealth’s challenge to the ACT’s same-sex marriage laws. ICLC has for years advocated for equal recognition and respect for the relationships of gay and lesbian couples. Importantly, society is increasingly recognising that it is simply an issue of fairness and what is right to acknowledge same-sex relationships in the same way as heterosexual relationships are recognised.
The High Court’s decision is about the narrow issue of whether the ACT’s same-sex marriage laws are inconsistent with the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth). How same-sex relationships are perceived in society is a broader issue that won’t be closed off by the adverse decision on the constitutional issue in the decision by the High Court.
Through the years there have been piecemeal advances in the recognition of same-sex relationships but gay and lesbian couples are still not on an equal footing with their heterosexual neighbours. These small improvements have fallen significantly behind community expectations. Gay and lesbian couples continue to be treated unequally in many important areas of law and remain subject to discrimination. At the end of the day, the Commonwealth parliament should change the law to recognise same-sex relationships on the same terms as heterosexual relationships.
Apart from providing advice and casework for LGBTI clients, ICLC will continue to advocate for law reform and policy changes that reflect the values of equality before the law, freedom from discrimination and equal treatment for all in our society.
Further information: Dan Stubbs, Centre Director, Inner City Legal Centre, send him an email or phone 02 9332 1966 or 0437 253 543.
On 29 November 2013 Kingsford Legal Centre (KLC) launched its Aboriginal Service Provision Manual. The manual, written by the Centre’s Aboriginal Access workers, gives vital guidance to staff, students and volunteers about how to work effectively with the local Aboriginal community. Understanding the history of Aboriginal people in our local area is key to ensuring accessible services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This resource will help KLC’s volunteer solicitors, students and other service providers to provide services in a culturally appropriate way to the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
The Manual is available on KLC’s website at: http://www.klc.unsw.edu.au/sites/klc.unsw.edu.au/files/klc_aboriginal_service_provision_web.pdf
Further information: Anna Cody, Director, Kingsford Legal Centre, send her an email
LawAssist is a website provided by LawAccess NSW. The website is designed to help people who are dealing with legal problems in NSW, without a lawyer. LawAssist provides helpful information on specific areas of law and the legal process. These topics include: Debts – Small Claims, Car Accidents, Fines, Fences, AVOs, Employment Rights and Recovery of Goods.
LawAccess NSW has now expanded these resources and produced 14 videos that show the court user how to represent themselves in a number of courtroom situations, including:
- How to find the right courtroom
- Asking for an adjournment
- Pleading guilty and making submissions
- Pleading not guilty and running a defended hearing
- Going to court in AVO cases
- What to do at court in a small claims case.
The videos are embedded on selected pages throughout LawAssist to ensure the user is provided with detailed information about their legal problem. There is also a new ‘Videos’ page that has links to each page that a video appears on.
To view the new ‘Videos’ section: http://www.lawassist.lawaccess.nsw.gov.au/lawassist/lawassist_videos.html
LawAccess NSW is a free government telephone service that provides legal information, referrals and in some cases, advice for people who have a legal problem in NSW. For legal help over the phone, call 1300 888 529 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm).
Further information: call 1300 888 529 or send an email
The Legal Information Access Centre (LIAC), with the support of the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, has produced two new short films - How Laws Are Made: Parliament and Courts. The films are 8 and 10 minutes long and provide an overview of the processes of law making in the Australian legal system. A captioned version of each film is also available.
The films are intended for a non-legal audience and have great application for training. They were produced by LIAC to replace an old video that has been used in training of public librarians and local council staff over many years. These films have been professionally produced and combine film footage, archival material and graphic elements to assist in conveying the information clearly.
The videos can be found on the Find legal Answers website:
They are also on the State Library vimeo channel subset - which includes
the captioned versions:
They are also available on LIAC’s YouTube channel:
Further information: Cathy Hammer, LIAC, phone (02) 92731645 or send an email
One of KLC’s long-term volunteers, Dave McMillan, won the Community Legal Centres NSW (CLCNSW) Award at the Law and Justice Foundation’s 2013 Justice awards. This award is presented to someone who has demonstrated, in a voluntary capacity, outstanding commitment to improving access to justice in NSW, particularly for socially and economically disadvantaged people. Mr McMillan has been volunteering at KLC for over 26 years. He is an outstanding lawyer who is compassionate and brings considerable skill and wisdom. KLC students are fortunate to work with such an outstanding, ethical and professional lawyer. All at KLC are very proud of him and are delighted to see him publicly recognised.
Other nominees for the CLCNSW award were:
- Corrs Chambers Westgarth Pro Bono Secondee Program, Marrickville Legal Centre
- HIV/AIDS Legal Centre (HALC) Volunteers
- Illawarra Legal Centre's Volunteer Law Students (Thursday evening roster)
- Ms Suzie Leask and Ms Andrea Stolarchuk, Hunter CLC
Further information: Alastair McEwin, Director, CLCNSW, send him an email
HALC volunteers were highly commended at the Justice Awards held by the Law and Justice Foundation NSW on 21 October 2013. Being one of the smaller Community Legal Centres with 4.5 staff in 2013, HALC is heavily reliant on its volunteers. It is indeed a matter of delight that HALC volunteers were formally recognised for their hard work. HALC volunteers are a dedicated and committed team of law students, law graduates and solicitors who work tirelessly at the Centre to increase access to justice for people living with HIV. Two of HALC’s long term volunteer solicitors, who have been working with HALC for 4 to 5 days per week for the past three years represented all HALC volunteers at the event.
In 2013, there were up to 7 volunteers a day at the Centre, contributing 5,710 days of work. HALC does not run evening advice clinics like some other Centres; this means that the volunteers work during normal daytime hours. They often have to juggle part time paid employment or study with volunteering at HALC.
HIV remains a highly stigmatised medical condition in the general community, and has significant impacts upon a person's ability to live their lives free from discrimination and stigma. Through the dedication of volunteers HALC is able to expand its capacity to provide high quality legal advice and representation to socially and economically disadvantaged people facing the significant challenge of living with a chronic medical condition that remains stigmatised in the community. HALC volunteers deal with all clients with sensitivity, respecting cultural, sexual and gender diversity, helping to improve access to justice for the marginalised and disadvantaged communities.
HALC volunteers have input into all aspects of the Centre’s work. This includes casework, telephone advice, law reform and preparation of legal resources. The volunteers significantly expand HALC’s ability to deliver services; through the added capacity (and some modest self-funding), HALC was able to pilot a national advice and casework service from 2010 to 2013.
Further information: Shehzad Mansuri, HALC, phone (02) 9206 2060 or send her an email
Illawarra Legal Centre marked 2013 International Human Rights Day by organising a special forum at Wollongong University on the use and abuse of freedom of expression in the media.
Titled ‘What Are Words Worth’, the forum attracted local legal, multicultural, academic and media representatives who took part in a passionate debate scrutinising the role of the media in the way we view refugees and other marginalised members of our society.
The head of Illawarra Multicultural Services, Mohan Gunasekara, and ILC’s Alex O’Donnell did some myth busting about ‘boat people’ and ‘housos’: setting out the facts that do not always make it into media reports about asylum seekers and public housing tenants.
They were joined on a panel by local author and journalist William Verity and UoW academic Dr Jane Lymer to explore whether the media makes a difference to our perceptions of what human rights mean in Australia and what impact sensationalist and inflammatory headlines have on our values and opinions.
The suggestion that the media does not affect the way we think and we are free to not read sensationalist news reports, sparked vigorous disagreement. One refugee mental health worker referred to the clear impacts she sees on her clients from negative stereotyping in media attacks on asylum seekers. Others provided anecdotes on the impact of dehumanising certain groups by using negative stereotypes.
Forum convenor Linda Tucker had to wind up the discussion with the debate still going strong. It is clear the role of the media in promoting both negative and positive stereotypes and its impact on those least able to defend themselves made for a compelling examination of human rights issues in the Illawarra.
See Linda Tucker’s Illawarra Mercury blog for Human Rights Day at: http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/story/1956319/blog-human-rights-day-to-celebrate-the-positive-power-of-words/?cs=2315
Further information: Linda Tucker, Illawarra Legal Centre, phone (02) 4276 1939, send her an email
RLC’s Tenant Advocate Tom McDonald won the People’s Choice Award at the 2013 TAAP (Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Program) Awards. The awards are part of the Regional Tenancy Network Meeting, held this year in Newcastle, and celebrate excellence in casework and Tribunal advocacy. Tom’s colleagues from across the state recognised his outstanding work in advocating for tenants, selecting him for the award for the second year running.
The Law and Justice Foundation of NSW Grants Program supports community projects that improve access to justice, particularly for socially and economically disadvantaged people. The Foundation is looking for applications for projects from which lessons will be learned that contribute to identifying effective reforms, initiatives and programs to address legal need.
The next round of applications for general grants to up to $50,000 will close on 21 March 2014.
To discuss your project idea and ensure you are on the right track, contact the Grants and Legal Information Manager, Jane Kenny on (02) 8227 3210, ideally as soon as possible, and at least six weeks before the closing date.
For more information on how to apply, a copy of the application form, the grants criteria or to view previously awarded grants, visit www.lawfoundation.net.au/grants.
November CLC Yarn Up and Training Day
At the November Yarn-Up and Training Day, supported by Gilbert + Tobin, Aboriginal solicitor Mark Holden of the Environmental Defenders Office presented a workshop on the recent changes to Aboriginal Cultural Heritage laws, and how CLCs can advocate to protect sites and artefacts of cultural significance.
Yarn Up participants also discussed Aunty Nancy Walke’s new guide called “Making Our Service Accessible to Aboriginal People”. The group also discussed potential objectives for the ‘Aboriginal Family Law’ day to be held on Tuesday 25th of March 2014.
Aboriginal Advisory Group (AAG)
The AAG met in November at the quarterlies to elect a new convener. Gemma McKinnon from the Tenants Union NSW, and Shannon Williams from Women’s Legal Services’ Indigenous Women’s Program will co-convene the AAG for the next year. The AAG thanks Christine Robinson of Warringa Baiya for her great contributions as convener of the AAG for the past year.
The AAG has established a supportive relationship with the Mid North Coast Community Legal Centre in preparation for the launch of their new Aboriginal access program, which is due to begin early next year.
Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Rights Working Group (ASTIWG)
The ASTIWG has focused its efforts on the Child Protection Amendments Bill for most of the last year. Members of the group have been meeting, and continue to meet, with Community Services regarding the legislation and the policy stemming from the legislation. See also CLCNSW’s Advocacy and Human Rights program report below for more on this issue.
Aboriginal Family Law Day: Tuesday 25 March 2014
The Hon Judge Matthew Myers will be presenting at the Aboriginal Family Law Day, to be hosted by Gilbert + Tobin. The goal of the day is to assist services to achieve better family law outcomes for their Aboriginal clients.
Early stages of care & protection practice manual
30 copies of Cheryl Orr’s ‘early stages of care & protection’ practice manual have been produced with the support of Gilbert + Tobin. These manuals were handed out at the November quarterlies or posted to CLCs. CLCNSW thanks Cheryl Orr and G+T for supporting the CLC sector through this initiative.
ALAP and Facebook
Megan Hughes from Macarthur Legal Centre led a discussion at the November quarterly ALAP meeting on how MLC engages with Aboriginal communities through the use of the MLC ALAP Facebook page. The page is a great way for the community to make initial contact with the ALAP.
CLCNSW ALAP Community Development Worker co-presented a workshop on Cyber-Bullying at the November quarterlies with Kelly Tallon from the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre.
ALAP centre support
CLCNSW ALAP CDW has completed all of the program visits for the year, and would like to congratulate all of the ALAP staff on meeting the challenges of our work. The programs and the staff are robust and resilient. The services delivered across the programs range from outreach to women’s refuges and youth groups, through to hosting a radio show, and running wills days. All of the ALAP staff can be proud of their work.
Anecdotally speaking, domestic violence, the removal of children into out-of-home care, and debt/fines matters continue to create great pressure in Aboriginal communities in NSW.
Aurora Internship Program
CLCNSW ALAP will have a new Aurora Intern starting in January 2014 at the State Office.
CLCs can apply to host interns from the Aurora program. CLCNSW encourages all CLCs working with Aboriginal communities to consider engaging with the Aurora Project. Most Aurora interns who are interested in working in CLCs are willing to travel to rural and remote locations.
Throughout the various meetings of the AAG, the Yarn up and the program visits, a common issue continues to be raised, and it is that of the cultural competency of the sector. The development of the cultural competency of the sector will continue to be a front and centre issue that the AAG will continue to raise in the year to come. That said, the experience of many AAG members is that the sector is progressing in this area, and this is a good thing for everyone. However there is a lot more work to be done, so please keep diligent in your efforts of making your communities and work places a culturally safe place for all.
Further information: Zachary Armytage, ALAP Community Development Worker, CLCNSW, phone (02) 9212 7333 or send an email
CLCs in NSW continue to make good progress with the National Accreditation Scheme. 33 of the 34 centres which are going through the Scheme have prepared for and undergone a Site Visit by Regional Accreditation Coordinator (RAC), Meg Houston, based at CLCNSW.
19 of these centres have been granted Accreditation and Certification by CLCNSW for a period of three years and the RAC is working with the remaining centres to prepare them for the certification process.
The centres which have been certified have made good progress in implementing their Workplans and have submitted their first 6 monthly progress reports.
Further information: Meg Houston, Regional Accreditation Coordinator, CLCNSW, phone (02) 9212 7333 or send an email
The CLCNSW Advocacy & Human Rights Officer has joined the CLCNSW Director and Chair to meet with State and Federal parliamentarians to brief them on our concerns regarding the funding principles.
Law Reform Research Project
A consultant will shortly be appointed for the CLCNSW research project on the economic efficiency of law reform being conducted in conjunction with Consumer Credit Legal Centre. Centres will then be sent a survey on the law reform activities undertaken at their centre.
The CLCNSW Advocacy & Human Rights Officer has recently visited Far West CLC, Macquarie Legal Centre and Western NSW CLC and is happy to visit CLCs and assist them with their law reform work.
Foetal Personhood Bill
Legislation giving legal personhood status to a 20-week-old foetus has passed the NSW Legislative Assembly and is due for debate in the NSW Legislative Council in early 2014. CLCNSW will continue to support Women’s Legal Services NSW and other women’s and legal organisations who are concerns about the implications for women’s reproductive rights arising from this legislation.
Information from NSW CLCs was contributed to the submission to the Productivity Commission from CLCNSW, NACLC and other State and Territory Associations. A submission was made to the Review of the Investigation and Oversight of Police Critical Incidents.
Working with new and emerging communities
Legal Aid NSW has produced a guide for working with new and emerging communities. The guide provides background information about newly arrived communities from Afghanistan, Burma, Iran, Iraq and African countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The guide is designed to help lawyers and other frontline workers understand the cultural background, traditions and experiences of newly arrived people who seek their help. It aims to help workers gain an appreciation and understanding of the backgrounds of these clients and help them communicate more effectively and provide better services and support to these clients.
The guide is designed to help frontline workers who are assisting clients deal with everyday problems such as housing, debt, consumer and family law issues. It also provides a list of useful community contacts to assist with referrals and tips on effective communication.
The guide was developed by Legal Aid NSW with assistance from the Community Migrant Resource Centre and African Women's Australia Inc as well as Liverpool Migrant Resource Centre, Macarthur Diversity Services and the Iranian Community Organisation.
The factsheets in the guide can be downloaded from the Legal Aid NSW website www.legalaid.nsw.gov.au/publications/factsheets-and-resources (follow the link to “culturally diverse people”).
New child protection legislation
On 21 November 2013 Minister Pru Goward introduced the Child Protection Legislation Amendment Bill (2013) in the NSW Legislative Assembly.
The new legislation focuses on parental obligations and for the first time imposes legislative timeframes for family restoration. The bill sets out the framework for Parental Responsibility Contracts, Parental Responsibility Orders and Parental Capacity Orders. Of the 29 proposals in the Child Protection Discussion paper released last year, 13 of the proposals have been adopted, 10 have been modified and 6 aren’t progressing at this stage.
Several CLCs have been working together with other community organisations to raise our concerns about the legislation and its impact on vulnerable families.
- Families to have an enforceable right to appropriate support services;
- Free legal advice to be given to parents before they sign any agreements;
- An alternative dispute resolution process that supports parents to fully participate and addresses power imbalances;
- A system that ensures victims of domestic violence are not prevented from being with their children because of the actions of domestic violence perpetrators;
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are properly identified to ensure adoption is a last resort;
- Avoid simultaneous assessment of carer as foster carer and prospective adoptive parent and avoid conflicts of interest when organisations are working to achieve family restoration and adoption;
- No legislative timeframes for family restoration; and
- Parents to be involved in case plan reviews.
The CLCNSW Advocacy & Human Rights Officer and the CLCNSW ALAP Community Development Worker have been working with the Care and Protection Working Group and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Rights Working Group regarding the new child protection legislation. An open letter was sent to Minister Goward, media releases have been sent out and meetings have occurred with MPs and Family and Community Services. We’ve written to MPs about our concerns and will be arranging meetings with MPs in the new year. Work will continue to propose amendments to the legislation that is due for debate in NSW Parliament early in 2014.
Further information on the child protection legislation: Kerry Nettle or Zachary Armytage, CLCNSW, phone (02) 9212 7333 or email Kerry or Zac, Liz Snell, Women’s Legal Services NSW, phone (02) 8745 6900 or email, Dr Margaret Spencer, Intellectual Disability Rights Service, phone (02) 9318 0144 or email or Rachael Martin, Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre, phone (02) 9569 3847 or email.
Further information: Kerry Nettle, locum Advocacy & Human Rights Officer, CLCNSW, phone (02) 9212 7333 or send an email
CLCNSW Symposium 2014: Community Legal centres – advocates for justice
Initial steps are in place for this Symposium, which replaces the 2-yearly State Conferences. It will be held on Wednesday 21 May 2014 at the Novotel Darling Harbour, following directly after a condensed one-day Quarterlies on Tuesday 20 May, with the Symposium Dinner on the Tuesday evening. Details of registration and keynote speakers will be available early in 2014, and in the meantime there is preliminary information on the CLCNSW website
The November Quarterlies were held at the new venue at ACON (Aids Council of NSW) at 414 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills, which is the planned location for quarterlies for 2014. Feedback from those attending about the venue and catering (vegetarian default) was very positive, and we look forward to good outcomes there in 2014.
The 2014 Quarterlies dates are on the CLCNSW website – see Events
A management training day was held at ACON on 25 November (the Monday before the Quarterlies) with sessions on people and performance management, and grants and funding applications. A very helpful annotated funding application, with tips and suggestions from the presenter Jo Garner, is available to CLCs on request from CLCNSW email@example.com or 9212 7333.
Leadership Program 2013
12 participants completed the 2012 / 13 CLCNSW leadership program, delivered by SAL Consulting, with the final training day in late August. Preliminary assessment of the evaluations shows very positive outcomes and a full report will be given to the CLCNSW Board in early 2014 with a view to offering the program again in 2014 / 15 (subject to funding)
Further information: Contact CLCNSW firstname.lastname@example.org or 9212 7333.
Community Legal Centres (CLCs) are independent community organisations providing equitable and accessible legal services. NSW CLCs work for the public interest, particularly for disadvantaged and marginalised people and communities. CLCs not only provide legal advice and assistance, but also encourage and enable people to develop skills to be their own advocates. We promote human rights, social justice and a better environment by advocating for access to justice and equitable laws and legal systems. Centres work towards achieving systemic change through community legal education, and through law and policy reform.
Community Legal Centres NSW Inc. (CLCNSW) is the peak body for CLCs in NSW. It is resourced by a small State Office which is funded by the NSW Government and Public Purpose Fund. CLCNSW has 40 member organisations including generalist and specialist community legal centres.