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On the Record issue #29 Summer / autumn 2015


Community Legal Centres: Community, Compassion, Justice

Issue #29

Summer / autumn 2015

This is the 29th 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

If you do not wish to receive future issues of On the Record, please follow the instructions to unsubscribe below.  If you know others who may wish to receive the e-bulletin, feel free to forward this email, and they will be able to subscribe themselves to our list with the link below.  Or you can subscribe by filling out the form on our website.  You can also change which email address the e-bulletin goes to, and update other details, by following the links at the bottom of the email.

Editor
Alastair McEwin
Executive Director, CLCNSW
Send him an email

Contents:

1. Community Legal Sector News

Editorial: Our most valuable assets: staff and volunteers
National Perspective on CLC Funding and Proposed Legal Assistance Reforms
Australian Government releases Productivity Commission report on access to justice inquiry
New NSW Attorney General: Gabrielle Upton
 

2. Special section: impact of funding cuts on CLCs

#Fund CLCs
Reduced services in the Northern Rivers area
Redfern Legal Centre risks losing 50% of its legal casework capacity
Effects of funding cuts in the Hunter
Kingsford Legal Centre’s Family Law/DV Community Legal Education Clinic at risk
Funding for national legal services uncertain: Insurance Law Service at risk of disappearing
Funding cuts in the Southern Riverina area of NSW
Macquarie Legal Centre meets with Shadow Attorney-General and local MP
 

3. Community Law

Information on immigration issues in Western Sydney
Improving legal and mental health of homeless people on the Central Coast
Hunter CLC Clinical Legal Education Program
Care and Protection CLEs a great success
Sexting and Cyber-Bullying Presentations in High Schools
Social Housing Forum at Kooloora Community Centre
H.A.L.O (Holistic Assistance and Legal Outreach) Legal Education Project: HRCLS in partnership with Gateway Health.
Legal Information for Migrant Groups in Newcastle area
New Debt/Fines Clinic at Hume Riverina CLS
Indigenous Cultural and Gathering Rights Workshop
"Borrowers Beware": a partnership between The Aged-Care Rights Service (TARS) and Legal Aid NSW Head Office Civil Law Solicitors
 

4. Human Rights in action

Universal Periodic Review
New outreach service in Miller
Domestic Violence Casework Service now in Bankstown
Exposing VET Providers and Protecting Vulnerable Consumers
More bang for your bond
Justice Connect moves to support unrepresented litigants in Fair Work matters
 

5. Case reports

Case reports from the Financial Rights Legal Centre
Case reports from Redfern Legal Centre
 

6. Media mentions

CLC lawyers in the Law Society Journal
Media on reversal of funding cuts
 

7. Publications

Adding Public Value: The integration of frontline services & law reform in the NSW Community Legal Sector
The Right to Quiet Enjoyment in Social Housing
New website for lawyers and support workers assisting parents with intellectual disability in care proceedings
Launch of Women at Work Factsheets
International Students’ Service Film #IWishIKnew
 

8. Events, commendations and developments

White Ribbon Day event in Liverpool
Christmas cheer at the Central Coast CLC
Tenancy advice services celebrate twenty years
CLC lawyer wins Harmony award
Dianne Anagnos wins UNSW Australia Community Engagement Award
Ukulegals
 

9. State Office Update

Aboriginal Legal Access Program
Accreditation Scheme
Advocacy and Human Rights
Sector Development
 

10. What are Community Legal Centres and what is CLCNSW?

 

1.   Community Legal Sector News


Editorial: Our most valuable assets: staff and volunteers

As we enter the second quarter of 2015, and reflect on how quickly the first three months of the year have gone, it is timely to pause and think about what makes the sector a strong, thriving and resilient one.  It does not take one long to realise that our greatest strength, and asset, lies in the people who work tirelessly every day for disadvantaged clients seeking access to justice.  It is our people, our staff and volunteers, who make the sector a vital one for the community.  It is their hard work, dedication, commitment and, above all, passion that ensures that our clients obtain the information they need, get legal help, and representation as they try to deal with an, at times, very unfair justice system.

At CLCNSW, we are very appreciative of the efforts of CLC staff and volunteers.  Many of the staff provide support to the work we do at the State Office through convening and facilitating the networks and working groups; it is these networks and groups which inform and drive our strategies and actions in working towards a fairer justice system for all.

Whilst recognising the contribution of all CLC staff, we want to particularly acknowledge and thank Rachael Martin, Principal Solicitor of Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre.  We thank for her many years of dedication, tenacity and collaborative approach as co-convenor of the CLCNSW Victims Compensation / Domestic Violence subcommittee. Rachael went into bat for our clients through many rounds of cuts and reforms to the NSW Victims Compensation scheme, making this significant contribution on top of her workload at Wirringa Baiya.  Though she wouldn't ask for it, Rachael deserves a big round of applause and a bit of a breather after passing on the mantle to Hawkesbury Nepean CLC.  Thank you Rachael!

Alastair McEwin
Executive Director, CLCNSW
Send him an email

National Perspective on CLC Funding and Proposed Legal Assistance Reforms

As reported in previous On The Record editions, the Commonwealth Attorney General’s department is currently undertaking a process of legal assistance reforms.  These reforms are currently scheduled to take effect on 1 July 2015.  The following update has been provided by the National Association of CLCs (NACLC), outlining recent developments in relation to funding for CLCs and the proposed reforms.

Funding

As part of the 2013 Mid-Year Economic Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) there was a cut to CLCs of the last two years of the four years of “Dreyfus funding”, due to take effect on 1 July 2015.  As many in the sector are now aware, last week the Attorney-General announced the reversal of these cuts to CLCs, which means that $12 million of funding over two years has been restored to 61 CLCs.

The Attorney-General’s announcement is a welcome one and was the result of an enormous amount of hard work by NACLC, State and Territory Associations and individual CLCs across Australia. However, the announcement does not reverse all funding cuts made to CLCs. For example, it does not include the $6.8 million cut to CLCs announced as part of the last Federal Budget, due to take effect in 2017-2018, or the funding cuts to the Environmental Defenders Offices.

At the same time, there have been funding cuts and uncertainty for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (ATSILS) and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services (FVPLS). Pleasingly, the Attorney-General's announcement last week included a reversal of the funding cuts to the ATSILS announced at the same time.  In addition, recently all 14 FVPLS and the Family Violence Prevention Legal Services National Forum were told they will receive funding under the Indigenous Advancement Strategy moving forward (though some only for 12 months at this stage).

Proposed Legal Assistance Reforms

The biggest issue now facing CLCs is the proposed Commonwealth reforms to the funding and administration of legal assistance, specifically CLCs, ATSILS and Legal Aid Commissions (LACs).  NACLC and State and Territory Associations have been engaging with Attorney-General Brandis, the Attorney-General’s Department, other legal assistance providers and the sector about the proposed reforms for many months. 

There are a number of particular concerns about the proposed reforms at this stage, including:

NACLC and State and Territory Associations will continue to undertake a range of work around the proposed reforms, and to provide as much information as possible to individual CLCs.

Further information: Amanda Alford, Deputy Director, Policy and Advocacy, NACLC.  Send her an email

Australian Government releases Productivity Commission report on access to justice inquiry

In the last edition of On The Record, we reported that the final report into the Productivity Commission’s Access to Justice Arrangements inquiry had been completed and sent to the Australian Government for its consideration.

On 3 December, the Government released the final report.  In this report, the Productivity Commission notes widespread concerns that Australia’s civil justice system is “too slow, too expensive and too adversarial”.  It further notes that whilst much focus is on the courts, much is done in their shadow, with parties resolving their disputes privately.  Community legal education, legal information (including self-help kits) and minor advice help ensure that parties are better equipped to resolve their disputes.

Amongst the recommendations in the report are:

Further information on the inquiry, including reports, can be accessed online.

Further information: Alastair McEwin, Executive Director CLCNSW.  Send him an email

New NSW Attorney General: Gabrielle Upton

In March, the NSW Coalition government was returned to power at the NSW State election.  In a cabinet re-shuffle, Premier Mike Baird appointed Gabrielle Upton as the new Attorney General.  Former Attorney General, Brad Hazzard, became the Minister for Minister for Family and Community Services and the Minister for Social Housing.

Ms Upton, who is the first female to be appointed as NSW Attorney General, is the Member for Vaucluse.  She previously held the position of Minister for Family and Community Services; prior to that she served as Minister for Sport and Recreation and Parliamentary Secretary for Tertiary Education and Skills.  Before entering Parliament, Ms Upton was a lawyer in private practice and with the Australian Institute of Company Directors.  CLCNSW welcomes Ms Upton to her new role and looks forward to working with her on issues relevant to the justice sector, including the current legal assistance reforms.

CLCNSW thanks Mr Hazzard for his efforts whilst Attorney General.  We appreciated our meetings with him and his visits to CLCs.  We note in particular his leadership in the negotiations between the Commonwealth and NSW Government for the reforms, including his participation in the joint State/Territory Attorneys General letter to the Commonwealth seeking, amongst other things, for the release of Commonwealth funding amounts by 31 March (and not 12 May as currently planned).

Further information: Alastair McEwin, Executive Director CLCNSW.  Send him an email

2.   Special section: impact of funding cuts on CLCs


This section outlines the impact on CLCs that uncertainty of funding or reduced funding will have on CLCs in NSW.  We note that some of the articles were provided before the announcement of the reversal of the MYEFO cuts; whilst the reversal brings some welcome relief, the cuts were only relating to funding for two years (July 2015 – June 2017).  Beyond that, the future of funding for CLCs is still uncertain.  We also note, with disappointment, that there was no restoration of Commonwealth funding to the Environmental Defenders Offices.  The following articles are therefore still relevant in demonstrating what is likely to happen if the ‘Dreyfus money’ does not continue beyond 2017.

#Fund CLCs

The Commonwealth Government has announced that new funding arrangements will take effect from 1 July 2015 for Community Legal Centres (CLCs).  Amongst other proposals, the Commonwealth will not advise State and Territory Governments of the proposed funding amounts for CLCs until the Federal Budget (12 May 2015).  This leaves just six weeks for the NSW Government to finalise arrangements for a joint Commonwealth-State CLC funding agreement.

We remain greatly concerned that neither the Commonwealth nor NSW Government has yet committed to a funding arrangement that will take effect on 1 July for CLCs in NSW.  This has created an environment of uncertainty for CLCs in NSW with respect to their funding.  On 2 April, with 90 days left until 1 July 2015, CLCNSW commenced 'tweeting' on a daily basis, a specific message about the impact of funding uncertainty on an individual CLC or on the sector as a whole.

Some of the Tweets to date have been:

Further information: Alastair McEwin, Executive Director CLCNSW.  Send him an email

Reduced services in the Northern Rivers area

Before the announcement of the reversal of funding cuts, the Northern Rivers CLC was, on 30 June 2015, was expecting to lose $200,000 and be forced to close the Richmond Valley Legal Advice Service to Casino.  They would also have had to close its advice service to the Tweed Hospital where the CLC sees clients who are at risk of losing capacity to make arrangements for their futures.  They were also going to lose funding for its Junior Solicitor who has been providing advices to clients all over the region from Ballina / Byron / Lismore / Kyogle.

The impact of these cuts would be that approximately 200-300 clients would miss out on a face-to-face or telephone advice with a solicitor.  This will affect our most vulnerable community members who have already reached crisis point, many of them Aboriginal people, people with disabilities and women and children.

NRCLC does not know what other cuts will be announced and it is likely they will lose more frontline services as a result of the Federal Government's May Budget.

Further information: Fia Norton, Northern Rivers CLC, send her an email

Redfern Legal Centre risks losing 50% of its legal casework capacity

Before the announcement of the reversal of funding cuts, Redfern Legal Centre (RLC) was been told it stood to lose 50% of its legal casework capacity as of July 1.  This would mean the closure of at least two of its practices.  Its Police Complaints and Employment and Discrimination services are in danger of being shutdown.

Last year RLC's general legal team assisted more than 1,000 clients. These cuts would mean that they will be turning away half of their current number of clients.  RLC’s employment service is not just a vital recourse for justice for the community, it’s also cost effective.  Through its pro-bono partnership with Clayton Utz, RLC is able to offer representation to many more disadvantaged clients than it could otherwise, through training and supervision of Clayton Utz pro bono solicitors at Fair Work.

As seen recently on ABC’s 7:30 Report on the story of Melissa Dunn and her treatment by the NSW Police Force, RLC’s police complaints practice is the only state wide service in NSW that focuses on police complaints. Losing this service will be felt across the state.

RLC serves an historically disadvantaged community. Many of its clients are Aboriginal or from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, have intellectual or physical disabilities or other factors that make it difficult for them to gain access to justice.  These cuts mean shutting down what is often the only avenue for legal help to disadvantaged people in the community.

Further information: Joanna Shulman, CEO, Redfern Legal Centre, send her an email.

Effects of funding cuts in the Hunter

Hunter CLC has been affected by the cuts to funding and the uncertainty of funding the future.  The Centre has lost two positions, being the Outreach Coordinator and the Community Legal Education Coordination positions. Hunter CLC has a large catchment area including Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Hunter Valley, Port Stephens and Great Lakes regions, and has outreach programs in Muswellbrook, Cessnock, Raymond Terrace and Port Stephens.  The loss of the Centre’s Outreach Coordinator has left staff struggling to meet commitments in each location, and it seems unlikely that Hunter CLC will be able to offer the outreach services in the future.  Many of the Centre’s clients find it difficult to travel to the Newcastle office, and some find telephone advice impractical or inaccessible. Those living outside Newcastle will likely find it much more difficult to access legal advice and assistance.

Losing the dedicated Community Legal Education Coordinator has meant that the Centre is not able to devote the same level of time and commitment to educating members of the community. Community legal education is important for ensuring that community members are aware of their rights and responsibilities, and that community workers know which services are available to refer their clients to.

Further information: Bronwyn Ambrogetti, Managing Solicitor, Hunter Community Legal Centre, phone (02) 4040 9121 or send her an email.

Kingsford Legal Centre’s Family Law/DV Community Legal Education Clinic at risk

Before the reversal of the funding cuts, Kingsford Legal Centre was looking at a reduction in funding of $100,000 to the Centre’s Family Law/DV Community Legal Education Clinic.  Any cuts to this program would be a blow to KLC’s local community who have benefited from the workshops developed over the past couple of years.  Before the announcement of the original cuts, KLC had commissioned an evaluation of the clinic and was implementing the recommendations.  Many of these recommendations have now had to been shelved including the development of a domestic violence advice clinic.

Further information: Emma Golledge, KLC, phone 02 9385 9566 or send her an email.

Funding for national legal services uncertain: Insurance Law Service at risk of disappearing

Even though insurance law is listed as one of the Commonwealth’s key civil law areas and the Insurance Law Service (ILS) is the only specialist insurance law advice line for consumers in Australia, it appears there will be no provision for specialist national services in the 2015-2016 legal services budget.

Only a small amount of insurance work is undertaken by any other legal centres in Australia, usually on an ad hoc basis and often without the benefit of the expertise that can only be acquired through accumulated experience. ILS has worked hard to establish itself since its inception in 2007 as a nationally accessible legal advice line and now answers between 380 and 520 calls every month from all over Australia (almost in exact proportion with population distribution). Callers to the service include people who are facing financial hardship and can’t get to work because of refused car insurance claims; people with serious health issues who have been refused income protection payments; and people facing homelessness because their home insurance claim has been rejected. Without access to timely advice and assistance, these callers may be unfairly denied insurance for which they have paid premiums for years.  A denied insurance claim can lead to spiralling financial problems and greater reliance on government and charities for assistance.

As a national service ILS believes it is extremely effective and efficient, providing extensive advice to thousands of consumers across the country every year and vital casework assistance to those most in need.  This is all done with funding for approximately 3 positions (of course this is only possible because the service is supported by the existing infrastructure of Financial Rights Legal Centre).  ILS is very concerned that without a specific allocation or instruction from the Commonwealth it will be unlikely to secure funding under the proposed funding model because it will be dependent on individual states and territories providing funding from a limited allocation of funds intended for their own residents.  What is going to happen to specialist legal services like the ILS?

Further information: Julia Davis, Policy & Communications Officer,

Financial Rights Legal Centre, phone (02) 8204 1384.

Funding cuts in the Southern Riverina area of NSW

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) is unsure how the impending Commonwealth funding cuts will affect the service.

The main concern is if a Victorian body is given responsibility for determining the allocation of funding to the service, as HRLCS is a cross border service.  The service is concerned that when VLA (or the Dept of Justice) determines the HRCLS funding under the new arrangements, they will feel constrained by the border as they will be required to provide evidence based planning to justify their funding allocation to HRCLS.  This evidence based planning by VLA would only extend up to Wodonga at the Victorian/NSW border.  It is unknown how or if, they could be expected to conduct an evidence based legal needs analysis extending into the Southern Riverina of NSW and then distribute the Victorian funding to cover this NSW part of the HRLCS catchment.  VLA has advised that they also have concerns about whether they can give HRCLS an allocation of funding that takes account of the NSW catchment area or even if that will be allowed under the new arrangements. 

While the NSW Outreach service is funded by the Public Purpose Fund (funding for which also continues to be under threat), all other programs of HRCLS are still used by NSW clients.  For example, telephone advice and face-to-face services in Wodonga (Vic) with many NSW residents travelling across to Wodonga to access our family law advice and casework services.  Approximately 44% of HRCLS’s advices are for NSW clients.

This situation means that services to clients in the Southern Riverina of NSW by HRCLS may be severely reduced or discontinued.

Further information: Karen Bowley, lawyer, HRCLS, phone 1800 918 377 or send her an email.

Macquarie Legal Centre meets with Shadow Attorney-General and local MP

From just around the corner to the far reaches of the continent – our political class all want a piece of the capital of Western Sydney.  And not just to talk marginal seats and middle Australia, either.  Parramatta’s Macquarie Legal Centre recently hosted Julie Owens MP, the federal Member for Parramatta, and Mark Dreyfus QC MP, the federal Member for Isaacs (Victoria), Shadow Attorney-General, and Shadow Minister for Arts.

The tea and baklava sweetened what was an undeniably sour conversation about recent cuts to community legal services.  Before the reversal of the funding cuts, Macquarie Legal Centre stood to lose $240,000 over two years, resulting in the disappearance of three positions – one family law solicitor, and one support worker in each of its Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy and Children’s Court Assistance services.  Mr Dreyfus threw his support behind the recent letter, signed by every State and Territory Attorney-General across party lines, opposing all cuts.  He expressed particular concern at the scaling back of domestic violence support services.

Mr Dreyfus also conveyed a sincere appreciation for both the importance and the difficulty of the work performed by community legal centre employees.

Whilst staff were unable to go full Tony Jones and secure an assurance for reinstatement of funding upon a prospective change of government, Mr Dreyfus was optimistic that such an outcome could ultimately be achieved.

Above: Jimmy Huang and Thomas Mortimer of Macquarie Legal Centre rub shoulders with Mark Dreyfus MP and Julie Owens MP. Photo: Macquarie Legal Centre

Further information: Thomas Mortimer, Tenants’ Advocate, Western Sydney Tenants’ Service, phone 02 8833 0933 or send him an email
thomas_mortimer@clc.net.au

3.   Community law


Information on immigration issues in Western Sydney

On 19 November 2014, the Parramatta Community Justice Clinic, in partnership with Macquarie Legal Centre and UWS, joined the Immigration Advice and Rights Centre (IARC), as well as the Community Migration Resource Centre (CMRC) to host an information seminar for the general public.

Held at the CMRC, the seminar provided information and resources on a wide range of immigration issues that people are facing today. The IARC representative provided an excellent overview of the legal aspects of immigration, as well as the humanitarian program that may be available in bringing family over to Australia, while CMRC provided a range of immigration resources and support systems.

The event was a great success with a total of 38 people who attended. The seminar concluded with a question and answer session that clearly presented the need and benefit of this seminar.  The Parramatta Community Justice clinic and Macquarie Legal Centre look forward to organising the next community information seminar, which will be posted on BBS.

Further information: Macquarie Legal Centre, phone (02) 8833 0911m, send an email

Improving legal and mental health of homeless people on the Central Coast

The Central Coast Community Legal Centre was recently featured in national media for its partnership project with Legal Aid NSW Gosford, entitled “Legal Health = Mental Health.”  The partnership was established to help identify and address the significant civil law needs of the mentally ill, homeless and socio-economically disadvantaged people.

People experiencing mental illness, socio-economic disadvantage and homelessness are often faced with multiple legal and non-legal problems, which can exacerbate each other.  This overlap calls for an integrated approach by mental health workers and lawyers. The project aims to enable mental health workers to offer appropriate and timely referrals to legal services when legal issues arise for their clients.

The project will educate mental health workers about the legal system and civil law issues, through presentations and seminars. The project will also facilitate joined-up service delivery through the establishment of advice clinics, which will be held at the premises of a mental health service provider.

The partnership illustrates how an integrated approach to service delivery is changing the role of the lawyer.  The legal profession must work with community and mental health workers to effectively address a client’s legal and non-legal issues, rather than continue to set themselves apart.

The article written by Central Coast Community Legal Centre employees Andrew Jackson and Olenka Motyka for the October 2014 issue of Parity magazine can be access via this link.

Further information: Nassim Arrage, Principal Solicitor, Central Coast CLC, phone (02) 4353 4988, send him an email.

Text Box:   Text Box: Text Box:

Left to right: Central Coast Community Legal Centre employees Andrew Jackson and Olenka Motyka. Photo: Parity

Hunter CLC Clinical Legal Education Program

Since 2010 Hunter CLC has provided a family law based clinical legal education program (LEP) to students of the University of Newcastle.  Each semester a group of 4 students spend one day each week in the Newcastle Registry of the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court observing the range of matters being heard on that day. A senior family law solicitor engaged by Hunter CLC supervises the student group.

The students are exposed to a large number and wide variety of cases where they observe both court process and procedure as well as practitioner practice. Discussion and reflection takes place with the supervisor at both an academic level of identifying the law and key cases and a personal level in identifying their response to this system of justice.

The Centre’s strong relationship with the court has meant that our students have the opportunity to meet with judicial officers; family consultants; court associates and registrars; barristers and legal practitioners, to discuss aspects of a case or family law generally.

The LEP was developed from the premise that a structured intensive education-focused program that exposes students to the practice of family law will provide us with new practitioners who are confident about practicing in the jurisdiction and who are sensitive to and knowledgeable about issues of social justice and access to legal services. 

Students participating in the LEP are able to credit the time spent on placement towards their required legal professional placement hours under the University of Newcastle Professional Program. In this the third full year of the program we saw an overwhelming response from interested students with all eight places for 2014 being filled from the February intake.

Further information: Lynne Jackson, Hunter CLC, phone (02) 4040 9121 or send her an email.

Care and Protection CLEs a great success

South West Sydney Legal Centre (SWSLC) in collaboration with Women’s Legal Services NSW and private solicitor, Bill Bolton recently ran three community legal education seminars in Liverpool and Fairfield.  Aimed at community workers and focusing on the new Care and Protection reforms the seminars were well attended with over 90 participants in total.

The new provisions in the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 have created a need to inform and educate our community workers on how these changes may affect their clients and the delivery of services.

Alira Morey, Family Law solicitor from South West Sydney Legal Centre said ‘Our training sessions emphasised the importance of making caseworkers aware that their clients need to seek legal advice in these types of matters’. 

With such a high demand for this training, SWSLC plans to run a session in Bankstown in the New Year.

Further information: Maria Cosmidis, Executive Officer, Southwest Sydney LC, phone 9601 7777 or send her an email.

Sexting and Cyber-Bullying Presentations in High Schools

Hunter CLC has recently been speaking to high school students about some of the ways their use of social media can get them into trouble. So far, Hunter CLC has given twelve presentations in high schools in the Hunter catchment area, to approximately one thousand, five hundred students ranging in age from eleven to seventeen.

The presentations covered sexting, cyber-bullying, self-incrimination and defamation. Hunter CLC provided students with a definition of each of the topics covered, and focused primarily on the legal consequences that can be attached to such behaviours. Each presentation also included a discussion of some of the real-world consequences that misusing social media can have – for example, getting expelled from school or missing out on employment opportunities after potential employers view public social media profiles.

Feedback from teachers in attendance, and questions received from students throughout the presentations, indicated a high level of interest in sexting and cyberbullying. Many expressed concern or surprise over some of the unanticipated and serious consequences that can occur. School staff also explained the widespread nature of the behaviour in their schools, and the high level of police involvement as a result. They stressed the importance of students being educated about the penalties of sexting and cyber-bullying, but also the difficulty involved in getting students to take matters seriously – until students are caught.

One presentation was given to the high school’s class for students with learning difficulties. The presentation made use of Legal Aid NSW’s interactive DVD ‘Putting the X in Sexy Text’.  Students, teachers and assistants all participated in the presentation.  Hunter CLC got very good feedback from students and teachers and an invitation to come back and present again on other legal topics.

Further information: Bronwyn Ambrogetti, Managing Solicitor, Hunter Community Legal Centre, phone (02) 4040 9121 or send her an email.

Social Housing Forum at Kooloora Community Centre

On 5 February 2015 Kingsford Legal Centre held a forum for social housing tenants at the Kooloora Community Centre on the Malabar housing estate to assist them in making submissions to the Future of Social Housing Discussion paper. Over 40 social housing tenants attended the forum.  KLC gave a brief presentation on the Discussion Paper and how the submission process works.  In particular, the Centre offered participants choice in how they could respond.  Participants had the choice of doing an online submission, handwritten submission or video recording.

KLC developed a series of resources to help participants at the forum understand the contents of the Discussion Paper and the questions asked of them and assisted them to make their submissions.

Further information: Edwina MacDonald, Kingsford Legal Centre, phone 02 9385 9566 or send her an email.

H.A.L.O (Holistic Assistance and Legal Outreach) Legal Education Project: HRCLS in partnership with Gateway Health.

This medico legal project was initiated in February 2015 by Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) lawyer Beth Kennedy and Dax Matthews from Gateway Health with the view of enhancing individuals’ access to legal services within a health setting.

Recent research has revealed that providing legal services in partnership with health care providers can have a significant impact on the health of disadvantaged people and potentially reduce overall public health costs. Many disadvantaged people do not access the legal system, and are more likely to access the healthcare system.  In the US experience of Medico Legal Partnerships has shown that legal assistance which is provided at the same time as disadvantaged people access health treatment can help to tackle some of the environmental causes of poor health, change policies which impact on poor health and reduce readmission rates.

It is hoped that this pilot project will expand to more than just legal advice appointments to the giving of legal education sessions to the wider community within Gateway programs and also to staff to assist them in recognising the legal needs of their clients.

This medico legal service is in addition to the existing outreach clinic HRCLS operates at the Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service.

Further information: Karen Bowley, lawyer, HRCLS, phone 1800 918 377 or send her an email.

Legal Information for Migrant Groups in Newcastle area

During 2014, Hunter CLC has presented a number of legal information sessions to various migrant groups in the Newcastle area.  Solicitor Michael Giles made presentations to male Afghani refugees who acted as translators for the Australian Army in Afghanistan, and recently settled in Newcastle. Michael spoke to the men about domestic violence, Apprehended Violence Orders and family law processes. The presentations were well received and inspired a number of thought-provoking questions from his audience.

Solicitor Ruby Taylor was invited to speak to a group of women from the Philippines.  The women have been settled in the Newcastle area for some time, and meet every week for morning tea.  More recently, the women have decided to educate themselves during the morning teas, and have organised a series of informative talks from different local community services. Ruby spoke on a range of legal topics, including wills, consumer law and tenancy.  She provided a brief overview of various areas of law, as well as providing contact details and information on services that could assist with different legal problems.

Hunter CLC would like to thank Hunter New England Health and Mission Australia for their assistance with planning the presentations.

Further information: Ruby Taylor, Hunter CLC, phone (02) 4040 9121 or send her an email.

New Debt/Fines Clinic at Hume Riverina CLS

This clinic commenced operation in February 2015 on a Wednesday afternoon at the Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) and is for clients with debts or fines in either NSW or Victoria.  This initiative is in response to the increase in the number of clients with these types of issues and a lawyer with experience in this area, able to dedicate a clinic specifically for these clients.  So far this year this clinic has been fully booked.

Further information: Karen Bowley, lawyer, HRCLS, phone 1800 918 377 or send her an email.

Indigenous Cultural and Gathering Rights Workshop

Illawarra Legal Centre (ILC) recently presented the second of its series of cultural fishing rights workshops in conjunction with Indigenous Community Links.  This is part of ILC’s work with the local Aboriginal community in response to the regulation of fishing in NSW whereby ambiguity and uncertainty over recognition of cultural fishing rights have resulted in hundreds of prosecutions, leading to fines and imprisonment for alleged breaches.

The problems arising from implementation and enforcement of the Fisheries legislation are also aggravated by the poor relationship between the Aboriginal community and NSW Fisheries. A major outcome from the workshop was the decision to invite NSW Fisheries to attend in depth cultural awareness training on country.  With the active involvement of a number of elders and the Illawarra Local Aboriginal Land Council we are now planning a three day cultural gathering in the Illawarra for the community to come together to celebrate and share fishing knowledge and experience and to which the Centre has invited NSW Fisheries.

The workshop also formed part of a recent report on cultural fishing rights on Radio National’s PM program.  Click on this link.

Further information: Linda Tucker, Illawarra Legal Centre, send her an email.

"Borrowers Beware": a partnership between The Aged-Care Rights Service (TARS) and Legal Aid NSW Head Office Civil Law Solicitors

The Borrowers Beware project will develop community radio broadcasts to educate elderly speaking Arabic and South Eastern European (specifically Croatian, Macedonian and Serbian) people across NSW concerning the risks of entering into financial products secured against a person’s home, such as credit contracts, mortgages and guarantees.

There is a strong evidence base in support of the identified need to provide education and targeted legal assistance to elderly Arabic speaking and South Eastern European people about the risks of entering into financial products secured against their homes and where to go for legal help.

The Borrowers Beware project commenced in November 2014 and will involve:

The CLC Program at Legal Aid NSW wishes TARS and the Legal Aid NSW Civil Law project partners all the best as the project gets underway.

Further information: Benjamin Dougall, Legal Aid NSW. Phone (02) 9219 5669.

4.   Human Rights in action


Universal Periodic Review

Kingsford Legal Centre’s KLC Acting Director Emma Golledge co-ordinated, along with the National Association of Community Legal Centres and the Human Rights Law Centre (Victoria), the Joint NGO Report for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).  The UPR a review by the United Nations Human Rights Council which examines the state of human rights in Australia.  This is the second time Australia has been reviewed.

The review is an important opportunity for human rights organisations across Australia to highlight areas of concern and to make recommendations to the Council as to what Australia should do to improve. This is a great opportunity for domestic human rights organisations to work together to highlight the current state of Australia’s human rights internationally.

Further information: Emma Golledge, KLC, phone 02 9385 9566 or send her an email.

New outreach service in Miller

South West Sydney Legal Centre, in partnership with Legal Aid NSW is providing free legal advice at the HUB, 16 Woodward Crescent Miller. The drop in service is available every Thursday from 9.30 to 1.00pm to all members of the community.  Advice is available on a wide range of civil law problems.

Further information: Maria Cosmidis, Executive Officer, Southwest Sydney LC, phone 9601 7777 or send her an email.

Domestic Violence Casework Service now in Bankstown

The Bankstown Domestic Violence Service (BDVS) is taking suitable referrals to provide casework support for adult and child victims of domestic violence who live in the Bankstown local government area.  The service can provide support to victims still living through the abuse and those who have escaped the abuser.

Funded by Family and Community Services and auspiced by SWSLC the service will have two full time caseworkers providing long term, needs based casework. 

Further information: Maria Cosmidis, Executive Officer, Southwest Sydney LC, phone 9601 7777 or send her an email.

Exposing VET Providers and Protecting Vulnerable Consumers

Vocational Education and Training (VET) providers have been targeting vulnerable and disadvantaged people with unscrupulous marketing practices by enrolling students into courses they cannot possibly complete or afford.

The Australian Skills Quality Authority recently released a report which found that nearly half of all Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) used misleading information to promote themselves.

Redfern Legal Centre’s Credit and Debt practice has assisted a number of clients with complaints about these misleading and deceptive practices. RLC found that vulnerable and disadvantaged consumers were specifically being targeted. RLC has heard anecdotal stories of marketing agents positioning themselves outside Centrelink offices and going door-to-door in public housing blocks.

Following a Senate inquiry, that RLC contributed a submission to, a number of protections for vulnerable people have been established.

Further information: Joanna Shulman, CEO, Redfern Legal Centre, send her an email.

More bang for your bond

The “More Bang for your Bond” is a campaign being run by the Tenants’ Union (TU) to raise awareness of where tenants' bond money is being spent by the NSW Government.  The TU has found that with over $1 billion of tenants' money lodged as bonds at the NSW Rental Bond Board, very little of the interest generated by this money is paid as interest to individual tenants when they claim their bonds at the end of their tenancies.  Instead, most of the money, about two-thirds of the total, is paid to NSW State Government agencies, primarily the NSW Department of Finance and Services, and the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.  A small portion is used to fund the Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Service (TAASs).  Other smaller amounts go to other community services (such as financial counselling services, and the No-Interest Loans Scheme) and affordable housing programs.  After these payments, the Rental Bond Interest Account retains a surplus.  Accumulated surpluses now amount to about $60 million.

The TU has developed a website to promote awareness of this issue.  The website allows users to:

CLCNSW supports this campaign.

Click on this link to go to the website.

Further information: Tenants Union, send them an email

Justice Connect moves to support unrepresented litigants in Fair Work matters

On 24 November 2014, the Justice Connect Self Representation Service expanded the areas in which it provides assistance to unrepresented litigants in Federal Court and Federal Circuit Court matters.  The Service is now able to assist disadvantaged litigants in Fair Work matters, in addition to bankruptcy.

“Many people experiencing disadvantage are forced to appear at court without legal representation. Civil law and legal processes can be complex and confusing, and unrepresented individuals often struggle to keep their heads above water. That’s why this Service has been set up,” said Joanna Mansfield, Manager of the Service.

The service assists unrepresented individuals to understand court proceedings and conduct their case effectively, by helping them ensure they have correct information for court appearances, legal advice, proper documents and forms and advice on court processes.

“We have 11 committed law firms whose lawyers volunteer their time to help those without representation,” said Ms Mansfield.

Justice Connect’s Service is based on the successful QPILCH model. Funded by the Commonwealth Attorney-General, it operates in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT.

“Clients feel the Service lets them know where they stand and what they need to do next. Court staff have also observed that these clients are appearing at court more prepared and better equipped to conduct their matters. This is a win-win situation,” said Ms Mansfield.

“Our aim is to promote access to justice by connecting those who can’t get legal assistance any other way with lawyers who give their time for free. With the expansion of the Service to Fair Work matters and the ongoing involvement of pro bono lawyers, Justice Connect will be able to help more people who are determined to help themselves” said Fiona McLeay, CEO of Justice Connect.

Justice Connect’s Self Representation Service can be contacted on 1800 727 550 between 9.30am and 5.00pm, Monday to Friday. The Service accepts requests from individuals for assistance as well as referrals from other legal services and caseworkers.

Further information: Joanna Mansfield, Manager, Self Representation Service – Justice Connect, phone (02) 8599 2121, send her an email.

5.   Case reports


Case reports from the Financial Rights Legal Centre

The following three case studies have been provided by Financial Rights Legal Centre.

Preventing homelessness and financial hardship

In mid-2012 Wendy’s* house was burned down by arson.  Her adult son, Daniel, was home at the time and was taken to the hospital and treated for injuries to his shoulder and smoke inhalation.  Wendy’s home, where she had lived for 26 years and raised her children as a single mother was completely destroyed.  Wendy had been paying the mortgage off by herself for most of the preceding 26 years and was finally approaching owning the house outright.

Immediately after the fire Wendy made a claim on her home building and contents insurance policies.  The insurer appointed an investigator to ascertain whether Daniel had intentionally started the fire.  Daniel was also investigated by the police as a suspect for arson.  Daniel was interviewed, forensic evidence was collected and DNA samples were analysed.  After 9 months it was established that there was not enough evidence linking Daniel to the fire, nor was there any viable motive for him to have started the fire.  He was not a beneficiary under either insurance policy, and his mother was underinsured anyway.  Daniel was officially eliminated as a suspect by the police, but the insurer continued to insist that he was to blame for the fire and pursued their suspicions aggressively.

By the time Wendy found Financial Rights Legal Centre she and her son had already been investigated by the insurance company for over a year and they had been told on the phone that their claims were going to be rejected.  Meanwhile she had been sinking further and further into financial hardship as she continued to pay off the mortgage on her destroyed property, rent on her temporary accommodation, and the cost of replacement belongings and furniture. Financial Rights was able to help Wendy lodge her dispute with the Financial Ombudsman Service and assist her to comb through and respond to the hundreds of pages of documents that the insurer supplied as evidence for its conclusion of Daniel’s guilt and Wendy’s alleged fraud. 

After months of arguing about the insurer’s lack of evidence and burden of proof under the law the Ombudsman agreed with Financial Rights that the insurer had failed to prove Daniel had started the fire or that our client had made any fraudulent statements.  The insurer has now been directed to pay Wendy $371,000 plus interest and she will be able to get her life back on track.

* Not her real name.

Travel insurance & the elderly

Prior to arranging a cruise, Sue*, a woman in her 80s, went to an insurer and applied for travel insurance.  The insurer’s Product Disclosure Statement stated that due to her age and the sorts of conditions she had she would need to get a medical assessment.  She went to her treating doctor who provided her with a medical statement listing her conditions and that she was fit to travel in his opinion. One of her conditions was “Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)”.  The travel insurer’s PDS stated they would cover this condition where a medical opinion is obtained.  Sue returned to the insurer, and provided her certificate.  She paid her premium, including pre-existing condition cover, of $900.  She went on her trip and developed pneumonia.  She was airlifted to a Canadian hospital where she was admitted for an extended period of time.

Sue went to claim on her insurance and was rejected. The insurer stated she had a special condition and the policy excluded coverage for her COPD. This was news to Sue who was not aware she was not covered.

The Canadian hospital was pursuing her for $57,000 in hospital expenses and she had already incurred several thousand dollars in expenses she paid to the hospital directly. Unable to resolve the matter with the insurer’s internal dispute resolution, Financial Rights lodged a complaint in the Financial Ombudsman Service. The Ombudsman determined that the insurer had not informed Sue of the exclusion of her COPD (Case number 330834).

The hospital medical expenses were paid, Sue recovered the additional costs of her first class flight home (required to accommodate her oxygen tanks), the cost of the nurses who escorted her, and $40,000 in out of pocket expenses.

* Not her real name.

Income protection insurance and fair operation of the law

Bill* developed a hernia working as a labourer. He was put on the public hospital waiting list for surgery and in the meantime was able to continue to work so did not claim on his income protection insurance.  He had to wait around 18 months for his surgery, and was off work for almost 7 weeks with recovery time.  Once he did claim, his insurer declined the claim because the policy only covered temporary total disablement that arises within 12 months of the illness or injury arising.  Financial Rights assisted Bill to lodge a dispute in the Financial Ombudsman Service (“FOS”) and to present his arguments and evidence.

FOS made a determination in Bill’s favour under section 54 of Insurance Contracts Act.  In short the provision says that an insurer cannot refuse to pay a claim because of an act or omission of the insured (or another person) which occurs after the contract was entered into, except to the extent that the insurer’s interests have been prejudiced by that act or omission.  FOS found that Bill was covered because the diagnosis was within the period of cover and that the client’s failure to have surgery within the 12 month period was an act or omission covered by section 54 – either being an omission of either the client or the public hospital system in not performing the surgery earlier.   Medical evidence showed the insurer suffered no prejudice from the delay.  Bill received a payout of over $5,000 for the 6-7 weeks off work.

* Not his real name.

Further information: Julia Davis, Policy & Communications Officer,

Financial Rights Legal Centre, phone (02) 8204 1384.

Case reports from Redfern Legal Centre

The following five case studies have been provided by Redfern Legal Centre.

Escalating debt issues

Around 13 years ago John*, a mechanic with anxiety issues, got a personal loan of $1,000 from his industry credit union, to pay for expenses around Christmas time.  Shortly afterwards he lost his job and his marriage ended.  He incurred significant costs involved with his family breakdown, including selling the family home and paying child support. John made one repayment on the personal loan, but was unable to continue servicing the loan after he lost his job.  By 2014, John, then aged 62, relied on the Disability Support Pension, lived in social housing, and had no substantial assets.

John came to Redfern Legal Centre with escalating letters of demand from a debt collection agency.  They sought repayment of the debt, which had grown to over $6,000.  They sought to enforce a court judgment obtained by the creditor 11years earlier.  John was desperate to clear the debt, but had no capacity to repay this amount.  RLC assisted John to articulate his personal and financial circumstances to the creditor as well as the commercial reality that this debt was unrecoverable.  The creditors eventually recognised that it would be impractical and unfair to pursue recovery.  While John was overwhelmed by the escalation of the debt, he insisted on making a nominal repayment on the original loan, as a matter of principle.  RLC helped John to negotiate a settlement figure of $500, which the creditors accepted as full and final settlement.

* Not his real name.

Pregnancy discrimination and fathers

Adrian* worked full-time as a warehouse assistant for four years, then took three months paternity leave.  Before going on leave, he felt that he had a good relationship with his employer. After he returned from leave, his employer made him participate in a “performance counselling plan”, which included a long list of issues about his work performance, and ultimately they terminated his employment.

Adrian made an unfair dismissal claim to the Fair Work Commission and, at the same time, lodged a sex discrimination complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). His unfair dismissal claim settled after a conciliation conference.  Part of the settlement was that he withdraw his complaint with the AHRC.

* Not his real name.

Substantiating a claim in racial discrimination

Jack* and his partner Jo*, an Aboriginal woman had lived in the same area and shopped at a local shopping centre for many years.  Jack and Jo started experiencing harassment at the shopping centre from one of the security guards.  The harassment involved racial taunts to Jo.  It culminated in the banning of Jack from the shopping centre.

Jack lodged a complaint with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, alleging racial discrimination in the provision of goods and services.  The Board was unable to resolve the complaint because it could not identify the correct respondent.  The Board referred the complaint to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT).

Jack then sought the assistance of RLC.  The Centre assisted him to identify the correct respondent and to apply for that respondent to be joined as a party to the proceedings.  RLC appeared for Jack before the Tribunal in a short hearing involving the respondent’s vicarious liability for the conduct of security personnel with whom it had entered into sub-contracting arrangements for the provision of security services at the shopping centre.  RLC assisted him to negotiate a resolution to the complaint, which included the lifting of the ban.

* Not their real names.

Dismissed after asking about his pay

Harry* came to Australia on a working holiday visa, planning to work and travel around the country for six months.  Not long after his arrival in Sydney, he found work as a salesperson with a company which, he noticed, employed a large number of people on student visas and working holiday visas.

Harry had been working for the company for only a few weeks when he realised that their hourly rate of pay was approximately half the national minimum wage. The other workers did not appear to be aware of this. Harry asked his employer why he and the other workers appeared to be receiving less than the minimum wage. His employment was terminated not long after.

RLC assisted Harry to make a general protections claim to the Fair Work Commission.  The claim settled at conciliation, with Harry receiving a settlement sum incorporating the amount that he should have been paid while working for the company.  Both RLC and Harry hoped that, through this process, the company became more aware of its obligations under the Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009 to its other employees.

* Not his real name.

Unfairly dismissed

Laura* had been enjoying her work as a personal assistant for about three years when her employment was terminated with four weeks’ notice, on the basis that her role was redundant.  During the notice period, a new person started working for Laura’s company.  Laura had to train the new employee to perform her duties as a personal assistant. When Laura’s notice period came to an end, the new employee stepped into Laura’s former personal assistant role.

RLC assisted Laura to make an unfair dismissal claim in the Fair Work Commission, on the basis that Laura had been unfairly dismissed because the termination of her employment was not a genuine redundancy. Laura’s matter settled at conciliation.  She received monetary compensation and an enhanced statement of services from her former employer, to assist her in finding another job.

* Not her real name.

Further information: Joanna Shulman, CEO, Redfern Legal Centre, send her an email

6.   Media mentions


CLC lawyers in the Law Society Journal

Too much girl power

In a letter to the editor of the Law Society Journal Gemma McKinnon, former Aboriginal Legal Officer at the Tenants’ Union, said:
 

I wanted to thank you for publishing George Gell’s letter in the October LSJ.  It is evidence that attitudes like his still remain in the profession, and exactly why we still need to turn our minds to diversity and flexibility in our sector.

Source: page 8, Law Society Journal (November 2014)

George Gell’s letter said:
 

“Too much girl power”

Reading the July and August editions of the Journal has left me feeling so old.  It is not just my 78 years, it is that I can still recall those way off days when men were solicitors too.

Source: page 8, Law Society Journal (October 2014)

Compensation preclusion periods

In a letter to the editor of the Law Society Journal Matthew Butt, Principal Solicitor at the Welfare Rights Centre, said:
 

As a community legal centre lawyer specialising in the area of social security law, it was welcome to see an article about compensation preclusion periods in the November 2014 edition (“Social Security Preclusion Periods and Lump Sum Compensation Payouts: The need for reform”, Langheim and Frangos).  The article refers to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal’s decision in Ms Lind’s case and its view that it was bound by the Federal Court decision in Chamberlain to reject her claims that her case was special because she received compensation after retirement.  This is an error of law.  The Chamberlain decision did not deal with the issue of compensation post retirement and, in fact, agreed with other Federal Court decisions which had said that where it could be seen, objectively, that there was no overlap (‘double dipping’) between the period for which the person was compensated for economic loss and the preclusion period, this might be special.  Errors of law by the tribunal may be appealed to the Federal Court.

Source: page 8, Law Society Journal (December 2014)

10 laws that need to change

In the February 2015 edition of the Law Society Journal, an article featured ten laws that need to change in 2015.  Key legal professionals gave their views on the laws that need to change and why.  Amongst the ten laws covered were the following, written by CLC lawyers:
 
 
II: Victims’ Rights.  Mari Vagg, solicitor at Women’s Legal Services NSW, and Liz Snell, Law Reform, and Policy Co-ordinator at Women’s Legal Services NSW.
 
IX: Consorting and Organised Crime.  David Porter, senior solicitor and head of police complaints legal advice service, Redfern Legal Centre.
 

Source: pages 26-27, 33-35 Law Society Journal (February 2015)

“Beating about the bush”

The cover story of the March 2015 edition of the Law Society Journal detailed the realities of regional, rural and remote legal practice.  Amongst the lawyers featured in the article was Matt Lyster, lawyer at Far West CLC.  The article also covered the funding issues of the Centre, which included a photo of Matt, Marriette Curcuruto, Principal Solicitor, and Eliza Hull, solicitor.  Quotes from Mariette and Tracey Willow, FWCLC CEO, were also included.

Source: pages 28-35, Law Society Journal (March 2015)

CLC funding crisis

The April 2015 edition of the Law Society Journal had a short article on the proposed legal assistance reforms.  It outlined NACLC”s concerns about the reforms, in particular the timetable for change.  Joanna Shulman, CEO of Redfern Legal Centre, was also quoted in the article.

Source: page 10, Law Society Journal (April 2015)

Further information: Alastair McEwin, Executive Director, CLCNSW, send him an email

Media on reversal of funding cuts

On Thursday 26 March 2015, the Federal Attorney General, Senator George Brandis, announced a reversal of planned funding cuts for the legal assistance sector, including CLCs.  Following this announcement, there was an extensive coverage of this in the media.

See for a compilation of some of the media click on this link.

Further information: Alastair McEwin, Executive Director, CLCNSW, send him an email

7.   Publications


Adding Public Value: The integration of frontline services & law reform in the NSW Community Legal Sector

The ‘Adding Public Value: The integration of frontline services & law reform in the NSW Community Legal Sector’ report seeks to understand, document and quantify the impact of linking policy and law reform as part of an integrated service provided by CLCs in NSW.  It also seeks to test the claims made by the sector and academics in relation to the value of policy and law reform.  The study finds that policy and law reform activities undertaken by CLCs provide good value to society, are generally of high merit, and meet the social and economic objectives of government and the sector when assessed against key outcome measures.

The report was prepared for Community Legal Centres NSW (CLCNSW) and the Financial Rights Legal Centre by Judith Stubbs & Associates and was launched by the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG in November at Minter Ellison Lawyers.

Click here to download the report.

Further information: Alastair McEwin, Executive Director CLCNSW.  Send him an email

The Right to Quiet Enjoyment in Social Housing

Hunter CLC, with the support of Community Legal Centres New South Wales, recently researched the issue of neighbourhood disputes in social housing. The research involved surveying Hunter CLC clients who lived in social housing who had identified as having had issues with a neighbour in the past, and reviewing the current Housing NSW policies that relate to neighbourhood disputes.

The research suggests that the most common neighbourhood issue in social housing is verbal abuse, including threats and harassment, though survey participants also reported experiencing physical abuse, vandalism, theft, property damage, stalking, and noise complaints. Hunter CLC found that Housing NSW had a non-transparent complaints policy, was often reluctant to take action in response to tenant complaints, and participants felt that they “passed the buck” to police, often resulting in a cycle of referrals.

Hunter CLC recommends that Housing NSW improve their complaints procedure and their communication with tenants, for example by way of a Housing Coordinator. Further recommendations include extra support for tenants with high needs, more attention paid to allocation of tenants and greater collaboration between tenants, landlords and the police.

Hunter CLC’s report has been considered in a number of government inquiries, including the Inquiry into Tenancy Management in Social Housing and the Inquiry into Social, Public and Affordable housing.

Click on this link to download the report.

Hunter CLC thanks CLCNSW for their support in completing this report.

Further information: Bronwyn Ambrogetti, Managing Solicitor, Hunter Community Legal Centre, phone (02) 4040 9121 or send her an email.

New website for lawyers and support workers assisting parents with intellectual disability in care proceedings

The Intellectual Disability Rights Service (IDRS) recently launched its new ‘Making Sense’ website. The website is an online resource providing valuable information to lawyers and disability support workers assisting parents with learning or intellectual disability involved in the NSW child protection system.

Families where at least one parent has an intellectual disability are over-represented in care proceedings in NSW Children’s Courts. Lawyers assisting parents with intellectual disability require an understanding of intellectual disability and parenting capacity, effective communication skills and need to be able to assist parents to navigate care proceedings. Disability support workers, on the other hand, need an understanding of the Care and Protection system to effectively support these parents. The ‘Making Sense’ website provides lawyers and disability support workers with this knowledge.

The ‘Making Sense’ website is an initiative of IDRS’s Parent’s Project.  This statewide Project supports parents with intellectual disability who are at risk of having their children placed in out of home care or who are involved in care and protection proceedings. The website has been funded by the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW.

Visit the website.

Further information: Marissa Sandler, Solicitor The Parent’s Project, IDRS, phone (02) 9318 0144, send her an email.

Launch of Women at Work Factsheets

On 5 March 2015 UNSW Australia President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Jacobs, launched Kingsford Legal Centre’s Women at Work factsheets.  This project began as a Legal Aid Commission Partnership grant in 2011, with Legal Aid and Asian Women at Work (AWAW).  KLC ran a series of community legal education sessions with clients of AWAW where participants discussed the problems they had at work and talked about their rights with the help of a KLC lawyer.  From these workshops a series of factsheets were developed. These factsheets outline common employment law problems and where to go for assistance. We have published five factsheets in English, Chinese, Bangla and Indonesian. KLC hopes the factsheets will help people identify their rights at work and where to go for legal help. KLC’s employment clinic will use them in 2015 to run more workshops for vulnerable workers.

The factsheets are available on the KLC website.

For hard copies, send KLC an email.

Further information: contact Maria Nawaz, KLC, on phone (02) 9385 9566 or send her an email.

International Students’ Service Film #IWishIKnew

Redfern Legal Centre’s International Students’ Service released a new film to highlight the legal problems many international students face when studying in Australia.  International students are away from their usual support networks and many have a lack of understanding of Australian laws.

The #IWishIKnew Campaign aims to highlight these important issues and raise awareness of RLC’s free legal service for international students across the state of NSW.

To watch the film, click on this link.

Further information: Joanna Shulman, CEO, Redfern Legal Centre, send her an email

8.   Events, commendations and developments


White Ribbon Day event in Liverpool

South West Sydney Legal Centre staff supported the first White Ribbon Day March and Gala in Liverpool on 24 November 2014. 

Congratulations to Joyce Asencio from the SHLV program and the Liverpool Domestic Violence Liaison Committee for organising the march, a sausage sizzle, children’s activities and entertainment in Bigge Park. 

Principal Solicitor, Peter Multari was MC at the event that saw 300 people from our diverse community unite against domestic violence.  The event was supported by the NRL and the A-League who sent players to participate in this great event.

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Thank you to staff from all the local organisations who helped make Liverpool White Ribbon Day a success! Photo: Southwest Sydney LC

Further information: Maria Cosmidis, Executive Officer, Southwest Sydney LC, phone 9601 7777 or send her an email.

Christmas cheer at the Central Coast CLC

Each November, the Central Coast Community Legal Centre (CCCLC) undergoes a metamorphosis. From a humble office, it re-emerges as a masterpiece of Christmas cheer.  Snowflake motifs drip from the ceiling. Candy canes protrude at every turn.  The eating cubicle is now a reindeer stall and the fridge is transformed into a snowman… No exposed edge goes without tinsel.

This level of commitment to Christmas decorations may seem extreme, but it serves an important function.  As CCCLC has discovered, it is an effective way to relieve stress and build camaraderie, particularly crucial at Christmas time when there is even more demand for the assistance of free legal services.

The importance of mitigating the vicarious stress of working with people in crisis, is becoming increasingly evident for legal professionals. Being a ‘sticky tape elf’ for an afternoon provides welcome comic relief to the pressure of trying to help the Central Coast’s most vulnerable people at what should be a happy time of the year. One CCCLC solicitor explains, “We all put them up together on a Friday afternoon. The staff and volunteers are happy to help and have a break from answering phones.”

The yearly tradition has become something to look forward to, and keeps everyone motivated and in high spirits right up until the end of the year. As succinctly put by one CCCLC staff member: “It’s hard to be cranky when you are sitting on a chair covered in gift wrapping paper.”

Further information: Nassim Arrage, Principal Solicitor, Central Coast CLC, phone (02) 4353 4988, send him an email.

Photo: Central Coast Community Legal Centre

Tenancy advice services celebrate twenty years

Wherever you are in New South Wales, there’s a local service that has been helping tenants understand their rights and responsibilities for as long as twenty years. Speaking to an average 30,000 tenants annually, these services have helped tenants resolve tricky differences with landlords and understand how our renting laws work.

In December 2014, Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Services (TAAS) celebrated 20 years of continuous funding under the Tenants’ Advice and Advocacy Program, from Fair Trading NSW. This funding means they can provide their services to tenants for free.

“This is such an important resource for tenants in New South Wales”, said NSW Fair Trading Minister, Matthew Mason-Cox. “NSW Fair Trading is proud of its association with the Tenancy Advice and Advocacy Service and the work it is doing to empower tenants. To provide a continuous community service for 20 years is a significant milestone and I congratulate the services and their staff for their continued dedication to ensuring all tenants' are able to exercise their rights.”

Tenants advice services have a strong record of saving tenancies and preventing homelessness.  Team Leader for Western Sydney Tenants’ Service (WESTS), Jayd Raffoul said “in about 85% of cases, where a tenant is at risk of homelessness, we’re been able to prevent eviction and help get their tenancy back on track.  When this happens, everybody wins: the tenant is housed, the landlord is getting the rent paid again, and there’s less call on charities and homelessness services”

In the last 20 years, TAAS have spoken to about 500,000 tenants, providing advice, assistance and representation.

Further information: Jayd Raffoul, Team Leader, Western Sydney Tenants’ Service, phone (02) 8833 0933, send him an email.

CLC lawyer wins Harmony award

Nalika Padmasena, solicitor at The Aged-Care Rights Service, won this year’s Stepan Kerkyasharian AO Harmony Award.  This award recognises the contribution and achievement of an individual or organisation in facilitating and promoting social cohesion, understanding and acceptance between members of the differing cultural or faith communities in NSW.

Nalika won the award for her work helping women from culturally diverse backgrounds to speak about domestic and family violence.  Premier Mike Baird presented her with her award in front of more than 1300 people at the annual Harmony Dinner.  Mr Baird said the award recognised the work she has done "to empower female migrants of their legal rights while providing safe environments for them to speak out about domestic violence".

Congratulations Nalika from CLCNSW and the CLC sector!

To see an article about Nalika’s award, click on this link.

Further information: Alastair McEwin, Executive Director CLCNSW.  Send an email

Dianne Anagnos wins UNSW Australia Community Engagement Award

Kingsford Legal Centre’s Acting Principal Solicitor, Dianne Anagnos, was the very worthy winner of the UNSW Australia Staff Award in the category of Excellence in Community Engagement.  Dianne’s work running KLC’s community legal education program as well as her leadership with local organisations was recognised as furthering the university’s commitment to the local community.  Dianne is an outstanding lawyer whose compassion, kindness and professionalism make her a real asset to KLC and the CLC sector.

Further information: Emma Golledge, phone (02) 9385 9566 or send her an email

Ukulegals

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) has a group of 4 staff members who have found playing the ukulele to be a happy and relaxing past time.  The group, the Ukulegals, has performed at the service’s Annual Community Consultation Meeting singing a song especially written about the HRCLS to the tune of Old MacDonald Had a Farm and assisted in the celebration of the HRCLS’ 15th birthday with a rendition of “Happy Birthday”.  At the end of 2014 the Ukulegals performed 2 songs on ABC Goulburn Murray radio using the opportunity to also discuss the funding issues of HRCLS and CLCs in general.

Further information: Karen Bowley, lawyer, HRCLS, phone 1800 918 377 or send her an email.

9.   State Office Update


Aboriginal Legal Access Program (ALAP)

CLC Cultural Safety Workbook

The text of the Workbook was approved by the CLCNSW Aboriginal Advisory Group in February following several rounds of consultations, and is on schedule to be launched at the May Quarterlies.  The Workbook is designed to assist centres to develop culturally safe relationships with local Aboriginal organisations, communities and people.

CLC Aboriginal Family Law Day

The 2nd Annual CLC Aboriginal Family Law Day has been confirmed for the 7th August 2015. Supported by Judge Matthew Myers and our pro bono partner Gilbert + Tobin the day will be designed to assist the ‘legal assistance sector’ to support vulnerable families who may be at risk of having children removed. The training is open to ‘care partners’ as well. More speakers are to be announced.

February CLC Yarn Up & Training Day, and Quarterly meetings

At the February Yarn-Up and Training Day, supported by Gilbert + Tobin, CLCNSW Aboriginal Advisory Group members discussed how the sector’s funding instability was effecting programs and retention.

After three consultations, the AAG approved the draft ‘Aboriginal Cultural Safety’ standard being developed by CLCNSWs’ Aboriginal Legal Access Program and Regional Accreditation Program, for NACLC and Legal Aid uses.

The Yarn-Up participants also engaged in consultation with the National Congress of Australia’s First People to participate in the Universal Periodic Review process.

Further information: Zachary Armytage, ALAP Community Development Worker, CLCNSW, phone (02) 9212 7333 or send an email

Accreditation Scheme

National Accreditation Scheme (NAS) for Community Legal Centres

The NAS is a sector-led initiative which provides certification for CLCs that are providing services in compliance with the National Accreditation Criteria.  The NAS commenced in 2011 and all full members of CLCNSW were certified by June 2014.  CLCs are certified for three-year periods. 

The Regional Accreditation Coordinator (RAC) is now supporting centres to implement improvement workplans, monitors 6 monthly progress reports and is involved in development work.

Significant work is being undertaken with the National Accreditation Team and NACLC to prepare for Cycle 2 of the NAS.

The Standards and Performance Pathway (SPP) transition is complete and the Management Support Online (MSO) portal upgrade has been completed.  Centres are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the new sites.

Review of the National Accreditation Scheme

An external review of the NAS has been completed.

The Review found that the majority of survey respondents stated that the NAS had benefited the sector and their own CLC and had positive effects on organisational management and administration and on governance.  The support and assistance of RACs, the exit interview, the recommendations and the report and the online tools (Standards and Performance Pathway (SPP) and Management Support Online (MSO)) were identified as effective elements.  The NAS was seen as recognising the good quality of the work that CLCs already undertake.

The Report highlighted concerns about resources and time required to participate, technical difficulties and the need for clearer communication.

Overall the Report recommends continuation of the NAS, but recommends some streamlining of its structure, processes and systems and improved communication.

The Review report is available on the NACLC website at this link.

Further information: Meg Houston, Regional Accreditation Coordinator, CLCNSW, phone (02) 9212 7333 or send an email

Advocacy and Human Rights

Media and local MPs

The AHRO visited Hume Riverina Community Legal Service, Shoalcoast CLC and Illawarra Legal Centre and has been assisting them and other centres with informing local media and local MPs about CLC funding issues.

Sexting

Staff from Marrickville Legal Centre, Shoalcoast CLC, Women’s Legal Service NSW, National Children’s Youth and Law Centre and the CLCNSW developed a briefing paper on sexting that was sent to the NSW Attorney General.

Victims Support

Members of Violence-Victims Compensation Committee met with the Acting Commissioner of Victims Rights to raise concerns about the Victims Rights and Support Act 2013.

The NSW Government and Opposition made commitments during the 2015 election campaign in response to concerns raised about the Act 2013.

Australian Human Rights Commission

CLCNSW made a submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission Rights and Responsibilities national consultation and the AHRO attended the Sydney public consultation.

Out and about

The AHRO nominated the Director of Women In Prisoner Advocacy Network for a Human Rights Award run by the Australian Human Rights Commission and she was chosen as one of the finalists for this award.

The AHRO presented a webinar on writing law reform submissions for Women’s Legal Services’ Ask Lois website.  The AHRO did a presentation to the National Policy Lawyers’ Forum hosted by the Law Society of NSW encouraging Law Societies to work more closely with CLCs.  The AHRO attended the Elizabeth Evatt and AGM and joined Robyn Ayres CLCNSW Deputy Chairperson, CLCNSW Executive Director and staff from Hume Riverina Community Legal Service for a meeting with the NSW Attorney General about funding for CLCs.

Further information: Kerry Nettle, Advocacy & Human Rights Officer, CLCNSW, phone (02) 9212 7333 or send an email

Sector Development

Legal Training Day

In February, CLCNSW ran the first Legal Training Day for 2015.  This was the most popular training day ever, with over 90 registrations for the four sessions that were presented during the day.  Sessions included:

CLCNSW is grateful to Gilbert + Tobin Lawyer for their generous support of the day with providing a venue and catering.

Further information: Alastair McEwin, Director CLCNSW.  Send an email

10.      What are Community Legal Centres and what is CLCNSW?


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.

Further information:
Suite 805, Level 8
28 Foveaux Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
Phone: (02) 9212 7333
Fax: (02) 9212 7332
Send an email
Website: www.clcnsw.org.au
Twitter: www.twitter.com/clcnsw

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