Volunteers vie for 2017 Justice Award
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Community legal centre volunteers vie for 2017 Justice Award
Volunteers from seven community legal centres across NSW have been nominated for the 2017 Community Legal Centres NSW Justice Award.
The volunteers provide support to their communities across a variety of areas, including people seeking asylum, people experiencing extreme economic disadvantage, and people living with HIV/AIDS.
The winner of the CLCNSW Justice Award will be announced at NSW Parliament on Thursday 19 October.
The Community Legal Centres NSW Award is one of six annual awards that form the Justice Awards. These were established in 1999 by the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW and are an annual fixture recognizing people and organisations that make contributions towards improving access to justice for marginalised people and communities in NSW.
2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW.
The Community Legal Centres NSW Award in 2017 will recognise an individual volunteer or group of volunteers for their demonstrated commitment to improving access to justice for socially and economically disadvantaged people. This includes one-off significant contributions, or demonstrated commitment across a number of years or even decades.
Community Legal Centres NSW Executive Director Polly Porteous said:
“Volunteers like these are the heart of community legal centres. Every year across NSW hundreds of volunteers help thousands of people gain access to justice.
“The generosity and community spirit of volunteers make CLCs a trusted community service for people in vulnerable situations.
“We’re so grateful to all these volunteers for their contribution to the legal assistance sector in NSW, and particularly to people seeking asylum,” she said.
The nominees are as follows:
Elise Briggs – Nominated by Hunter Community Legal Centre
Elise Briggs has a long-standing commitment to social justice, particularly working with homeless people and asylum seekers.
When Hunter Community Legal Centre was starting to pull together an Asylum Seeker Project in 2015, Elise put her hand up to voluntarily coordinate the service, successfully bringing together two Newcastle settlement services, the University of Newcastle, the Refugee Advice and Casework Service, and 20 pro bono solicitors from the local Newcastle profession to process the visa claims of 40 asylum seekers from 8 different countries and across 11 languages.
Elise was on hand to welcome all 40 asylum seekers to their appointments at the legal centre. Her warmth and compassion made the clients feel comfortable, while they re-told lawyers the harrowing events leading to their escape from their homes and travel to Australia.
Hunter Community Legal Centre Volunteer Elise Briggs said:
“For the last year I have been lucky to have been able to be involved in a program which helps asylum seekers to put together their claims for protection, after a long period of trauma and uncertainty.
“In contrast to the indifference and disregard that asylum seekers commonly experience in Australia, the Hunter Community Legal Centre offers them a warm and professional space, where they can take their time to work through this process, that is critical towards building some sort of future.
“I look forward to continuing this volunteer work as I have learnt so much from both the staff at HCLC and from the asylum seekers themselves,” she said.
Tom Lynch – Nominated by Arts Law Centre of Australia
Tom is a solicitor at Kay & Hughes Arts & Entertainment Lawyers and, as a musician, has always been passionate about the creative industries.
Tom began volunteering with Arts Law in 2015 as a student volunteer, supporting their clients and legal staff in their Sydney office, where he was known for preparing outstanding legal briefs for the centre’s lawyers.
Tom then joined the fundraising committee, Hearts for Arts Law, and in 2016 was elected to the position of Chair of the committee. In this role, Tom has extensively volunteered his time to produce incredibly successful fundraising events for Arts Law, raise the profile of Arts Law among artists in NSW, and increase the revenue to fund their programs, including Artists in the Black, which provides legal advice to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists.
Sue Whitehead – Nominated by Refugee Advice & Casework Service (RACS)
Sue Whitehead started volunteering at RACS in October 2015. She has been providing essential coordination work for RACS’ Fast Track clinic, a program that has, up until June 2017, assisted over 3000 people seeking asylum with protection visa application lodgements.
Sue comes in twice a week, every week, and has provided over 840 hours of volunteer work in two years. Her primary role is to provide support to the coordination of volunteers in community organisations to assist clients to fill out visa forms, which are then reviewed by the legal centre.
Sue also provides additional support to vulnerable teenagers by providing information about university scholarship opportunities.
Executive Director of the Refugee Advice & Casework Service, Tanya Jackson-Vaughan said:
“Sue’s commitment to RACS is a generous two days a week, every week. She is a reliable, calm, intelligent presence that we have all come to rely on. She provides essential access to justice support for all of the unrepresented people RACS assists through the Fast Track process… Sue’s role in the clinic is a vital cog in a lean, mean access to justice machine. She is reliable, efficient and caring – a great combination in a volunteer,” she said.
Petrina Slaytor – Nominated by Welfare Rights Centre NSW
Petrina has been a dedicated volunteer at the Welfare Rights Centre for almost ten years and is a strong advocate for disadvantaged people. Her experience as a social worker means she engages with clients as whole people, not as a mere “legal problem”, demonstrating a rare sensitivity and understanding.
Over the past decade, Petrina has taken instructions for and provided legal information and service referrals to countless clients, assisted the Welfare Rights Centre with administrative work, assisted with the training of volunteers, contributed to social justice campaigns, and helped to maintain staff and volunteer morale with her bright and humble demeanour.
Welfare Rights Service Volunteer Petrina Slaytor said:
“I feel honoured to be nominated; because my commitment to volunteering is personal, it is an unlooked-for acknowledgement to be nominated for a public award.
“I enjoy using my past experience as a social worker and part time member of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal to contribute to an organisation for which I have always had high regard. Although my role as volunteer consists only in obtaining information and passing the essential details on to the Centre’s legal team, so often clients will thank me for my help I think because they feel listened to.
“Over the ten years I have worked at the Welfare Rights Centre I have found that the work has always been enjoyable, satisfying and challenging. The staff, sadly reduced in number because of funding cuts, have always welcomed me as part of the team. The Welfare Rights Centre provides an extremely valuable service and it is essential that government funding continues to support an organisation working so hard to help ensure that clients obtain their legal rights,” she said.
Julie Deane – Nominated by Macarthur Legal Centre
Julie Deane has been a management committee member of Macarthur Legal Centre since 1999, and was Chair from 2008 to 2016.
During this time, particularly in the last eight years, she imparted vision and professionalism to the legal centre that has enabled it to survive and thrive in challenging times. Her work with the management committee and staff particularly during times of organisational upheaval over the past three years, has turned the fortunes of the centre around.
Julie’s contribution to access to justice as a volunteer at Macarthur Legal Centre has been second to none.
Volunteers – Nominated by HIV/AIDS Legal Centre
The HIV/AIDS Legal Centre (HALC) volunteers work in partnership with the staff at the centre to increase and improve access to justice for vulnerable people living with HIV and/or hepatitis.
HALC has up to 7 volunteers in the office on any given day, and a total of 4 employed staff (all solicitors). Volunteers are law students, law graduates and solicitors, and they are often juggling study, family commitments and part-time employment in order to help provide legal support to vulnerable clients who might otherwise fall through the gaps.
‘Six Solicitors’ – Nominated by Illawarra Legal Centre
Illawarra Legal Centre has conducted a weekly free service of face-to-face appointments with volunteer solicitors since the community legal centre started in 1985.
The “group of 6” from local private law firms – Robert Davidson, Mick Davies, James Isabella, Kerry Kyriakoudes, Michael McGrath and Linda Wright – have volunteered their time on the centre’s roster, quietly supporting the CLC for over thirty years each, without mentioning it, without the need for recognition and without the need for the centre to continually elicit their support.
Some have also spent many years on the CLC’s Management Committee in addition to being on the volunteer solicitor roster, and one was also instrumental in setting up Illawarra Legal Centre in the first place.
Being in a regional area means that recruiting volunteers for vol-sol rosters is more difficult than in a metropolitan area, so the commitment of these six solicitors is indeed extraordinary.