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On the Record - Issue 22 March 2013


The e-bulletin


Community Legal Centres: Community, Compassion, Justice
Issue #22

March 2013

This is the 22nd 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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Contents:

 

1. Community Legal Sector News

Editorial: CLC law reform work – it matters!

Funding principles will restrict the work of CLCs

New Federal Attorney General

 

2. CLCs and their law reform work

2012 Kingsford Legal Centre Law Reform Highlights

NSW planning reforms – a whiter shade of green?  

Boarding houses reforms

KLC working with its community to achieve systemic change 

Intestate estates: achieving parity for Aboriginal people

Advocating for law reform – transsexual children, their rights, identity and welfare

Pay day lending – a law reform saga

EDO calls for mining laws to be more ecologically sustainable

 

3. Community Law

Volunteer South Coast Court Support Program

'Blauwggammir ganna beh' in the Northern Rivers

Two New Outreach Clinics for Shoalcoast

New AVO Duty Advice Scheme at Wyong Local Court

 

4. Human Rights in action

Central Coast Community Legal Centre makes submission to the NSW Ombudsman Review of Police Powers

Advocating for the most vulnerable members of the Hunter community

RLC makes submissions to the public hearing on the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill

Update on Shadow Report on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD)

Falling through the cracks:  No tenancy protection for sub-tenants

Human Rights for Older People

Victims Compensation: Vital for Victims

Housing Repairs Campaign

 

5. Case reports

Direct discrimination finding against Murrays Australia Ltd

RailCorp to pay for disability discrimination

 

6. Media mentions

The Australian profiles Redfern Legal Centre’s Jacqui Swinburne

Redfern Legal Centre on gross underpayment of hospitality staff

 

7. Publications

Think Before You Act Workshops

Community LEGAL Education and REFORM database

New edition of The Immigration Kit

 

8. Events, commendations and developments

Legal Assistance with Armidale Project Launch

Yabun

National Access to Justice and Pro Bono Conference

 

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: CLC law reform work – it matters!

 

An often overlooked, indeed sometimes forgotten, aspect of CLC work are its activities in law reform to redress systemic issues around unfair and discriminatory laws and policies.  The benefits of law reform are usually not seen immediately but rather have long-term positive consequences; due to this perceived lack of immediate benefits, many in the community, including governments, do not always place a high value on law reform.  This contrasts sharply with the attention on direct legal services to individuals.  Whilst there is no question individuals should be able to receive the advice they need, it is sometimes better and more efficient to devote resources to reforming a law or policy that may adversely affect many individuals in the community.

Law reform activities come in many forms.  They can include lobbying, running public campaigns, distributing materials, and meetings with individuals and communities, including MPs, other government stakeholders, and those who identify as activists and lobbyists.

This edition of On The Record showcases the wide range of law reform work that CLCs undertake.  These activities are not merely restricted to lobbying and public campaigning; they also include submissions to inquiries, educating the community about the issues around unfair laws, and coordinating community-based efforts to change such unfair laws.

The examples in this edition of law reform work are only a few of many thousands where CLCs have had a positive effect on access to justice for those in most need in the community.  The value of CLC law reform work cannot be emphasised enough.

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

 

Funding principles will restrict the work of CLCs

 

As reported in the December 2012 issue of On The Record, the NSW Attorney General, the Hon Greg Smith SC MP, announced new guidelines and funding principles for the NSW Public Purpose Fund (PPF) on 20 December 2012.  These funding principles were just five in number, contained in a media release, and were provided with no further information, such as supporting background information or how they were expected to work in practice.  At the time of the release and for some time into the new year, CLCNSW and other organisations waited in anticipation for further information to be released from the Attorney General’s office.  No such additional information had been forthcoming.  In fact, the Attorney General’s office confirmed to CLCNSW that the media release is to be taken as the principles.  However, as of today, 28 March 2013, CLCNSW has received a revised set of funding principles, which we understand to have been approved by the NSW Government.  The set of principles state that funding is not to be used for activities which include public campaigning and advocacy, including use of traditional and social media. 

This principle will restrict the work of CLCs and impact on the community’s access to justice.  Where CLCs see a recurring problem caused by the law or legal system, or that the legal system can address, public campaigning for reform can be an appropriate response.  It is often more efficient than trying to help each individual affected by the legal problem, without doing anything to remedy the underlying cause of the legal need.

 

We call upon the NSW Government to consider the impact that the restrictive funding principles will have on the community, and access to justice for our clients. We ask that any funding principles do not limit the full range of activities of CLCs for the public benefit of the community. 

 

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

 

 

 

New Federal Attorney General

In early February, the Hon. Mark Dreyfus QC MP was sworn in as the new Federal Attorney General.  The position became vacant upon the resignation of the Hon. Nicola Roxon MP.

 

Mr Dreyfus has had a long and distinguished career in both law and politics.  Prior to entering politics, he was a barrister, based in Melbourne.  He practised in a wide range of areas, including representing Aboriginal plaintiffs in cases relating to Stolen Generation claims.  He was elected to Parliament in 2007.  In addition to his role as Attorney General, he is the Special Minister of State, Minister for Emergency Management and Minister for the Public Service and Integrity.

 

CLCNSW welcomes the Attorney General to this role.  We particularly applaud the Attorney General’s comments made in February 2013 about free speech during the discussions around the Anti-Discrimination Bill.  He stated: “The Coalition’s “free speech” posturing is jarringly at odds with a long history of using political and legal processes to shut down legitimate discussion… Let’s not forget Peter Costello's gag order on charities, cuts to Environmental Defenders' Offices”.  CLCNSW welcomes these comments and calls upon Governments, both Commonwealth and State to ensure that CLCs are not only free to speak out on issues that affect their communities, but also have the resources to do so.  We do, however, note our disappointment at the Anti-Discrimination Bill not being passed in Parliament earlier this month and call for it to be enacted without further delay.

 

We also thank the Hon Nicola Roxon, former Attorney General, for her commitment to access to justice and wish her well.

 

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

 

2. CLCs and their law reform work

 

2012 Kingsford Legal Centre Law Reform Highlights

In 2012 KLC focused on proactive law reform work that will bring about systemic change for its clients.  In doing so, KLC has worked collaboratively with local community organisations and other community legal centres. Two key examples of the law reform the centre has engaged in during 2012 are about proposed changes to the victims compensation scheme and anti discrimination law.

 

KLC advocated for improvements to the victims compensation scheme. KLC made a submission to the government commissioned inquiry into the scheme highlighting the importance of the scheme for their clients, particularly for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, and supporting retaining and improving the scheme.  KLC worked with other CLCs to bring clients’ experiences to the attention of politicians and government, and to advocate for changes to the scheme that will improve access to justice for victims of violence.  The CLCNSW Working Group developed an online letter writing kit for other individuals and organisations to lobby their MPs. They also coordinated an open letter to the Attorney General, signed by 80 different organisations, wrote to the Attorney General and Victims Services in support of Victims Compensation, and wrote short articles for the Alternative Law Journal.

 

At a national level, KLC worked with the National Association of Community Legal Centres to coordinate and draft community legal centre responses to the Government’s Discrimination Consolidation Discussion paper and the subsequent draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill. KLC appeared before the Senate Committee, along with Redfern Legal Centre, PIAC and NACLC, to give evidence on the Draft Bill. KLC also worked with other community legal centres to highlight in the media and to politicians the significant advances the draft Bill would make for our clients. KLC wrote media releases and did media interviews, wrote to their local MP and relevant ministers, and worked with NACLC and the NACLC Human Rights Network to encourage CLCs in key electorates to lobby their local MPs.  KLC was extremely disappointed that the Government did not proceed with the Bill.  It is a missed opportunity to make Australia’s discrimination laws simpler and fairer.

 

 

Further information: Anna Cody, Director, Kingsford LC, send an email

 

 

NSW planning reforms – a whiter shade of green?  

The last time our State had a new planning system, the Bee Gees were fighting off Rod Stewart for pop chart glory. But pop music is easier to get excited about than planning – so you could be forgiven for not knowing that by the end of 2013, NSW could have a new planning system. 

 

Why does that matter at least as much as pop music? Because every day, governments and councils make planning decisions that profoundly affect us and the future of the communities we live in, for better or worse.  Planning systems set the agenda for a whole host of important public policy interests – housing supply, public transport, clean air and water, access to open space, major project assessment (from towers and malls to mines and power stations), and environment and heritage protection. Planning systems also govern the level of community engagement in how our cities and towns should develop and grow – from big-picture issues to developments next door. 

 

For over 25 years, EDO NSW has provided an independent voice for the environment, communities, and the public interest in good planning and development decisions. If the new Planning Act lasts as long as the one it’s replacing, it could be 2047 before we see another one. So before the State puts up the scaffolding, it pays to design something together that helps us (and our appointed decision makers) choose wisely.


In July 2012, the State Government released its initial Planning ‘Green Paper’, putting forward some strong ideas for a new planning system based on upfront strategic planning, public consultation and infrastructure provision; streamlined development approvals (including more ‘automatic’ code-complying approvals); and a new ‘culture of delivery’.

 

EDO NSW made a detailed submission with 40 broad recommendations for a best practice planning system – prioritising ecologically sustainable development (ESD), community participation and environmental protection (see: EDO NSW Green Paper submission (Sept. 2012), available at: http://www.edo.org.au/edonsw/site/pdf/subs/120914A_New_Planning_System_for_NSW.pdf)

 

A range of proposals in the Green Paper were concerning for environmental protection, sustainability and equitable community rights. For example, the trade-off for early strategic-level public participation is that project-level input would be limited, and code-complying assessment ‘maximised’. Developers would be given greater ‘certainty’, and more ‘flexibility’, including new appeal rights.

 

The Green Paper was also light on practical measures to ensure environmental protection, cumulative impact assessment, climate change and natural resource management are integrated into the planning system.  An official ‘feedback summary’ released in December 2012 revealed a significant divergence of opinion on the Green Paper’s priorities.

 

If the NSW Government is to restore public trust and integrity to the planning system, the forthcoming ‘White Paper’ will need to ensure a more equitable balance of rights and safeguards for the community and environment. It will also need to move beyond the Green Paper’s economic growth focus, demonstrating a clear commitment to ESD.

 

The NSW Planning Review is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to have your say on how we should plan, design and build our communities for the 21st century. If you or your organisation have a view on any of the issues noted above, stay tuned for the Government’s forthcoming White Paper (www.planning.nsw.gov.au) and make your voice heard.
 


Further information: Nari Sahukar, Policy & Law Reform Solicitor, EDO NSW, www.edonsw.org.au

 

 

Boarding houses reforms

The problems of a lack of basic safeguards and access to justice for residents of boarding houses were known for many years, but successive State Governments refused to reform the law. In 2005, the Tenants' Union of NSW, the State's specialist CLC in residential tenancies law, adopted 'occupancy agreements' as a new and more flexible model for law reform and, over the succeeding years, worked with other CLCs and NGOs to lobby the State Government to consider occupancy agreements as part of a larger package of reforms for the boarding house sector. Occupancy agreements law reform became accepted as part of the solution to other problems for government, such as deplorable conditions in licensed residential centres for people with disability, and overcrowded accommodation for international students. As a result of the campaign, the current NSW State Government introduced the Boarding Houses Act 2012. Previously, legal advice and casework in relation to residents of boarding houses was often futile, as there were simply no effective legal protections.

 

This campaign for law reform was analysed in the Law and Justice Foundation report ‘By the people, for the people? Community participation in law reform’ (Nheu, N & McDonald, H 2010, Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, Sydney, pp 202-203).  The report stated:

 

“In the Boarders and Lodgers Case Study we found that it was the legal expertise of legal CSOs [Civil Society Organisations], coupled with their knowledge of the needs of disadvantaged communities and the impact of the law on these groups, which enabled them to demonstrate the practical consequences of lack of legislative protection for boarders and lodgers (legal CSO):

… the two [providing services and law reform work] go hand in hand. It’s very hard to not get involved in law reform when you’re working as a tenant’s advocate … definitely the two go hand in hand … When you’re talking to clients and you’re constantly saying to clients, Yes, I know that’s crap but that’s the way the legislation is … (Legal CSO)

 

The particular circumstances and living arrangements of boarders and lodgers also meant that, in practice, it would be very difficult for these individuals to be involved in law reform other than through the advocacy of CSOs, as they themselves are often marginalised and unwilling to rock the boat:

… the majority of our clients do have quite serious mental health issues. So they don’t have the capacity a lot of the time to do their own lobbying or advocating, they’re disenfranchised as it is for various reasons … there’s no legislation protecting you … they’d ring us up for advice and we said, Do you want us to contact the landlord? and they’d say, No. I don’t want to do this bit. I don’t want to rock the boat … I can’t afford to get kicked out. I’ve got nowhere to go. (Legal CSO)

 

Information about some disadvantaged individuals or groups, and particularly those groups with complex needs, may be unknown to law-makers unless the CSOs that work with them and have knowledge about their issues are capable of participating in law reform.”

 

Further information: Julie Foreman, Executive Officer, Tenants' Union of NSW, phone 8117 3701, send her an email

 

KLC working with its community to achieve systemic change 

KLC’s clients and local community groups identified repairs to public housing as a major issue in KLC’s catchment area.  In advocating for improvements to the standard of housing, KLC has continued to work closely with local community organisations and residents. It has focused on drawing on the experience and skills of the local community and building capacity in the community to advocate for individual and systemic change.  For example, KLC surveyed its local communities and clients to gather information about the extent of the housing repairs problem.  It published articles in local newsletters on how to get repairs done and has run pop up advice clinics at local housing estates focusing on housing repairs.  KLC also ran workshops for tenants on how to write letters to local MPs and, with the Eastern Area Tenants Service, on how to make applications to the Tenancy Tribunal.  The Housing Repairs Project has brought together all aspects of KLC’s service – casework, community education, community development and law reform – to seek systemic change for its clients.

 

Further information: Anna Cody, Director, Kingsford LC, send an email

 

Intestate estates: achieving parity for Aboriginal people

Until recently, Western Australian law treated the management and distribution of intestate estates differently for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.  Under Part IV of the Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority Act 1972 (WA) (AAPA Act), the Public Trustee was automatically given the power to administer the intestate estates of Indigenous persons; thus denying their relatives the right to manage the estate.  This limitation did not exist in relation to the estates of non-Indigenous people and was not the position in any other State.

The Arts Law Centre of Australia (Arts Law) has been lobbying the Western Australian government since 2008 to reform this legislation, on the grounds that it breached Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) by treating Indigenous people in a discriminatory way. Arts Law argued that Part IV of the AAPA Act should be repealed, so as to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous intestate estates into parity under the law. Despite the recommendation in 2006 by the Western Australia Law Reform Commission to do so, no State government had acted on this issue. Arts Law collaborated with the Perth office of law firm Herbert Smith Freehills to prepare a constitutional challenge to the legislation. It was the threat of such a test case coupled with growing media attention that finally caused the Western Australian parliament to act.  

The extensive advocacy efforts of Arts Law and Herbert Smith Freehills were met with success on 26 September 2012, when Indigenous Affairs Minister, Peter Collier, introduced the Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority Act Amendment Bill 2012 into the Western Australian Legislative Council. The Bill proposed the repeal of Part IV, in line with Arts Laws’ submission.

 

Arts Law achieved an advocacy victory for the rights of Indigenous people on 8 November 2012 when the Western Australian Legislative Assembly passed the Bill. It subsequently received Royal Assent on 22 November 2012 and will come into operation on a date to be proclaimed.

 

For further information: Delwyn J Everard, Deputy Director, Arts Law Centre of Australia, phone 1800 221 457, send an email

 

Advocating for law reform – transsexual children, their rights, identity and welfare

 

Since November 2011, the Inner City Legal Centre (ICLC) has picked up and run three very unique family law cases.  Its work in these cases seeks to reform, through litigation, the law relating to the hormone treatment of children experiencing transsexualism (also known as “Gender Identity Disorder”).

 

Hormone treatment aims to ensure these children experience sexual harmony between their mind and body.  But treatment requires court approval. Disharmony means a child lives a life that is in constant conflict with their affirmed sex. Such a life can lead to serious mental health difficulties, self-harm and even suicide - all before the age of 18. Not to mention the impact this disharmony has on learning, which may often take place in an environment beset with discrimination and verbal, physical and cyber bullying. Leading to a denial of self, these harms are serious and life changing.

 

These cases currently take place in a public policy vacuum where public funding for treatment is absent or made conditional on court approval. ICLC is working in partnership with private practice to advocate for these children’s rights, welfare and identity. ICLC strongly believes that these cases can catalyse and eventuate in practical and far-reaching law reform across education, medicine, children’s rights and discrimination and family/child welfare law. 

 

At the least, these cases should set precedent to make it easier, quicker and more certain for similar children seeking hormone treatment in future.

 

Further information: Dan Stubbs, Centre Manager, Inner City Legal Centre, phone 9332 1966

 

 

Pay day lending – a law reform saga

In 2001, indignant at the exorbitant amounts being charged for small loans to the most vulnerable in our society, Consumer Credit Legal Centre (NSW) [“CCLC”] teamed up with CHOICE and a collection of financial counsellors to take to the streets in Western Sydney. With a shark suit and snappy slogans on placards we sought to get public and political attention for the fact that while a quarter of a per cent interest rate rise on home mortgages makes national news, some people are paying hundreds, even thousands of per cent in interest and nobody seemed to notice or care.

 

That event was followed up with a series of submission, meetings with government bureaucrats and the relevant Minister and started what was to become a 12 year plus battle to curb the growth of the burgeoning industry of high cost, small amount lenders in Australia which make a tidy profit lending to those who can least afford it.

 

High-cost payday loans (and other similar products) are described by lenders in lots of ways, from ‘short term finance’ to ‘cash advances’ to ‘personal finance solutions’.   Whatever they are called, these loans are harmful because they worsen rather than improve most consumers’ financial positions. Consumers may think that taking out a payday loan is a one-off solution to a temporary problem, but there is a great deal of evidence that indicates repeat borrowing is common and necessary for the viability of payday lenders’ business.

 

Edward’s Story

Edward (not his real name), an aged pensioner in his seventies, was referred by a financial counsellor to a community legal centre in November 2011.  At the time of the referral, Edward had four concurrent loans, of $300, $400, $600 and $2020 respectively from four different lenders.

 

Edward says he borrows the money because he can’t keep up with living expenses on the pension any more. He says he gets a loan half paid off and then another bills comes in so he gets another loan partly to refinance the old loan and partly to pay the latest expense. Edward says it’s easy to get the money—if you are new to the lender you have to take in a Centrelink statement and bank statements but once they know you they just refinance without anything further required.

 

Edward is in a vicious cycle, with more and more of his money going to repay his loans, leaving less and less to pay his living expenses, leading in turn to greater dependence on getting additional loans.

 

The NSW Government of the day (back in 2001) agreed to cap the maximum interest rate cap of 48% on most consumer loans in the state from 1996. Forever inventive, however, lenders exploited a loophole for very short term loans to give consumers loans at rates which were multiples of this cap. Most people could not afford to repay the loans in the short term provided and would therefore roll them over and over, incurring additional costs each time.

 

An inefficient cycle began, where the government would enact legislation to close loopholes (mostly prompted by lobbying from CCLC) and the industry would find new loopholes to exploit in order to continue to charge fees and avoid the interest rate cap. Over all this time CCLC lobbied all the States and Territories in Australia to introduce interest rate caps. By the time the Federal Government indicated its intention to take over the regulation of credit nationally in 2008, there were maximum interest rate caps in NSW, and the ACT with QLD soon to follow. Victoria had a maximum interest rate cap but did not include fees in its calculation allowing the high costs of a loan to be hidden in the fees rather than the interest rate. Other States were contemplating enacting their own interest rate caps.

 

The Federal Government at first indicated no intention to cap interest rates, preferring to focus on licensing, responsible lending and access to external dispute resolution. While CCLC and other consumer advocates around the country were in general agreement with these priorities, we saw an interest rate cap as an integral part of any effective regulatory regime for consumer credit. While in principle responsible lending is at the heart of the problem, proving a failure to properly assess the suitability of every small loan is an impractical task. This has been borne out in practice with responsible lending cases for several clients under the national laws which came into effect in 2010.  Each of these cases has blown out to several lever arch files as these clients (like most consumers who use payday loans) have obtained multiple small loans over time and each case has to be proven on its individual merits.

 

A coalition was formed nationally by consumer advocates from community legal centres, Legal Aid and financial counselling networks to “Save the Cap” - advocating for the comprehensive interest rate caps in NSW, Qld and the ACT to be preserved and enacted nationally (along with anti-avoidance provisions to stop the creative avoidance techniques). That campaign involved conducting research and casework, writing submissions, attending government consultations, appearing before Parliamentary Committees, making strategic alliances with welfare organisations, conducting protests, setting up a website (hosted by Consumer Action Law Centre in Victoria), informing academic research, working with media and making our case to Members of Parliament (on one occasion 40 MPs were visited in Canberra in the space of 48 hours).

 

In fact we were often informed by those Government representatives with sympathy for our views that we were not active enough, with the pay day lending industry paying high profile professional lobbyists to regularly walk the halls of Parliament in Canberra.

 

In March and July this year, legislation is due to come into effect with targeted additional obligations for loans under $2,000. While we were not successful in getting the 48% cap we were arguing for, we did get a less restrictive cap on costs. The legislation also creates other obligations and restrictions including a presumption of unsuitable lending for the 3rd loan in any 3 month period, restrictions on the amount that can be taken in repayments from the income of social security recipients, and limits on the overall default charges payable on a small amount loan. Perhaps most importantly of all given the history of legislating in this market, anti-avoidance provisions are set to be introduced into the Parliament shortly.

 

While the new laws shortly to take effect fall short of what we were lobbying for, we hope that the combination of these new laws, with ASIC’s general enforcement powers in relation to responsible lending practices might lead to some serious protection for vulnerable borrowers in Australia. If not, we hope we will still be here to provide some balance to an otherwise very one-sided debate. In fact, without the efforts of community lawyers and financial counsellors across Australia for more than a decade there would have been no debate on this issue at all.

 

Further information: Karen Cox, Coordinator, Consumer Credit Legal Centre, send an email

 

EDO calls for mining laws to be more ecologically sustainable

Mining and coal seam gas (CSG) has become a contentious area of law in NSW and across Australia. EDO NSW lawyers have extensive experience working with mining laws, providing legal advice and representation, engaging on state and national policy and law reform, and conducting community outreach. Much of this work has arisen from increased public concern about the impacts of mining on environmental, social and other economic values.

 

In the past two years, EDO NSW conducted 24 mining law outreach workshops at the request of local communities across the State. These workshops aim to help people understand the law and their rights, and facilitate public participation in decision-making. As a further response, EDO NSW has released a comprehensive booklet – Mining Law in NSW: A guide for the community funded by the NSW Environmental Trust (December 2012, available in hard copy and online at: http://www.edo.org.au/edonsw/site/publications.php#mining).

 

Key concerns that community members raise at our workshops include:

 

While the EDO’s education workshops help communities understand what the law says now, its Policy and Law Reform Solicitors engage with state and federal authorities, parliamentary inquiries, peak bodies and colleagues in the Australian Network of EDOs (ANEDO) to improve environmental protection and community engagement under the law.

 

EDO NSW released a mining law reform discussion paper in 2011; made submissions and appeared at the NSW Legislative Council Inquiry into CSG in 2011-12; commented on Hunter air quality monitoring; and sought greater environmental emphasis in the NSW Strategic Regional Land Use Policy (SRLUP) in 2012.  This year, in response to a proposed guideline from energy ministers (the Draft National Harmonised Regulatory Framework for CSG), EDO NSW and ANEDO have called for mining and planning law frameworks that prioritise ecologically sustainable development (ESD) and apply ESD principles in decision-making (see: Submissions and reports available at: http://www.edo.org.au/edonsw/site/policy.php)

 

This work coincides with substantial law reform and policy development from state and federal governments. Most recently, in February the NSW Premier announced forthcoming buffer zones from CSG around residential areas, and more independent oversight from the EPA. In March, the federal Environment Minister introduced a bill to create a new ‘water trigger’ under national environmental law (EPBC Act 1999). This will require Commonwealth assessment and approval of large coal mines and all CSG activities likely to have a significant impact on a water resource.

 

Meanwhile, the EDO continues to advocate for ESD-centred mining and planning laws that include: clear objectives, integrated land-use planning and natural resource management, respectful community engagement, rigorous environmental assessment, objective decision-making criteria, and monitoring, oversight and accountability. In this way, EDO NSW helps to foster informed communities, and protect the public interest in a healthy, productive and resilient environment.

 

Further information: Nari Sahukar, Policy & Law Reform Solicitor, EDO NSW, www.edonsw.org.au

 

3.         Community law

 

Volunteer South Coast Court Support Program

Shoalcoast Community Legal Centre has received funding from the Law & Justice Foundation to establish a Volunteer South Coast Court Support Program, commencing at Nowra Local Court.  This Program will be modelled on others already operating in courts across the State and will be training volunteers to provide information, support and referrals to people coming to Nowra Local Court on list days, particularly those who are unrepresented.  Jane Mussett has been appointed as the Project Worker and is busy recruiting volunteers and designing the training to be offered in consultation with Local Court staff and Duty Solicitors.  We look forward to commencing this Program by mid-year.

 

Further information: Kerry Wright, Coordinator, Shoalcoast CLC, phone

phone (02) 4422 9529 or send an email

 

 

'Blauwggammir ganna beh' in the Northern Rivers

The Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre has been busy rolling out its Will drafting project for Aboriginal people;  "Blauwggammir gannah beh", which roughly translates from Bundjalung to; "look, listen and understand".  The project, funded by the Commonwealth Attorney General, is being developed and implemented by the Aboriginal Legal Access Program team in the NRCLC and is being assisted by the Far North Coast Law Society and private practitioners.  It was born from an expression of interest in Wills from the local Aboriginal community and research that showed that many Aboriginal people did not consider a Will to be important or necessary.  To remedy this lack of access to information about future planning the project set out to provide legal outreaches around the Far North Coast region that catered specifically to Will drafting for Aboriginal people.

 

The project began with up-skilling the NRCLC staff and training conducted by Ashurst for interested local private practitioners in November 2012.  In February this year the Centre held information sessions to educate community service providers who could in turn encourage their clients to access our service.  Service providers and attendees reported the session to be interesting and informative and needed within the Aboriginal communities. In February, there were further education and information sessions for local solicitors at the Far North Coast Law Society Annual Training Conference.  This training and education was conducted in conjunction with a presentation by Michael Tidball, CEO of the NSW Law Society about their Reconciliation Action Plan.

 

The first Will drafting day in Ballina was well attended and wills were drafted with 50% of clients being referred to the Centre for other legal matters that arose as a consequence of the CLE and discussions before drafting. Private practitioners who attended to draft the Wills were keen to participate and willing to be flexible for their clients. The day did highlight a general need for information surrounding superannuation, which we hope to address in the future.

 

Another two outreaches are planned in Tweed and Casino in the next 2 months, with the large numbers of bookings in the Tweed area, with a full day of drafting scheduled for the Tweed.

 

Northern Rivers CLC hopes to incorporate the Wills outreach as a biannual event in the future in partnership with our their stakeholders and would especially like to thank the Far North Coast Law Society for their willingness and responsiveness to the need in the area, and for their contribution to providing reimbursement for private solicitors drafting the Wills.

 

Further information: Angela Pollard, Coordinator, Northern Rivers CLC, phone (02) 6621 1005 or send an email

 

 

Two New Outreach Clinics for Shoalcoast

Shoalcoast Community Legal Centre has recently added two new outreach clinics to its outreach schedule:


Bay and Basin Resource Centre – Sanctuary Point

Two outreach clinics to date have been well attended and the staff at the Resource Centre have assisted in the promotion of the service.

 

Milton Local Court – Milton

Shoalcoast CLC provides a solicitor to advise and assist domestic violence victims during the sittings of the Milton Local Court which is held weekly on a Thursday. The service complements the originating DV service and has been positively received by both the victims and local court magistrate.  The new outreach services have been resourced from existing staff levels and availability.

 

Further information: Barry Penfold, Principal Solicitor, Shoalcoast CLC, phone (02) 4422 9529 or send an email

 

New AVO Duty Advice Scheme at Wyong Local Court

The Central Coast Community Legal Centre has started a new AVO Duty scheme at Wyong Local Court. There was a legal need identified for unrepresented litigants to receive legal advice prior to appearing in court so that they are aware of their legal options and the consequences in AVO matters.

The scheme operates every Thursday from 9am at Wyong Local Court. Solicitors from the Central Coast CLC attend the court, and give a short presentation to all unrepresented litigants in AVO matters about what an AVO is, how the court works, and other general legal information about AVOs.

Solicitors then run a drop-in clinic where they provide one-on-one legal advice to unrepresented parties about their AVO matter that is in the list that day. As a rule, the Central Coast CLC does not represent litigants in AVO matters. However, solicitors may appear on an amicus basis if the person has a significant disability or English is not their first language.

 

Further information: Bronwyn Ambrogetti, Principal Solicitor, Central Coast CLC, phone (02) 4353 4988, send an email

 

4.         Human Rights in action

 

Central Coast Community Legal Centre makes submission to the NSW Ombudsman Review of Police Powers

In March 2012 the NSW Ombudsman invited the Central Coast Community Legal Centre to make submissions in relation to the upcoming review of new powers given to Police to give “move on” directions to persons who are intoxicated and disorderly under Section 9 of the Summary Offences Act 1988.

 

Solicitors and law students from the Central Coast CLC conducted interviews with CLC clients at a local Youth Service to gather information about the experiences of young people with Police using this power.

 

As a result of these interviews several case studies were presented to the Ombudsman’s Summary Offences Amendment Review in February this year.  The case studies illustrated how the Police implemented safeguards relating to the move on powers by giving warnings and identifying themselves, the circumstances in which a move on direction was given, whether the young people were able to give an explanation for their situation and the amount of force that accompanied the move on direction.

 

Further information: Bronwyn Ambrogetti, Principal Solicitor, Central Coast CLC, phone (02) 4353 4988, send an email

 

 

Advocating for the most vulnerable members of the Hunter community

In February Hunter Community Legal Centre (HCLC) developed a law reform submission in response to the NSW Ombudsman’s Issues Paper on the ‘Summary Offences Act 1988: Continuation of intoxicated and disorderly behaviour following move on direction’.

 

HCLC submits that section 198 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW) (“LEPRA”) impacts significantly on vulnerable and disadvantaged persons who are often highly visible in the community and more likely to come to the attention of police.  It is HCLC’s concern that giving police individual discretion to determine what conduct is disorderly, without providing any guidance as to what disorderly conduct is, may lead to inequalities being experienced by vulnerable and disadvantaged persons. HCLC submits that a definition of the term disorderly be reinforced through the implementation of guidelines and training for police.

 

In March the HCLC supported the Australian Law Reform commission recommendation that the ‘Telecommunications Act 1997’ be amended to prohibit the charging of a fee for an unlisted (silent) number on a public number directory.

 

It is the HCLC’s submission that the payment of a fee unduly inhibits the privacy of telephone subscribers. It is also to HCLC’s belief that whilst the fee itself may be thought to be minimal, for those persons who are vulnerable and disadvantaged the fee is unaffordable. This is of particular concern for low-income groups such as pensioners, students, and single parent families who may not be eligible for the fee waiver currently offered by Telstra; only for those who are under a protection order, or at risk of violence.

 

Further information please contact Amy Stewart or Julie Vitnell on (02) 4040 9121 or by sending an email to either Amy or Julie

 

 

RLC makes submissions to the public hearing on the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill

On 23 January 2013, RLC CEO Joanna Shulman appeared at the public hearing into the Exposure Draft of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 in Sydney.  RLC appeared on behalf of NACLC as a centre specialising in discrimination law.  Ms Shulman’s submission at the public hearing was that RLC:

-        Supports the consolidation of Commonwealth Anti-Discrimination legislation generally; but

-        Calls for the government to reinstate the requirement to make reasonable adjustments to the definition of discrimination in relation to disability; and

-        Calls for a systemic response that allows organisations to have standing to apply when discrimination affects more than one individual.

 

On the issue of organisations having greater involvement in discrimination, Ms Shulman said:

“Systemic discrimination affects many people, not just individuals. However, in Australia it is only an individual who can pursue a complaint of discrimination. …. We need to share the burden of ensuring that policies and practices are fairer and more accessible. Advocacy organisations connected with the discriminatory conduct should be able to complain if it is systemic discrimination, and human rights commissioners should have the power to initiate complaints into systemic discrimination.”

 

RLC also supported the submission from NACLC that victims and survivors of domestic violence should be protected under anti-discrimination law. 

 

A full transcript of the public hearing is available here: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=legcon_ctte/anti_discrimination_2012/hearings/index.htm

 

RLC’s joint submission on the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill is available on our website: http://rlc.org.au/about-us/submissions.html

 

Further information: Sophie Farrell, Communications & Volunteer Manager, RLC, phone (02) 9698 7277 or send her an email

 

Update on Shadow Report on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CPRD)

 

The Shadow Report on the CRPD developed by Disabled Persons, Advocacy and Human Rights Organisations was launched in August 2012 and subsequently sent to the UN Committee in Geneva. Redfern Legal Centre’s CEO, Joanna Shulman, is one of project members leading the development of the report. The report contains over 130 recommendations and was developed over a three year period. To date the report has been endorsed by 73 organisations, and is still open for endorsement. The report can be downloaded here: www.disabilityrightsnow.org.au

 

In 2013 the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will begin dialogue with Australia in regards to Australia’s compliance with CRPD obligations. Commencing in April, the Committee will develop a list of issues emerging from Australia’s baseline report. Australia will then be invited to appear at the tenth session of the Committee in September, at which time the Committee will engage with the government delegation and any nongovernment delegations in attendance. Following this dialogue the Committee will issue concluding comments and recommendations.  Representatives from the Project Group will attend the April and September sessions subject to the receipt of funding.

 

For further information about the delegations and the Shadow report see: www.disabilityrightsnow.org.au

 

Further information: Sophie Farrell, Communications & Volunteer Manager, RLC, phone (02) 9698 7277 or send her an email

 

 

 

Falling through the cracks:  No tenancy protection for sub-tenants

Section 10 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (RTA 2010) specifically excludes sub-tenants who do not have a written agreement from the protection of the Act.  This affects a large number of people who contact Redfern LC as many people in the inner city, especially students, live in share housing. 

 

Anyone who has ever lived in share housing knows that it is unlikely that a head-tenant will give a written tenancy agreement to a sub-tenant.  These arrangements are normally quite informal:  a new tenant moves in, and pays their bond either to the head-tenant or to the outgoing tenant.  Usually the new tenant will get a receipt for the monies paid.  If everything goes well, they will get their bond back at the end of the tenancy either from the head-tenant or the new tenant moving in.

 

Unlike all other tenants, a sub-tenant cannot apply to the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal (CTTT) to have his or her bond returned in the event of a dispute.  A sub-tenant seeking the return of a bond would have to file a claim in the Local Court, which is more expensive and time consuming than an application to the CTTT.  Most sub-tenants, and especially international students, find this prospect overwhelming and usually forfeit their bond money, rather than following this course of action.

 

In the December 2012 edition of Redfern Legal, RLC wrote about the introduction of the Boarding Houses Act 2012, which will give basic protection to boarders and lodgers through occupancy agreements. As this Act only applies to premises with five beds or more, the majority of sub-tenants will again not be able to use it to seek Tribunal orders. 

 

Deleting section 10 from the RTA 2010 would not in any way prejudice head-tenants and landlords.  It would afford protection to a large number of tenants who are at the moment falling through the cracks. 

 

In the meantime RLC strongly encourages all sub-tenants to sign a share housing agreement, in order to be protected by the RTA 2010.  A sample agreement can be downloaded from the RLC share housing website on http://sharehousing.org/useful-resources/

 

Further information: Sophie Farrell, Communications & Volunteer Manager, RLC, phone (02) 9698 7277 or send her an email

 

 

Human Rights for Older People

The Older Persons Network UN Submission on Human Rights for Older People was submitted on 15 March 2013 to the United Nations.    The Submission has the support of The Aged Care Rights Service and Mid North Coast Community Legal Centre in NSW, along with other Community Legal Centres in Northern Territory, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. It is a joint project of the OPLS Network under the auspice of the NACLC.

 

The Submission highlights the inadequacies of the current protections in Federal and State laws in protecting the rights of older persons and supports the implementation of a United Nations Convention on the Rights of Older Persons.

 

Areas of concern which are identified as requiring change in order to protect the rights of older people include: age discrimination, violence and abuse, social protection, housing, legal capacity, aged-care, disability, access to justice, health care and palliative care, differences in the ageing experience and policy frameworks.   These gaps are also pronounced for older people with disabilities, older people in GLBT communities and in CALD communities.  In some areas it is recognised that protections under a national framework, rather than a state based approach, would be more beneficial to older persons.

 

Further information: Melissa Chaperlin, Solicitor, The Aged-care Rights Service, phone (02) 9281 3600.

 

Victims Compensation: Vital for Victims

A number of Community Legal Centres in NSW are concerned by possible changes to the NSW Victims Compensation scheme and are part of the CLCNSW Victims Compensation Working Group campaigning on this issue.

 

The NSW Government announced a review of Victims Compensation in August 2011 which was undertaken by PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC). Many CLCs and other organisations made submissions to this review.  The PwC report was due to Government by 30 June 2012.  The CLCNSW Victims Compensation Working Group is calling for this report to be made public.

 

An online tool has also been created to help individuals and organisations write to their local member about their concerns, including retaining and strengthening victims compensation particularly for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Act now and write your own letter.

 

Further information:
Rachael Martin, Principal Solicitor, Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre, send her an email

Edwina MacDonald, Law Reform and Policy Solicitor/Clinical Supervisor, Kingsford LC, send her an email
Liz Snell, Law Reform and Policy Co-ordinator, WLS NSW, send her an email

 

Housing Repairs Campaign

The KLC Housing Repair campaign seeks to improve the standard of housing for clients living in Housing NSW properties.  KLC is continuing to work closely with Kooloora, Eastern Area Tenancy Service, and Working From the Ground Up to build the capacity of tenants groups on housing repairs issues and advocacy skills.  As part of this KLC has delivered two workshops at Kooloora on housing repairs applications and letter writing skills.  KLC was also successful in getting a member of Parliament to ask questions that it drafted on housing repairs in Parliament.  KLC did this in order to find out more about what is happening in this area, and to raise the profile of the issue in Parliament.  KLC continues to apply pressure and gather evidence through its casework, and has run a pop up legal clinic in one of its local housing estates focusing on housing repairs.

 

Further information: Anna Cody, Director, Kingsford Legal Centre, send her an email

 

5.         Case notes

 

Direct discrimination finding against Murrays Australia Ltd
The Federal Court has ruled on wheelchair user Julia Haraksin’s three-year battle to have bus company Murrays Australia Ltd comply with national Disability Standards.

 

On 14 March 2013, Justice Nicholas found Murrays Australia had directly discriminated against Ms Haraksin when the bus company refused to accept a booking from her because none of its buses were wheelchair accessible. Justice Nicholas also said Murrays Australia had breached the Disability Standards.

 

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) represented Ms Haraksin in her action against Murrays Australia.

 

‘Today’s decision puts all public transport operators in Australia on notice,’ said PIAC Principal Solicitor, Alexis Goodstone.

 

‘Public transport operators cannot afford to ignore the Disability Standards. They have a legal obligation to comply, and people with disability who are sick of being treated like second class citizens will hold them to account,’ Ms Goodstone said.

 

PIAC has been advocating for accessible public transport for people with disability for several years, acting in cases against Virgin Airlines, the NSW Department of Transport and two large taxi companies, and most recently, RailCorp.

 

In Haraksin v Murrays Australia, PIAC claimed Murrays breached national Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport when it refused Ms Haraksin’s booking in 2009.

 

The Disability Standards came into effect in 2002. They require all new public transport vehicles to be wheelchair accessible and required 25% of transport operator’s existing fleet to be accessible by 2007.

 

‘This decision reinforces a very basic principle: everyone has a right to equal access to public transport,’ Ms Goodstone said. ‘People with disability should not have to go to court in order to catch a bus.’

 

Further information: Dominic O’Grady, PIAC Senior Media & Communications Adviser, phone 8898 6532

 

RailCorp to pay for disability discrimination

 

For almost two years, Graeme Innes AM urged RailCorp NSW to get serious about its obligations towards Sydney’s rail passengers with disability by ensuring that its trains provide audible ‘next stop’ announcements.

 

After mediation with RailCorp failed, Mr Innes sued the state-owned rail corporation in the Federal Magistrates Court, alleging its failure to provide audible announcements breached Federal Disability Discrimination law.

 

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) represented Mr Innes. In a landmark decision delivered on 1 February 2013, the Federal Magistrates Court sided with Mr Innes.

 

Federal Magistrate Kenneth Raphael ordered RailCorp to pay $10,000 in compensation to Mr Innes.

 

Magistrate Raphael said Mr Innes had suffered indirect discrimination, and RailCorp had been ‘reactive and haphazard’ in its response to Mr Innes’ complaints.

 

PIAC Chief Executive, Edward Santow, said court action was taken to ensure RailCorp complied with its obligations under the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport 2002.

 

He said Mr Innes, who is blind, is entitled to use public transport services without discrimination.

 

‘Audible train announcements are crucial because they allow passengers with vision impairment to know they are getting off at the right station,’ Mr Santow said.

 

Mr Innes, who is the Disability Discrimination Commissioner, took the case in his private capacity. ‘All I wanted was for RailCorp to do what they do for everyone who is able to read print. That is, tell me where I am,’ he said.

 

Further information: Dominic O’Grady, PIAC Senior Media & Communications Adviser, phone 8898 6532

 

6.         Media mentions

 

The Australian profiles Redfern Legal Centre’s Jacqui Swinburne

RLC’s Jacqui Swinburne gave an interview to Susannah Moran of The Australian about working in a community legal centre. Jacqui spoke about her beginnings as a volunteer in tenancy law, eventually moving into the dual roles of chief operations officer and employment solicitor this year. She told the Australian about RLC’s various services and involvement in the community, and the ever-growing demand from residents in the area for legal advice and support. 

 

For the full story see: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/legal-affairs/centre-has-restructured-so-lawyers-specialise-in-specific-areas/story-e6frg97x-1226561291384

 

Redfern Legal Centre on gross underpayment of hospitality staff

An article about the underpayment of hospitality staff by Sarah Whyte and Clay Lucas published in the Sydney Morning Herald featured comments from RLC’s employment solicitor Jacqui Swinburne about her experience of clients, especially international students, being grossly underpaid in the food services industry. The article was published after it was revealed that businesses, including large chains, were paying staff up to a third below minimum wage.

 

“I have been really shocked by the underpayments… Owners are making huge profits while they are exploiting people at the same time,’’ said Ms Swinburne.


For the full story, see: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/underclass-of-restaurant-employees-in-sydney-grossly-underpaid-20130117-2cwoa.html

 

7.         Publications

 

Think Before You Act Workshops

The Youth Education Project (YEP) at Macquarie Legal Centre has launched its Think Before You Act Education Kit. The kit contains all you need to run a Think Before You Act workshop; this includes a DVD with 3 short films, presenter’s and discussion notes, and a USB with a PowerPoint presentation. The workshop is aimed at young people from the ages 16 and up, and it aims to inform young people about their rights and responsibilities in relation to partying, bullying and driving.

 

The DVD was produced in collaboration with the Information and Exchange Service (ICE), with the assistance of the NSW Police Force and the support of the Department of Families and Communities. Each film presents a new topic for discussion with the audience. Party Hard deals with partying and getting arrested, iRob with bullying at school, and Death Race with getting your license and a driver’s responsibilities to his passengers.

 

The Education Kit is available for purchase at $35.00 plus GST. Postage and Handling fees will apply.

 

For further information, please contact Carolina Saez, YEP worker, Macquarie Legal Centre, phone (02) 8833 0994 or send an email

 

 

Community LEGAL Education and REFORM database

The Community Legal Education and Reform database (CLEAR) now hosts information on more than 70 law reform projects undertaken by CLCs. CLEAR has information about submissions, media campaigns, capacity building projects, publications, workshops, seminars and forums. Some entries refer to one-off projects (e.g. submissions) and others provide information about ongoing projects (e.g. campaigns).

 

If you need to improve the chances of others in the sector contacting you about your law reform efforts or spreading the good word about your work, then you can’t afford not to contribute information about your law reform efforts to CLEAR.  And because information uploaded to CLEAR is promoted via social media and an e-newsletter which goes out to more than 450 subscribers, you also increase the chances of your good work being noticed by media outlets, politicians and other human rights advocates.

 

To submit a project, simply opening CLEAR in your browser (http://www.naclc.org.au/clear) and click on the purple Contribute your Projects tab. You’ll then be walked through a number of screens that will prompt you to enter data about your project (e.g. jurisdiction, area of law, audience). Some screens require you to select from a number of options. Others require you to enter text (you can copy and paste text from Word). The final screen will ask you to submit your project.  CLEAR’s Administrator Steve Womersley (aka @naclcbruce) will then open the project and check it out before it goes ‘live’.

 

Once a project is ‘live’ you receive an email with a link to your project on CLEAR. Steve will then promote your project via Twitter etc.

 

Project details can be changed at any time.  CLCs with projects on CLEAR are encouraged to review their project details and email changes to Steve as required.

 

Further information: Steve Womersley, phone (03) 5444 4364 (Mon-Tues, Fri) or send an email

 

New edition of The Immigration Kit

The 9th edition of The Immigration Kit is now available to purchase in a new online subscription format. 

 

The new online version allows subscribers to enjoy enhanced functionality of the text, with user friendly search and bookmark features allowing information to be located easily and saved for future reference and live links to legislation allowing interaction with relevant legislative provisions. A print function also allows subscribers the flexibility to print information in hard copy.

 

The 9th edition provides for an enhanced interactive experience with an up-to-date and relevant text, and at only $185 per annum makes The Immigration Kit an indispensable tool to all those interested in Australian migration law and policy.

 

Click here to subscribe now

 

Further information: Immigration Advice and Rights Centre, phone (02) 9279 4300 or send an email

 

8.         Events, commendations and developments

 

Legal Assistance with Armidale Project Launch

In February, Redfern Legal Centre launched its Legal Assistance Project in co-operation with the University of New England, Armidale and pro bono partners. The project connects international students at UNE with specialist volunteer solicitors at RLC. Users connect with their advisors over the National Broadband Network using web-conferencing software, which allows them to see their advisors, as well as being able to easily exchange and draft documents, despite being nearly 500 kms away.  The launch was held on campus during UNE’s O-week, with RLC’s Jacqui Swinburne and UNE’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Jim Barber opening the service.

 

Further information: Sophie Farrell, Communications & Volunteer Manager, RLC, phone (02) 9698 7277 or send her an email

 

Yabun

On Australia Day, RLC took part in Yabun, the largest single day festival celebrating indigenous arts and culture, held in Victoria Park. 2013 marks 11 years of the festival, which features award-winning indigenous artists and performers. RLC teamed up and shared a stall with staff and volunteers from Marrickville Legal Centre, Kingsford Legal Centre and the Tenant’s Union. Visitors to the stall were invited to make stress balls, to have a drink of water and speak to staff and volunteers about the role of CLCs in the community.

 

Further information: Sophie Farrell, Communications & Volunteer Manager, RLC, phone (02) 9698 7277 or send her an email

 

National Access to Justice and Pro Bono Conference

The National Pro Bono Resource Centre, together with the Law Institute of Victoria and the Law Council of Australia, hosted the Fourth National Access to Justice and Pro Bono Conference in Melbourne from 20-22 March 2013 with nearly 400 delegates attending from across Australia and overseas.  There was strong emphasis on what we have learnt from the NSW Law and Justice Foundation research and arguments for increased legal aid funding and efficiency.  The conference hosted nine international speakers.

 

Many of the papers are now available on the conference website at http://www.a2j13.com.au/Speakers-and-Papers .

 

Further information: John Corker, Director, National Pro Bono Resource Centre, phone, 9385 7371, send an email

 

9.         State Office Update

 

Aboriginal Legal Access Program (ALAP)

Gilbert + Tobin commits to supporting the Yarn-Up and Training Days

 

Michelle Hannon, head of the Gilbert + Tobin Pro Bono team, has given Aboriginal CLC staff the use of a meeting room to hold the Yarn-Up and Training Days.  At the last Yarn-Up, Michelle and Tamara Sims discussed the areas of law that G+T can give pro bono assistance with.  These include employment law, human rights, discrimination, refugee matters, property matters, victims compensation, credit and debt, intellectual property, guardianship matters, policy work and corporate services.

 

G+T provided assistance with the CLCNSW response to the ‘Proposed changes to care and protection legislation’ discussion paper.

 

Improving the capacity of CLCs to deliver culturally safe services for Aboriginal people

Much of the last Yarn Up was focused on further developing the CLCNSW Reconciliation Action Plan, as well as the development of a number of proposals for the CLCNSW Board to consider, which include: the ‘Cultural Safety Criteria’ in the Accreditation Scheme; a renewed commitment for all CLCs to use the ‘Aboriginal Employment Strategy; and including Aboriginal people on CLC management committees.

 

Mental health training for NSW Police

The ALAP Community Development Worker (ALAP CDW) provided the President and CEO of the NSW Law Society with briefing notes for their meeting with the NSW Mental Health Commission.  The recommendation used from the briefing note was for increasing training for police officers to better identify mental health issues, noting the extremely high levels of mental health issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inmates.  Three weeks after the meeting, the Mental Health Minister released a new mental health training program for NSW police.

 

Submissions

In consultation with the Aboriginal Advisory Group, solicitor Cheryl Orr, and the Care and Protection network, CLCNSW staff and the ALAP Community Development Worker produced a submission to the ‘Proposed Changes to Child Protection Legislation’.  At the same time, CLCNSW produced a submission to the Commonwealth Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs inquiry into the ‘Value of a Justice Reinvestment approach to criminal justice in Australia’.

 

These submissions, and others, can be found on the CLCNSW website.

 

Many Hands

Since November, CLCNSW ALAP has had 2 highly capable Aurora Project interns, who at the time were studying their 2nd year of law.  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.

 

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

 

Accreditation Scheme

Good progress continues to be made with the National Accreditation Scheme in NSW.   24 out of 36 centres have now completed their online self-assessment and have undergone a Site Visit by Regional Accreditation Coordinator (RAC), Meg Houston.

 

Centres receive an External Assessment Report after the Site Visit and liaise with the RAC to develop a Workplan.  Following agreement of the Report and Workplan centres are put forward for Certification.

 

The first 5 CLCs in NSW have recently been granted Accreditation and Certification by CLCNSW, for a period of three years.  Congratulations to Kingsford Legal Centre, Macquarie Legal Centre, Mid North Coast Community Legal Centre, North & Northwest CLS, and Shoalcoast Community Legal Centre on their achievements and early engagement with the Accreditation Scheme.

 

3 Site Visits will be taking place in the next few weeks and the RAC is liaising with the remaining 9 centres to book in dates for their Site Visit.

 

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

 

Advocacy and Human Rights

Police Accountability project

Reform of the NSW police accountability has not been on the State Government’s agenda.  Nevertheless, for the past few years, based on their observations from working with clients, CLCs felt sufficiently concerned to raise this as a law reform issue in the absence of any Government process.

 

The issue was narrowed down to the police complaints system and several CLCs worked together with CLCNSW to gain a better understanding of the internal police processes, and to formulate recommendations for reform. Other organisation were invited to, and participated in, discussions about concerns, recommendations, and how to pursue reform. Many of these organisations endorsed the CLCNSW recommendations for reform.

 

CLCNSW sought to raise awareness of its concerns, and ‘lobby’ decision-makers to take action – this involved sending our recommendations to relevant Ministers and opposition MPs, NSW Police, NSW Deputy Ombudsman and other oversight bodies, and requesting meetings.  CLCNSW met with the Deputy Ombudsman, and the Shadow Attorney General.  CLCNSW still hopes to meet with the new NSW Police Assistant Commissioner for Professional Standards after he commences in that role. CLCNSW has recently received a detailed written response to our recommendations for reform, from the NSW Deputy Ombudsman. Although no major reforms are imminent, CLCNSW is seeing some minor improvements in line with its recommendations, particularly in relation to the availability of information about the complaints system.

 

The proactive work on this project also included:

-       Finding a research partner, and participating in the development of research into the police complaints system. This took the form of a comprehensive survey. More information here.

-       Developing online resource material for use by community lawyers and advocates who wish to assist clients with police complaints. More information here

 

Next month the CLCNSW Advocacy & Human Rights Officer will raise awareness of human rights in relation to police accountability, at the “Human Rights and Policing” Conference hosted by the Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security.

 

Child Protection Discussion Paper

Many CLCs, as well as CLCNSW, have recently completed submissions on the NSW Government’s Child Protection Discussion Paper.  With the aim of information sharing and transparency, CLCNSW has set up a webpage where submissions can be shared: http://www.clcnsw.org.au/cb_pages/child_protection_discussion_paper_2013.php

 

We invite anyone who made a submission to share it on this webpage – please email a copy to the Advocacy & Human Rights Officer.

 

Law Reform Training

Four law reform ‘skills’ training sessions have been held at the CLCNSW Quarterlies and Legal Training Days over the past year:

-       You’ve identified a law reform issue – How to get Started

-       Making submissions to Parliamentary inquires

-       Law reform showcase

-       Engaging with your local community in law reform & policy

 

The sessions have been very well attended, and generally well received. The plan is to continue with a law reform training session at each Quarterlies.  CLCs are encouraged to think about their law reform training needs, and to include them in the upcoming Training Needs Analysis.

 

Law Reform Resources on CLCNSW website

A quick reminder about some of the resources on the CLCNSW website, that may be of assistance (especially if you are new to law reform work).

Our online resources include:

-       Media guides and tip-sheets

-       General information about opportunities and tools for law reform, and about raising issues with MPs

-       The Inquiries Table (updated monthly)

-       Examples of CLC casework as law reform

-       Previous submissions, letters and reports by CLCNSW on a wide range of topics

 

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

 

Sector Development

PPF Evaluation & Funding

Following a positive evaluation of the Sector Development program by Matrix on Board (a condition of the previous 2-year grant) the PPF has funded the program for the 2013/4 year, albeit with a 15% cut.  CLCNSW is currently undertaking a budgetary review of the program; it is anticipated that all current program initiatives will be maintained, however some of these will likely provided on a reduced basis.

 

One of the recommendations from Matrix on Board was that CLCNSW reviews both how and what we communicate to the sector about the program.  We will be following up on that in the coming months, particularly with respect to training and professional development needs.  The Sector Development Subcommittee will be meeting in April to discuss the recommendations in more detail.

 

RRR Roadshow

Alastair McEwin and Greg Dwyer attended part of the RRR Roadshow, which was hosted by Hunter CLC in mid March.  The 2-day event provided RRR CLC staff with an opportunity to receive training in particular areas, including social media, as well as discussions on current initiatives and issues.

 

CLCNSW congratulates Hunter CLC for hosting this event.  The RRR network and CLCNSW are looking at further opportunities for similar events, both outside and in Sydney.

 

Leadership Program

This program has now passed the halfway mark, with training days held in July and November 2012, and February 2013, with the final two days following in the next 5 months.  Broadly, the feedback to date from both participants and providers (SAL Consulting) has been very positive.  The program will be reviewed later this year, and an assessment made as to whether it should be run again, for example in 2014/15.

 

Mentoring Project

The mentoring pilot is now in its final stages, with an evaluation coming shortly, and a report in May to the CLCNSW Board, which will assess the outcomes.

 

Practice Management Course 2013

The CLCNSW / College of Law Practice Management Course (PMC) is one of CLCNSW’s most valuable offerings.  It is a unique opportunity for CLC solicitors in NSW to obtain their unrestricted practising certificates by undertaking a comprehensive tailor-made 3-day course on CLC service delivery.

 

The 2013 PMC for CLCs is scheduled for 18-20 September.  Further details and registration forms will be distributed in the near future.

 

 

Further information: Contact CLCNSW clcnsw@clc.net.au or 9212 7333.

 

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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