On the Record – The e-bulletin
Community Legal Centres: Community, Compassion, Justice
This is the 31st 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 that provide equitable and accessible legal services. To find out more about CLCs in NSW visit www.clcnsw.org.au.
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Executive Director, CLCNSW
To contact Alastair, please do so via email
From the very beginning of their formation in the mid 1970s, Community Legal Centres (CLCs) in NSW have collaborated and worked with other organisations, both legal or non-legal, to provide legal solutions to people in the community, in particular those who are most disadvantaged. CLCs operate in a holistic manner, based on a philosophy of providing their clients with ways to solve their issues, which may not always be legal in nature. This holistic approach means that CLCs have been at the forefront of developing innovative ways to reach out beyond their own centres to find collaborations that work.
This edition of On The Record looks at a few of the many collaborative efforts that CLCs undertake with other organisations. From partnerships to working with pro bono law firms, these and many other examples demonstrate the vital role that CLCs play in the community: making sure all people in the community have pathways to access to justice.
Executive Director, CLCNSW
After 7.5 years as its Executive Director, Alastair McEwin will be leaving CLCNSW on Wednesday 1 June 2016. Alastair commenced with the organisation in October 2008, taking over from Polly Porteous. His previous roles include CEO of People with Disability Australia and Manager of the Australian Centre for Disability Law, a small statewide specialist CLC based in Redfern, Sydney. With degrees in Arts, Law and Business Administration, Alastair came to CLCNSW with a strong interest in disability rights and access to justice. He will be taking up a new appointment as Australia’s Disability Discrimination Commissioner in July.
“It has been a wonderful experience working with CLCs to ensure we all work towards access to justice for all. I have been very inspired and motivated by the passion and commitment of staff and volunteers in the CLC sector. I take with me many learning experiences, as well as an appreciation of the challenges of providing excellent services in a limited funding environment. I thank everyone in the sector for providing me with a rich and rewarding time as the Executive Director of CLCNSW”.
After the news of Alastair’s departure, the CLCNSW Board announced the appointment of Polly as Interim Executive Director. Polly commenced at CLCNSW on 3 May 2016 to work alongside Alastair as he prepares to leave the role. Polly will lead CLCNSW for a period up to 14 months.
In announcing Polly’s appointment, Nassim Arrage, CLCNSW Chairperson said:
Polly joins CLCNSW at a critical time, providing stability and leadership for CLCs in NSW, as we face a 25% cut in Commonwealth funding in 2017/18 under the National Partnership Agreement for Legal Assistance Services. Polly's experience as most recently as CEO of the National Association of Community Legal Centres means she is expertly placed to undertake this role. Polly was also the Executive Director of CLCNSW from 2003-2008, and has experience as a tenants advocate, consultant and lawyer for government. The Board of CLCNSW is confident that Polly's skills will help our sector during this funding uncertainty.
The Board of CLCNSW would also like to acknowledge Executive Director Alastair McEwin's contribution to CLC NSW and the sector. Al has been at the helm of the State Office over the last 7.5 years and over that time has been part of the many achievements of the NSW CLC Sector. More recently this has included marking the 40th anniversary of the CLC movement in NSW, strengthening relationships between CLCs and the Aboriginal Legal Service, limiting the impact of the NPA on NSW, and the launch of the CLCNSW Aboriginal Cultural Safety Workbook. Al has worked hard to foster a spirit of collaboration in the sector and has done so in the face of many external challenges. We thank Al for the high level of commitment he has shown to CLCNSW and the sector, and wish him well.
Interim Executive Director, CLCNSW
Send her an email
Not-for-profit Law’s online Information Hub (www.nfplaw.org.au) now has national reach.
The Hub is a free, go-to source of legal information about all aspects of setting up and running a not-for-profit organisation. The Hub has been running in Victoria and NSW for eighteen months, already helping over 100,000 people with their legal questions. Now, the Hub is poised to help not-for-profits around the nation with detailed resources covering the laws of every state and territory in Australia – all easily accessible, up-to-date and in the one place.
The Hub contains a number of dedicated resources to assist charities. Charity law is “notoriously difficult, even for lawyers, let alone ordinary Australians just trying to help their local communities,” notes Sue Woodward, Director of National Projects with Not-for-profit Law. For Ms Woodward, the Hub is a way to “help the helpers”, making it easier for them to navigate the legal landscape and be able to get on with their important work within their communities.
The Hub now addresses complex areas of law where there are significant differences between state-based regimes – such as fundraising law. Where not-for-profits operate in multiple jurisdictions, they need to be aware of and comply with the law of each, a difficult process which the Hub now makes easier. Although the law it deals with is complex, the Hub is refreshingly user-friendly. The Hub prompts users to select the jurisdictions relevant to them, and filters resources so that only material relevant to the user’s chosen jurisdictions is displayed. All legal information is written in plain language and is easy to navigate.
It is anticipated that the Hub will be of particular assistance to rural and regional not-for-profits, who face significant barriers to accessing legal information, yet comprise 47 per cent of all not-for-profits, and have a higher incidence outside of Victoria and NSW, highlighting the value that a free, national resource such as the Hub can provide to the sector.
Ed Butler, Communications Manager
(03) 8636 4476
Send an email
Women's Legal Service NSW is proud to announce the launch of their new evening telephone advice service, which is an additional way that clients can get free and confidential legal advice on issues such as separation, divorce, children, property and discrimination at work.
Women’s Legal Service NSW offers telephone appointments on Tuesday evenings from 6 pm to 8 pm.
To book a telephone appointment, use the online booking form located on their website.
Helen Campbell, Executive Officer
(02) 8745 6947
University of Newcastle Legal Centre: Planning Ahead pilot project collaboration with the Newcastle Law School
The prevalence of chronic illness and the increasing awareness of our ageing population inspired the Planning Ahead pilot project, a collaboration between the Newcastle Law School (NLS) and the University of Newcastle Legal Centre (UNLC). The project was designed to target the legal needs of older Australians and assist them to plan ahead for their future in a legal sense by providing the information they need to make informed decisions.
Staff of NLS and UNLC visited various community organisations to deliver free educational seminars. Current UNLC Practice Program students in their final years of study were also involved in researching and presenting the seminar, with supervision and assistance by staff. The presentation ran for approximately one hour and included information on making a will, appointing a financial decision-maker, recording your future health care wishes, and the importance of communicating these decisions to others. The final 15 minutes of the seminar was allocated to questions and an informal discussion with attendees. Information packs were also provided at the conclusion of the seminar.
Following the delivery of six seminars, an evaluation of the pilot was conducted. With the consent of attendees, three surveys were distributed: one immediately before the seminar, one immediately after, and a follow up survey one month later. Preliminary findings indicate the provision of legal education encouraged some attendees to take the next steps in planning ahead for their future. Based on these early results, the pilot has demonstrated some success in reducing the barriers that make it more difficult for older Australians to not only access the legal system, but to also assert their rights within it. The project has played an important role in facilitating behaviour change in attendees once they were made aware of the legal tools and services that enable them to plan ahead.
Briony Johnston, Casual Academic and Research Assistant, NLS
Send an email
Seniors Rights Service: Educating multicultural seniors on dangers of home gifting – collaborative effort with Legal Aid NSW wins award
A program educating older people with a multicultural background on the risks of losing their homes has won community organisation Seniors Rights Service a local Zest Award.
Borrowers Beware is a community program developed by Seniors Rights Service in New South Wales (NSW), in partnership with Legal Aid NSW. The program uses community radio to educate elderly people from Arabic, Croatian, Serbian and Macedonian speaking communities on the dangers of borrowing money against their home for the benefit of their children.
During the campaign more than 1,300 awareness raising radio advertisements were broadcast on SBS Radio and eight other community radio stations in all four languages. Translated interviews with Seniors Rights Service solicitors were also broadcast in each language. The radio ads had a potential reach of more than 500,000 people. All stations that aired the ads received overwhelming positive feedback from the relevant communities and kept the campaign alive over several months.
According to Seniors Rights Service, a community legal centre that protects the rights of older people, the success of Borrowers Beware demonstrates that meaningful and considered collaboration can achieve positive impact in communities that are sometimes considered ‘hard to reach’.
Diana Bernard, Manager of Education and Promotion at Seniors Rights Service says:
“The issue of older people gifting or guaranteeing their homes for their adult children can sometimes leave the older person stripped of assets and potentially homeless. Our project aimed to inform people from these particular communities of the potential risks due to the high prevalence of these issues reported in these communities.
“It’s essential people understand the potential risks involved with ‘home gifting or guaranteeing’ without seeking independent legal advice. We intend to continue shining a spotlight on this issue and will continue to target those most at risk.”
Legal Aid NSW was Senior Rights Service’ principal partner in this project. “By using radio – the main source of information for elderly people in these communities – we managed to overcome cultural barriers in regards to discussing money matters. These innovative ways to reach our target communities largely contributed to its success,” says Lawyer Dana Beiglari.
According to Russell Westacott, Chief Executive Officer of Seniors Rights Service, the project demonstrated that working closely with affected communities and collaborating with multiple agencies can yield effective results.
“More than 1,300 radio broadcasts was a fantastic success. We are proud that Zest acknowledged this achievement with their award. By receiving this award we can continue illuminating the risks of entering into financial arrangements without seeking advice to those communities most affected.”
The Zest Awards promote a positive image of Greater Western Sydney region through highlighting the area’s assets in the community sector, its diversity and its creative and innovative work.
Diana Bernard, Manager of Education and Promotion, Seniors Rights Service
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Wirringa Baiya: A collaborative approach between a CLC and a private legal firm has resulted in a rare win for a young Aboriginal mother
In 2015, Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre (WB) and a private legal firm, joined forces to provide urgent representation for a client in the Children’s Court. The client was an Aboriginal woman who had just given birth. The client and her husband had overcome many hurdles to fix their ‘parental deficiencies’. Notwithstanding, FaCS notified the client that her newborn would be removed from her care within three days (on the grounds that she has other kids in care).
The client had become disillusioned by the Children’s Court process after unsuccessfully trying to get her other children back. The client felt she was not being heard or understood by the court. The client was no longer engaging with her private solicitor. The client met WB staff during a WB CLE session at ‘Weave Women and Children’ (a week before giving birth). The client said she felt comfortable talking to WB and wanted WB to represent her in court. WB did not have the resources to provide court representation. Instead WB offered to work collaboratively with the client’s solicitor.
The private solicitor supported the collaborative approach in getting the client’s matter ready for an urgent interim hearing. WB received client’s instructions, drafted the affidavit and collected the supporting evidence and then passed the baton to the client’s private solicitor for representation.
On the first court date, WB filed the client’s affidavit and supporting evidence and effected service with only moments to spare. Leave for an interim hearing was granted and the matter was strongly contested. The client’s private solicitor did a tremendous job representing the client. The Children’s Court made Interim Orders that the baby remain with the parents.
The parents were elated with the outcome, up until FaCS notified their intention to appeal the Children’s Court decision in the Supreme Court. Outrageously and unbeknown to the parents or the Court, FaCS had removed the baby from the maternity ward (whilst the matter was being heard) and refused to return the baby to the parents.
Later that evening, the Supreme Court, part heard the Application and ordered the baby be delivered to the parents immediately and adjourned to the following day. FaCS subsequently withdrew their Appeal Application and the baby has continued to be cared by his doting parents.
Jenna Dunwoodie, Solicitor at Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre
Send an email
The Tenants’ Union of NSW (TU) is involved in a multi agency collaboration to deliver community education to people who live in residential parks across the State. Since November 2015 the TU has delivered 11 community education sessions to over 650 park residents.
The impetus for this project was the change of residential parks law. On 1 November 2015 the Residential (Land Lease) Communities Act 2013 commenced and it has brought major changes to the relationship between operators and residents. The Tenants' Union has undertaken to provide clear information to residents about the changes through a range of media.
A principal partner in the community education project is the Law and Justice Foundation of NSW, who provided funding.
In delivering the project the Tenants' Union has worked with Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services, resident groups and NSW Fair Trading.
The TU has developed a suite of resources including a website, factsheets and a 20 page newsletter to inform and assist park residents to understand the new law.
In conjunction with Tenant Advocates from local Tenants Services the TU has also visited over 50 residential parks to distribute information and chat with residents. Resident groups have assisted with this part of the project by asking their members to be points of contact and assist with the distribution of information. Some parks have also provided the venue for information sessions.
The community education sessions involve the TU doing a one-hour presentation about the new law. The session is flexible and questions are encouraged.
Tenant Advocates and NSW Fair Trading also attend the sessions and explain what services those organisations provide to park residents.
This project would not have been possible without the involvement of all of the partners. Through this collaboration information has been provided to thousands of park residents. A by-product of the project has been a strengthening of relationships between the partners and this in turn is leading to improved services for park residents.
Julie Foreman, Executive Director, Tenants’ Union
Send her an email
Mid North Coast CLC loves to generate collaborative opportunities, particularly as a young CLC without the established practice areas of some of our metropolitan cousins. We know that our clients benefit from collaboration, from thinking broadly about their needs and possible support services, and from the depth of knowledge that can come from partnering with legal specialists.
The Mid North Coast Community Legal Centre (MNCCLC) was born from a long-standing collaboration with all levels of the Mid North Coast local community. Legal and non-legal services, interested community members and politicians collaborated over a long period of time to address a local need: improved access to justice. This love-affair with collaboration continued in 2011 when the MNCCLC was formed and became the sister service to Disability Advocacy NSW (DA), under the auspice of Advocacy Law Alliance Inc. (ALA). We believe that the strength of this collaboration between MNCCLC and DA lies in combining the expertise of different professions to achieve the best outcomes for disadvantaged clients, whether this is through direct advocacy, community education, systemic change or law reform.
As we approach the celebration of our 5th birthday in June 2016, we are pleased to say that the spirit of collaboration is as strong as ever in the MNCCLC. Apart from the ongoing collaboration with DA and our local community, we also have many collaborative projects.
We’ve hosted Welfare Rights for a week-long education and advice “roadshow” through the 3 LGAs we service, and are currently collaborating on supporting a Mental Health Court Liaison project in Taree, and with Port Macquarie health and aged care services to design best practice referrals for older people experiencing elder abuse. We regularly team up with the pro bono team at Gilbert & Tobin to offer free wills for local Aboriginal community members, and to parents or carers of people with impaired capacity.
We also partner with Legal Aid to deliver outreach clinics in Kempsey and Taree, where clients can access alternating civil and family law services through the local neighbourhood centre. Legal Aid’s CLSD framework gives us many chances to collaborate to bring the best legal help in the most accessible ways and we are active partners of 2 CLSD regions in Taree/Forster and Kempsey/Nambucca. Through both of these CLSD regions we’ve worked with Tenant Advocates, Aboriginal Medical Services, Aboriginal Legal Services, Health and Mental Health services, employment support and disability service providers at stalls and events, delivering legal education and providing one-off advice clinics on particular areas of law. All in all, we think partnering with other services is an excellent way to make sure that clients can get the help they need, when they need it!
Melanie Kallmier, Administration and Projects Officer. Mid North Coast Community Legal Centre
(02) 6580 2111 or send her an email
The Legal Education & Advice in Prison (LEAP) program began with Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre (Wirringa Baiya), Women’s Legal Service NSW (WLS) and Hawkesbury Nepean Community Legal Centre (HNCLC). LEAP identified that women’s civil and family law needs were not being met.
Our three CLCs provide legal advice to women in Dillwynia, Emu Plains and Silverwater prisons monthly on a wide range of civil and family law matters.
Each CLC coordinates the monthly visits for one of the prisons. LEAP requires strong relationships between the CLCs, the prison security, admin and welfare staff.
The LEAP partners are committed to ensuring women in prison have access to justice. By partnering, Aboriginal women have the choice of an Aboriginal specific service or a mainstream service. Our partnership allows for easy referrals in the event of conflicts or capacity issues. The clients regularly have numerous civil matters to deal with, in addition to their criminal matters. Recently we have seen an increase in matters relating to the women’s children.
Take, for example, Joanne. Joanne sought advice for three different matters:
- Joanne had a Children’s Court Care Matter listed regarding her three-year-old daughter and did not know what was happening at Court.
- Joanne also has a family law matter where her ex partner refused to return their 18-month-old son after a visitation. Now Joanne doesn’t know who is looking after her son or where he is.
- Joanne has been a victim of child sexual assault and domestic violence, giving rise to potential victims support applications.
Wirringa Baiya has been able to provide information, advice and case-work assistance to Joanne across her legal matters.
Joanne’s complex legal needs are, tragically, not uncommon for women in prison. Women are isolated in custody and completely powerless to pursue their civil legal matters. Without the partnership and collaboration between our three CLCs these women would have no access to justice.
Women in custody can use the Arunter/CADL system to contact Wirringa Baiya on #20 or WLS on #21.
Wirringa Baiya – send them an email
WLS – send them an email
HNCLC – send them an email
The Parramatta Community Justice Clinic is a joint project of Macquarie Legal Centre and Western Sydney University. It is both a free legal service to people who cannot afford a lawyer and a legal education program for Western Sydney University law students.
The PCJC is a small office located on the top floor of Parramatta Local Court. It is staffed by an Admin Support Officer from the University and a Solicitor from MLC. In addition to the clinical students, who help with the appointments, the front desk is staffed by volunteer students who gain valuable experience being the first point of contact for vulnerable clients.
Due to its location the law students are exposed to “law in practice” in a real and immediate way. Many people drop in to make an appointment after being referred from the Parramatta Registry. Where the matter is urgent they are seen immediately.
Some of the areas the PCJC can advise on include car accidents, debts, consumer disputes, fines, minor offences in the Local Court, neighbour disputes, and the Victims Support Scheme. We can also help people find the right service for them if we can’t help.
The PCJC provides advice and minor assistance. It also provides legal information to clients to help them resolve their legal problem. In a small number of cases the PCJC can also provide on-going casework for clients.
Katherine Boyle, PCJC Solicitor, Macquarie Legal Centre
(02) 8833 0911 or send an email
The RRR PLT Project (the Project) is funded by the Federal Attorney Generals Department and administered by NACLC. The project employs 2 part time staff from regional NSW.
The Project via an online application process, places committed PLT students who are tech savvy and have highly developed legal research skills, with publicly funded legal services Australia-wide.
The aim of the Project is to address the shortage of lawyers in RRR areas, by introducing alternative career pathways. Students are exposed to work experience that creates social awareness, and an understanding of the legal issues faced by disadvantaged clients.
The Project currently works with 41 legal services, including regional Legal Aid offices, Community Legal Centres, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services.
The Project is in regular contact with providers of the Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice, or its equivalent (GDLP). Most applicants come from either the Australian National University or the College of Law.
Almost one third of all applications are from students seeking a placement in a NSW RRR legal service. When an application is received, it is assessed for completeness and initial suitability. Students must be enrolled in the GDLP, and are required to upload their resume and academic transcript, and address why they want to do a placement in a RRR legal centre. The Project contacts the legal centre and if there is availability, forwards the application to the supervising lawyer. A formal or informal interview is arranged with the student, and a decision made as to whether the placement proceeds.
Currently the following NSW community legal centres have an active profile on the RRR PLT website http://placements.naclc.org.au/index.php:
Central Coast CLC, EDO Lismore, Elizabeth Evatt CLC, Far West CLC, Hume Riverina CLS, Hunter CLC, Mid North Coast CLC, Northern Rivers CLC.
Some other RRR CLCs have an inactive profile as they were unable to host student placements in the past. Circumstances change all the time, and if RRR CLCs are now able to participate in the Project, it can be easily arranged.
Send an email
“Opening Doors” for Teens - Informing and empowering students on the issues of domestic violence and sexting
Hunter Community Legal Centre will again participate in the interactive theatre production developed by Tantrum Theatre, “Opening Doors.”
“Opening Doors” is a theatre-in-education performance developed in partnership with Hunter Community Legal Centre, Tantrum Theatre and Hunter CLSD (Cooperative Legal Service Delivery). The production aims to educate and empower young people on issues relating to domestic violence and sexting. This has been achieved through the building of networks between key legal services and community organisations.
“Opening Doors” which will be performed again following its success in previous years seeks to inform young people on issues relating to domestic violence and sexting. The interactive play which will be performed for 16 schools this year allows groups of students from year 10 to interact with actors including a solicitor from the Hunter Community Legal Centre and a police officer who feature in the performance.
The provision of a solicitor from HCLC provides students with an opportunity to ask questions about issues raised in the play. Counsellors and other services are on hand at performances to provide extra support and information to students in need.
The program has been a great success with 91% of participating schools reporting that student knowledge of domestic violence had increased after seeing the show. This strategic approach to prevention and early intervention has provided students with information and access to resources that may help should they find themselves in a similar situation. The project highlights the benefits of building cooperative and strategic networks between key legal services and community organisations. “Opening Doors” success can largely be attributed to the collaborative efforts of Hunter Community Legal Centre, Hunter CLSD, Tantrum Theatre, NSW police and other community services.
As issues of domestic violence and sexting become more common in the community, the continued efforts of Hunter Community Legal Centre to facilitate the delivery of legal education has played a valuable role in prevention and early intervention. “Opening Doors” educates young people about the legal issues surrounding domestic violence and sexting and empowers them to take positive steps to resolve these issues if they do arise in young people’s lives.
Bronwyn Ambrogetti, Managing Solicitor, Hunter Community Legal Centre.
(02) 4040 9121
Women’s Legal Service NSW (WLS NSW) engaged in collaborative discussions with Legal Aid NSW, the Tenants Union and Marrickville Legal Centre in developing key recommendations to provide greater protections for victims of domestic violence in the review of the Residential Tenancies Act.
WLS NSW key recommendations include:
- Inserting a provision for a victim of domestic violence to terminate their tenancy without penalty on the date the notice is given upon providing the landlord and co-tenant with a notice to terminate and evidence of domestic violence from a list of specified professionals;
- Providing the tribunal with the power to attribute liability to one party only so that the perpetrator can be held solely responsible for rental arrears and damage to property;
- Prohibiting landlords, their agents and database operators from blacklisting a tenant where there is evidence of domestic violence and a positive obligation on a database operator to remove a person from the database upon receiving evidence of domestic violence perpetrated against the person;
- Improving safety for victims of domestic violence throughout the process including early identification of domestic violence; safety planning, access to a safe room at the tribunal,; one party appearing in person at the tribunal and the other party appearing remotely; lawyer assisted conciliation; protection from direct cross-examination by the alleged perpetrator.
WLS NSW believes these recommendations are consistent with the Premier’s Priority of reducing domestic violence. They focus on keeping victims of domestic violence safe by providing a quick and accessible way to end the victim’s liability in a tenancy so victims can quickly leave without accruing debt. They also focus on holding perpetrators accountable.
WLS NSW and Legal Aid NSW have met with NSW Fair Trading to further discuss protections for victims of domestic violence. WLS NSW looks forward to ongoing engagement on these issues.
The WLS NSW submission is available here.
Kellie McDonald, Senior Solicitor or Liz Snell, Law Reform and Policy Co-ordinator
02 8745 6900
Illawarra Legal Centre, with the assistance of Redfern Legal Centre, recently assisted an Aboriginal Elder to obtain a Working With Children Clearance from the Office of the Children's Guardian (OCG). As well as being a good result, this matter is noteworthy in the context of the funding cliff being faced by CLC's.
Our client had been denied clearance to work with children because of a couple of carnal knowledge convictions dating back to the 1960's, despite having married one of the girls and gone on to have a large family with her. He is also very well respected in his local community and poses no threat to children. The OCG could have exercised its discretion at first instance and granted the clearance, however it did not and so the matter went to hearing in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT). The OCG instructed the Crown Solicitor, who in turn briefed a barrister. On the afternoon prior to hearing, the barrister provided written advice that the application should not be opposed. The barrister appeared with the Crown Solicitor at NCAT and informed the Senior Member (who was on the bench with an Ordinary Member) that the application was not opposed. Our client, who is in his 70's, with his wife, travelled from southern Wollongong by train to attend. The whole matter was finalised in under half an hour.
By "not opposing" our application at the last minute, the Government spent thousands of dollars on its own lawyers and tied up our resources for several months. It also caused a great deal of stress to a good man who deserves better.
We share this story in case there are other examples of similar government waste and insensitivity that could be used in our lobbying efforts.
Truda Gray, Manager, Illawarra Legal Centre, phone (02) 4276 1939
Since the Financial Rights Legal Centre established its Insurance Law Service in 2007 solicitors have felt that a large portion of their time has been dedicated to providing advice to clients on how to deal with the experience of being investigated by insurers. Solicitors regularly hear stories of bullying, threats and intrusive surveillance, with clients often reporting they feel they are being treated like a criminal or racially profiled.
Financial Rights decided to take a closer look at the issue and has now published its findings in a report titled Guilty until proven innocent: Insurance investigations in Australia.
The report found that close to one in four calls to the Insurance Law Service are from policyholders with concerns relating to insurance investigations. While insurers are entitled to investigate to ensure claims are genuine Financial Rights found a distinct lack of rules and protections for consumers being investigated. There are no specific standards for the conduct of claims investigations in the General Insurance Code of Practice. There are no guidelines for the use of interpreters or independent support people, no right to have the interview held in a neutral location, no reminder or suggestion to seek legal advice and no interview time limits.
Consumers reported being subject to incredibly long interviews (sometimes over five hours in length) and long claims processes (on average 18 months, some taking three years). Consumers were asked to sign documents that were not explained and felt harassed and intimidated by investigators who they feel prejudge their guilt with little or no basis. When disputes involving fraud actually reached the Financial Ombudsman though, fraud was established on the balance of probabilities in only 18 per cent of cases.
But that’s if they get there. A lot of consumers withdraw their claim because of the onerous demands placed on them by the investigation, not due to any admission of fraudulent behaviour but simply because the process is too burdensome or invasive for many consumers to bear.
In order to support consumers faced with investigations, the report puts forward a series of reforms for the industry to consider.
Drew MacRae, Policy and Advocacy Officer, Financial Rights Legal Centre
(02) 8204 1386, send him an email
The full report can be downloaded from: http://financialrights.org.au/publication/
Hunter CLC celebrated 25 years of service to the community with a dinner-dance at historic Fort Scratchley. “Funktus”, including musical talent from Legal Aid and DPP, provided live music throughout the night. Dylan Parker, an international paper plane throwing champion was our special guest. Dylan, whose story became the award winning Australian film “Paper Planes”, entertained and inspired us with his talk and a paper plane throwing competition on the night. The event helped raise funds for the Centre and demonstrated the ongoing support for the Hunter Community Legal Centre in the community.
The sun shone on Sunday the 6 March for the inaugural International Women's Day Fair which was attended by close to 400 people over 3 hours. The event took place as a collaboration between Women's Legal Services and Marrickville Legal Centre and attracted participation with community service information stalls from Legal Aid, RACS and Relationships Australia. The event also secured sponsorship and give-away prize contributions from local inner west businesses. This highly successful profile-raising event received significant interest on social media and provided a great opportunity to all participating services for face to face contact with women and young families. This is now set to become a growing annual event! For more information or to take part next year please contact the WLS Foundation Coordinator, Chloe Wyatt on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chloe Wyatt, WLS NSW Foundation Coordinator
0405 256 753
The Western Sydney Tenants’ Service, which is a project of Macquarie Legal Centre was proud to announce the nomination of it’s Coordinator and previous tenants’ advocate Franya Repolusk for the Women of the West Awards. Franya was nominated by Julie Foreman for her tireless efforts advocating for tenants of Western Sydney. Winners were announced on Friday 18 March at an event to celebrate International Women's Day and the achievements of women in Western Sydney. The event had over 350 guests and was an excellent opportunity to acknowledge the work Franya has done. A recent success of Franya’s was her involvement with the residents of a caravan park in relation to an access issue for emergency services. Franya has been very committed to the tenants she serves, who are often unable to effectively represent themselves. She has provided community education, advocated at the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal by assisting in advice, negotiation, and conciliation.
Macquarie Legal Centre
(02) 8833 0911, send an email
I have visited most CLCs now to get to know the real possibilities and limits on savings that centres face, given locations and existing staff efficiencies. With data from nearly all centres, it’s clear that solicitors and other program staff are working for clients with a minimal amount of administrative support.
That said, there are some areas where money will be saved by reviewing contracts and changing systems.
Six centres have now indicated that they will move to the same document storage centre so they can get a CLCNSW bulk discount on what is a very good rate (now at $0.368 + GST per box per year and the first year for free). Two centres already use this provider and are happy with the service. Thousands of dollars will be saved by moving towards this online access warehouse/delivery model rather than traditional separate units. Some participating centres will also now have more space freed up for use by volunteers.
Two quotes are being sought for the centres who appear to be paying well above the average cost given their funding reporting requirements and locations.
IT and phones stage 1 survey and stage 2 audit and report
Most centres have completed an introductory survey of IT and phones systems and services to scope needs and determine (dis)satisfaction with current arrangements. For the 16 centres who have indicated they want some help we are working with the not for profits arm of Price Waterhouse Coopers to find a consultant who will provide a report to each CLC board with recommendations – and a report to CLCNSW as to where bulk procurement may make sense.
Inner City Co-Locations
Three CLCs and CLCNSW are working on plans to co-locate, either in one or two locations. This should achieve significant rental reductions through better space planning and taking advantage of the beneficial rental situation of some centres. This is a long project in its early stages, with the partners seeing more than just cost savings, but the potential for enhanced program delivery and skills development.
Bruce Knobloch, Member Services Officer, CLCNSW
9212 7333, send an email
The consolidation and coordination of established sector capacity building activities has been bedded down since the commencement of the new Capacity Building Coordinator in early January. Activities have included the kick off of Phase 2 Accreditation assessments. Phase 2 of the National Accreditation Guidelines now includes a standard covering cultural safety and a strengthened standard for clients complaints. Eleven on site assessments have been scheduled by the end of October this year and now include an interview with a board member during the on site assessment, and a defined timetable for the assessment process. CLCs will now be assessed as either Accredited or Non-Accredited. A webinar, attended by 11 CLCs, provided further information about the Accreditation process.
The February Quarterly which focused on the capacity of CLCs to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, was well received. The May program is now open for registration with sessions on sector sustainability issues and law reform and lobbying, among others. The May program identifies sessions to appeal to CLC board/ committee members to invite and encourage CLC board/committee members to get involved with the Quarterlies if possible. There is a stronger focus on improving remote access. Sessions for the Legal Training Day held the day after the February Quarterlies were oversubscribed as lawyers made a last minute dash to meet their annual CPD points, highlighting the need to review legal training modes of delivery.
Laurel Draffen, Capacity Building Coordinator, CLCNSW
9212 7333, send an email
Reconciliation Action Plans in the CLC Sector:
Currently 7 CLCs are in various stages of completing RAPs. To support th sectors efforts, CLCNSW and Reconciliation Australia ran a ‘How to develop a RAP’ session at the February Quarterlies. Also, CLCNSW Aboriginal Legal Access Coordinator is developing a RAP template for CLCs which integrates the requirements of Reconciliation Australia (the oversight body for RAPs) with the Cultural Safety criteria required by Legal Aid and NACLC.
Cultural Safety Standards
CLCNSW is working towards meeting the Cultural Safety Standards required by all CLCs under their Legal Aid funding agreements. CLCNSW met with Legal Aid NSW to discuss this, and CLCNSW staff have met to discuss strategies for meeting their Cultural Safety obligations.
Cultural Safety Workbook
The Cultural Safety Workbook, was launched at the February 2016 Quarterlies. Interest within the sector and from the general legal sector was surprising with all 200 copies distributed within the first week. 700 more copies are on the way courtesy of Herbert Smith Freehills (500) and Legal Aid NSW (200). These will be distributed at the NACLC conference.
To support the sector to complete the Workbook, the CLCNSW ALAC is developing resources like template policies and a presentation to assist centres to unpack it a bit. Remember, the take home message is that the Workbook is a catalyst for a) growing your centre to be a culturally safe environment, and that its cultural safety is locally informed, and b) starting and strengthening relationships with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander stake holders.
Zachary Armytage, Aboriginal Legal Access Coordinator, CLCNSW
(02) 9212 7333, send an email
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 39 member organisations including generalist and specialist community legal centres.
Suite 805, Level 8
28 Foveaux Street
Surry Hills NSW 2010
Phone: (02) 9212 7333
Fax: (02) 9212 7332
Send an email