Border community will benefit from Government funding for legal service response to COVID-19

A new full time lawyer will be employed at the Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS), thanks to Federal and Victorian governments committing $321,500 over two years to support the delivery of frontline legal assistance services as a result of the public health crisis.

HRCLS Manager & Principal Lawyer Sarah Rodgers welcomed the funding which will boost the service’s capacity to support people impacted by COVID-19.

“It is pleasing to see the Federal Government and Victorian Government acknowledge that people in regional Australia need our support. They face many and varied legal problems which are compounded by isolation, cross border complexities and lack of resources and services,” Ms Rodgers said. “This also comes on the back of legal issues arising out of the bushfires in our region earlier in the year.”

Ms Rodgers said the funding would create a new full-time role to help meet the future demand.

“Our service is already struggling to meet the current demand, and we only expect that to increase in coming months. So this Government funding is really timely. It will definitely help us build more capacity within our team,” she said.

“We have seen an increase in family violence, family law matters and debt issues as a result of COVID, and we expect this demand to continue to rise in coming months. This funding will help us assist people facing these problems.”

Ms Rodgers said it was easy for legal problems to escalate and multiply when people were under stress.

“Getting early legal assistance helps ensure the problems don’t get out of hand and lawyers have more of a chance for a good resolution,” she said.

“The key message for our community is we are here to help. We encourage people to get in touch with us to get advice if they find themselves with legal problems, particularly because of COVID-19.”

1 ALRC, Family Law for the Future: An inquiry into the Family Law System, 2019, Recommendation 51; Standing Committee on Social and Legal Affairs, A better family law system to support and protect those affected by family violence, 2017, Recommendations 27- 28; Family Law Council, Improving the Families with Complex Needs and the Intersection of the Family Law and Child Protection Systems, 2016, Recommendations 11-12, 15(1); Queensland Special Taskforce in Domestic and Family Violence, Not Now, Not Ever, 2015, Recommendations 104 – 106, 109-110; Family Law Council, Improving the Family Law System for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Clients, 2012, Recommendations 2.2, 8,2; Family Law Council, Improving the Family Law System for Clients from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds, 2012, Recommendations 2.2, 6.1, 6.3; ALRC ad NSWLRC, Family Violence – A National Legal Response, 2010, Recommendations 16.9, 21.3, 22.5. 26.3, 31.1-31.5, 32.4. 2 Family Court of Australia, Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Inquiry into the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bill 2018 and Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018, 14 December 2018, p1. 3 Federal Circuit Court of Australia, Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Inquiry into the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bill 2018 and Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018, 11 December 2018, p3 4 New South Wales Bar Association, A Matter of Public Importance: Time for a Family Court of Australia 2.0, July 2018 accessed at: https://nswbar.asn.au/docs/mediareleasedocs/Family_Court_MR2.pdf'>

Open Letter – Concerns about proposed Family Court merger

11 November 2019

Dear Attorney-General,

We, the undersigned, are writing to you about the Government’s proposal to merge the Family Court of
Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia into a single generalised court: the Federal Circuit and
Family Court of Australia.

Any reform should strengthen a system, not lead to the diminution of specialisation. If the Government’s
proposed reforms proceed, we will lose a stand-alone specialist superior family court.

In acknowledging the need to prioritise the safety of children and adult victims-survivors of family violence
in the family law system, government commissioned inquiry after inquiry has recommended increasing
specialisation in both family law and family violence, including the recent Australian Law Reform
Commission inquiry into the family law system.1 We believe this should be a Government priority.

We understand and support having a single entry point to the family courts and common rules so the
family law system is easier for families to navigate. We understand this is a key reason why the
Government is seeking to reform the family courts.

However, there are different ways this can be achieved. And this can be done without abandoning the
benefits otherwise available to children and families from a properly resourced and specialised court
system.

The Family Court of Australia has said “common rules, forms and complementary case management
systems” … “can be achieved without legislative amendment”.2 The Federal Circuit Court of Australia has
acknowledged the importance of a single point of entry and common case management system “whether
or not the enabling legislative framework is in place”.3

Similarly, there are different models for reforming the family courts other than the model proposed by the
Government.

The New South Wales Bar Association has proposed keeping the stand-alone specialist superior family
court.4 Family Court Judges would be in Division 1 of the Family Court of Australia. Federal Circuit Court
judges who are hearing family law matters would move across to Division 2 of the Family Court of Australia.

In this way, federal judges hearing only family law matters would be in a single specialist family court
offering judicial, social science and other services.

We believe an increase in specialisation in family law and family violence will increase the safety of children
and adult victims-survivors of family violence. This is particularly the case for groups that are
disproportionately impacted in the family law and family violence systems, including Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people. The need for increased specialisation of courts to improve decisions and outcomes
for families is supported by the evidence of many inquiries.

We advocate for further discussion of the different options.

We prefer a model that retains a stand-alone specialist superior family court and increases family law and
family violence specialisation, such as the proposal by the New South Wales Bar Association. The safety of
children and adult victims-survivors of family violence requires increased specialisation. The proposed
merger serves only to undermine that important need.

While we support just, quick and cheap access to justice and there is a role for increasing efficiencies within
our court systems, this must not come at the cost of the safety of children and adult victims-survivors of
family violence. These two important imperatives are not mutually exclusive, and one ought not be
abandoned at the expense of the other.

Safety must come first in family law.

We would welcome further consultations on alternative models of structural, holistic reform to benefit
children, families and victims-survivors of family violence.

Action can also be taken now to further increase family violence specialisation in the family law system
through:
• Introducing effective ongoing court-based family violence risk assessment practices
• Early determination of family violence, and
• Increasing family violence competency of all professionals in the family law system

Yours faithfully,

List of organisations
This letter has been prepared by a number of organisations. For further information contact Sophie Quinn or Amber Russell on ph: 08 8952 4055.

Dr Merrindahl Andrew, Program Manager, Australian Women Against Violence Alliance
Nassim Arrage, Chief Executive Officer, Community Legal Centres Australia
Nerita Waight, Co-Chair, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services
Arthur Moses SC, President, Law Council of Australia
Sophie Quinn & Amber Russell, Co-convenors, Women’s Legal Services Australia
Tara Ward, Executive Director, Animal Defenders Office
Mark Patrick, Managing Principal Solicitor, Australian Centre for Disability Law
Kerry Weste, President, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
Rachael Field, Professor of Law, Bond Law Faculty
Tully McIntyre, Facilitator, Central Australian Family Violence and Sexual Assault Network
Janet Taylor, Managing Principal Solicitor, Central Australian Women’s Legal Service
Susie Smith, Co-chair, Coalition of Women’s Domestic Violence Services of South Australia
Tim Leach, Executive Director, Community Legal Centres NSW
Jenny Davidson, Chief Executive Officer, Council of Single Mothers and their Children
Arlia Fleming, Managing Principal Solicitor, Elizabeth Evatt Community Legal Centre
Joanne Yates, Chief Executive Officer, Domestic Violence NSW (DVNSW)
Alison Macdonald, Chief Executive Office (Acting), Domestic Violence Victoria
Zoe Rathus AM, Senior Lecturer, Griffith Law School
Samantha Jeffries, Senior Lecturer, School of Criminology & Criminal Justice, Griffith University
Sarah Rodgers, Manager & Principal Lawyer, Hume Riverina Community Legal Service
Bronwyn Ambrogetti, Managing Solicitor, Hunter Community Legal Centre
Ali Mojtahedi, Principal Solicitor, Immigration Advice and Rights Centre
Janene Cootes, Executive Officer, Intellectual Disability Rights Service
Emma Golledge, Director, Kingsford Legal Centre
Robert Pelletier, Executive Officer, Macarthur Legal Centre
Belinda Fehlberg, Professor of Law, Melbourne Law School
Maha Abdo OAM, Chief Executive Officer, Muslim Women Association
Christine Ross, Acting CEO, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance
Lizette Twisleton, Interim Director Practice and Programs, No to Violence
Anne Lewis, Director, North Queensland Women’s Legal Service
Jeff Smith, Chief Executive Officer, People with Disability Australia
Jane Titterington, Principal Solicitor, Mid North Coast Community Legal Centre
Marie Segrave, Associate Professor, Monash University
Narrandera Domestic Violence Committee
Tim Game SC, President, New South Wales Bar Association
Ken Beilby, Principal Solicitor, Northern Rivers Community Legal Centre
Karen Willis, Executive Officer, Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia
Sarah Dale, Centre Director & Principal Solicitor, Refugee Advice & Casework Service
Lindy Edwards, Co-ordinator, Sera’s Women’s Shelter, Queensland
Yvette Vignando, Chief Executive Officer, South West Sydney Legal Centre
Justine O’Reilly, Principal Solicitor, Shoalcoast Community Legal Centre
Vicki Johnston, Manager, The Deli Women & Children’s Centre
Kirstin, Co-ordinator, Warrawee Women’s Shelter
Katherine Boyle, Executive Director, Welfare Rights Centre
Louise Coady, Principal Solicitor, Western Sydney Community Legal Centre Limited
Julie Oberin, National Chairperson, WESNET
Patrick O’Callaghan, Principal Solicitor, Western NSW Community Legal Centre
Christine Robinson, Coordinator, Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre
Kedy Kristal, Policy Officer, Women’s Council for Domestic and Family Violence Services WA
Denele Crozier AM, Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Health NSW
Claudia Maclean, Principal Solicitor, Women’s Legal Centre (ACT & Region)
Janet Loughman, Principal Solicitor, Women’s Legal Service NSW
Angela Lynch AM, Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Legal Service Qld
Zita Ngor, Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Legal Service SA
Yvette Cehtel, Chief Executive Officer, Women’s Legal Service Tasmania
Helen Matthews, Director – Legal & Policy, Women’s Legal Service Victoria
Milenka Vasekova, Program Manager, Migrant Women’s Support Program, Women Safety Services SA
Tracey Booth, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney
Miranda Kaye, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney
Dr Jane Wangmann, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney
Nerita Waight, Chief Executive Officer, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service
Tulika Saxena, Gender and Domestic Violence Specialist, YWCA Canberra


1 ALRC, Family Law for the Future: An inquiry into the Family Law System, 2019, Recommendation 51; Standing Committee on Social
and Legal Affairs, A better family law system to support and protect those affected by family violence, 2017, Recommendations 27-
28; Family Law Council, Improving the Families with Complex Needs and the Intersection of the Family Law and Child Protection
Systems, 2016, Recommendations 11-12, 15(1); Queensland Special Taskforce in Domestic and Family Violence, Not Now, Not Ever,
2015, Recommendations 104 – 106, 109-110; Family Law Council, Improving the Family Law System for Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Clients, 2012, Recommendations 2.2, 8,2; Family Law Council, Improving the Family Law System for Clients from Culturally
and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds, 2012, Recommendations 2.2, 6.1, 6.3; ALRC ad NSWLRC, Family Violence – A National Legal
Response, 2010, Recommendations 16.9, 21.3, 22.5. 26.3, 31.1-31.5, 32.4.
2 Family Court of Australia, Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Inquiry into the Federal Circuit and
Family Court of Australia Bill 2018 and Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments and Transitional
Provisions) Bill 2018, 14 December 2018, p1.
3 Federal Circuit Court of Australia, Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Inquiry into the Federal
Circuit and Family Court of Australia Bill 2018 and Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (Consequential Amendments and
Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018, 11 December 2018, p3
4 New South Wales Bar Association, A Matter of Public Importance: Time for a Family Court of Australia 2.0, July 2018 accessed at:
https://nswbar.asn.au/docs/mediareleasedocs/Family_Court_MR2.pdf

20 years of linking the community with the law through free legal assistance

Increased complexity and multiple problems are becoming the norm for people experiencing legal issues, according to the only community legal service on the Border. Hume Riverina Community Legal Service Manager & Principal Lawyer Sarah Rodgers told the audience at the annual Report to the Community on 7 November.

“We continue to strive to direct our resources to the most vulnerable people and not just give a single advice for those people but walk alongside them through the casework process,” Ms Rodgers said. “More than half our work is directed to supporting people who are affected by family violence including through duty lawyer services, advice and casework assistance with not only intervention orders but also the flow-on legal issues such as family law, debts, fines, consumer law and victims of crime.”

Victorian Cross Border Commissioner Luke Wilson was special guest speaker and spoke about causes behind some of the issues that people experience on a regular basis. These include a need for cross-border impacts to be factored into Government and local-level planning, and funding guidelines recognising the unique circumstances in border regions.

Mr Wilson highlighted issues with P and L plate drivers, TAFE/ VET access, RSA certification and Trade licensing as being brought to his office’s attention. Mr Wilson encouraged people to consider solutions to the problems they faced in working and living on the Border, and to connect with his office and local MPs to discuss how they could be addressed.

HRCLS Principal Lawyer Sarah Rodgers, Allison Bruce, Karen Bowley, Karen Keegan and UMFC CEO Luke Rumbold celebrate the legal service’s 20th Birthday.

HRCLS also celebrated its 20th Birthday with a panel including former principal lawyers Karen Bowley and Karen Keegan, as well as current Albury & District Law Society president Allison Bruce, who started with the service in 1999 as a paralegal assistant.

Launched on 28 July 1999 by the Federal Attorney General Daryl Williams, HRCLS was known as the Albury Wodonga Community Legal Service before a name change via a community competition in 2009.

Ms Rodgers said the service had grown from four staff to 16, helped in more than 4800 cases and had been fortunate to have significant assistance from private lawyers who volunteered their time to help people needing legal advice.

“In 20 years, we have given more than 29,000 advice sessions and of those, over 5600 advice sessions were provided by our volunteers,” she said.

2018-19 HRCLS highlights

HRCLS Annual Report 2018-19

HRCLS 2018-19 Snapshot

20th Birthday panel

 

 

 

 

Working together for change a win for Victorian renters

Thanks to Tenants Victoria for their tireless advocacy to get a better deal for renters in Victoria. Changes to the Residential Tenancies Act due to this strong advocacy will have a positive impact for thousands of people, who will now be treated fairer when they rent a place to call home. We were proud to join Tenants Victoria in their fight to stand up for regional Victorians, and thank them for their letter to acknowledge our support.

Tenants Victoria_Thanks for your support HRCLS

 

Strong relationships key to success for removing invisible legal hurdles for young people

A three-year pilot project to increase access to free legal assistance for young people experiencing, or at-risk of, family violence has resulted in many legal problems being fixed for those who would not normally get help from a lawyer.

In a Border first, the innovative Invisible Hurdles project saw Hume Riverina Community Legal Service embed a free lawyer into three organisations:  Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service (AWAHS), Wodonga Flexible Learning Centre and North East Support and Action for Youth Inc. (NESAY). Throughout the project, over 100 people were assisted with legal problems who would not have otherwise accessed a lawyer.

In launching the Invisible Hurdles Report, Overcoming the Invisible Hurdles to Justice for Young People, on Thursday 8 November, HRCLS Principal Lawyer Sarah Rodgers said of the many reasons behind the project’s success, the significant commitment by the partners was crucial to the outcomes.

“Co-location, relationship-building and trust, along with our availability and ability to respond quickly to legal problems, were central to us more effectively reaching the young people we want to help,” Ms Rodgers said. “As an independent community legal centre, we have the flexibility to help people for free, and without the strict guidelines that apply to accessing legal aid.”

Ms Rodgers said the service was proud to be part of the Integrated Justice Practice, combining health, education and legal services, which had proven to be very effective in getting legal issues because of the early intervention.

“This model is needed to help prevent legal problems from escalating and gives the best chance of a positive outcome,” she said. “Part of our strategic focus is ensuring young people experiencing family violence have the legal support they need to deal with the issues.”

North East Support and Action for Youth Inc. CEO Leah Waring said a positive ripple effect had been created relationships enhanced, while providing an opportunity for NESAY employees to gain new skills.

“Our staff now have the ability to identify a potential legal problem, and have the confidence to refer people they’re seeing who need legal advice to the Invisible Hurdles lawyer,” she said. “Our young people would be highly unlikely to make an appointment for help from the lawyer without encouragement from a support work they trust. And our young people are staggered they can see a lawyer for free, so without the Invisible Hurdles project, the opportunities for them to get legal help basically don’t exist.”

Dr Liz Curran, Associate Professor of Law at the ANU College of Law, led the research and evaluation of the project with Pamela Taylor-Barnett. Dr Curran said the research showed how allowing time for natural progression and learning was pivotal.

“The most important thing we learnt was that young people, the vulnerable and even professional services providers don’t trust lawyers and the legal system and that trust takes time to build,” Dr Curran said. “In the final year of the project, when those relationships were strong and working smoothly, we saw a massive increase in referrals and consultations – 288 in the final 12 months of the project.”

The first two years of the Invisible Hurdles project was made possible through funding received from the Victorian Legal Services Board Grant Program. Stage 2 funding for a further two years was announced on 29 October 2018.

Invisible Hurdles Report – Overcoming the Invisible Hurdles to Justice for Young People is online.

Victorian funding for Stage 2 project to keep clearing legal hurdles for young people

Young people experiencing family violence on the Border will continue to have access to justice through free legal assistance. The Invisible Hurdles project has received $340,000 of Victorian State Government funding over the next two years, through the Victorian Legal Services Board Grants Program.

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service Principal Lawyer Sarah Rodgers said the service was thrilled the Invisible Hurdles Project would keep delivering positive outcomes for young people needing legal assistance.

“In the last 12 months of the project, we saw a steady increase in referrals. This demonstrated how a program of this unique nature requires time for people to build skills, knowledge and trust, but it can impact lives in a significant way,” Ms Rodgers said.

Ms Rodgers said the successful funding application ensures Stage 2 of the Invisible Hurdles Project would provide the necessary scope and resources to build the service through partners, North East Support and Action for Youth Inc., the Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service and Wodonga Flexible Learning Centre.

“This decision vindicates the work achieved in the first three years of this important project, the first of its kind in our region to target vulnerable youth linked in with key services,” Ms Rodgers said. “Many of the people we’re helping have experienced family violence, homelessness or trauma, and they often need legal advice urgently. We know if they are in a safe environment where they feel comfortable, and trust the people who are helping them, they are more likely to reach out for our legal help.

“In addition to our embedded lawyer at each location, a community development worker will be part of the project to help further educate young people on how they can impact the decisions being made that affect their lives.”

The funding announcement came just before the Invisible Hurdles Report launch on Thursday 8 November. Ms Rodgers said the inclusion of a community development worker was a key recommendation from the Invisible Hurdles Final Report.

Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula made the Victorian Legal Services Board Grant Program funding announcement last week, stating the funding to provide legal assistance and programs “is making a difference to the lives of some of our most vulnerable people, including victims of family violence and people with mental illness.” Mr Pakula congratulated funding recipients for the innovative projects and commitment to increasing access to justice for Victorians.

HRCLS supports The Justice Project call for stronger focus on legal needs of regional Australians

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers has welcomed many of the recommendations in the Justice Project Final Report released last week. Ms Rodgers met with representatives from The Justice Project last year during the National Association of Community Legal Centres annual conference to talk about the important issues from a HRCLS perspective.

“We agree with the Justice Project’s vision of no person being denied access to justice in Australia,” Ms Rodgers said. “We fully support the Law Council of Australia continuing to engage with Government and the legal sector to advance the findings from this Report.”

HRCLS principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers

Ms Rodgers said the HRCLS submission to the Report drew attention to a number of issues, including the need for longer-term funding grants, and the impact of large catchment areas on Rural, Regional and Remote community legal centres.

“It was important we highlighted to The Justice Project how the geographic spread and diversity of our Shires means that many people we see are financially and socially disadvantaged” she said.

Another HRCLS recommendation was the need for funding more than one Community Legal Centre (CLC) in each region to address conflict of interest issues would help remove a significant barrier.

“We turnaway about a third of the people who contact us for legal assistance, primarily due to conflicts of interest,” Ms Rodgers said. “Our service continues to see a high level of legal need, and these people have limited options for free legal representation, especially to deal with family law matters.”

As part of the submission to the Final Report, HRCLS also included the Invisible Hurdles project involving NESAY, and the Health Justice partnership with Gateway Health as success stories to highlight how service providers can work together to help people experiencing severe disadvantage.

Key HRCLS recommendations to the Justice Project report

  1. That lawmakers, policy makers and statutory bodies be required to consider cross border and regional areas when enacting laws and in their implementation.
  2. Fund more than one CLC in each catchment area.
  3. Provide incentives to private lawyers to encourage them to provide pro bono assistance to disadvantaged people, including by volunteering their time to their local CLC.
  4. Provide incentives to encourage lawyers to relocate to the country, such as HELP debt relief, salary packaging or housing subsidies.
  5. For courts to reconsider online only applications – e.g. divorce applications must now be lodged online. This creates barriers for elderly people, people with literacy issues and those living in rural areas with a lack of internet coverage.
  6. Fund longer term grants (more than one-two years) to allow sufficient time to establish a project and build relationships of trust.

 

 

Pilot Project flying the legal flag for consumers on the Border

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) has joined forces with the Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC) to strengthen its approach to dealing with consumer legal issues faced by people on the Border.

HRCLS has entered a partnership with the Victorian-based CALC, along with Barwon Community Legal Service, to work together to identify and address the consumer law, credit law and insurance law needs of clients living in regional and rural Victoria and to provide better access to CALC’s specialist knowledge.

HRCLS principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers said the six-month project allowed HRCLS to play a part in the Federation of CLCs’ ongoing campaign to increase access to justice for people and has assisted the service’s lawyers identify consumer problems and help people, particularly those who have been misled and face crushing debt and repayment issues.

“We see a lot of people who are affected by family violence, or suffering disability, mental illness or homelessness” Ms Rodgers said. “Frequently these are people who also find themselves in debt through unfair loans or consumer leases and they don’t realise they can get help with these issues. Working with CALC has meant that we are better equipped to help people with all their legal problems and to connect them with specialist legal advice from wherever they are in our region.”

CALC Lawyers Lachlan Edwards, Philippa Heir and Lisa Grealy have visited HRCLS over the past few months to train staff and establish clear referral pathways to CALC’s expertise. Jesse Marshall was in the region last week and was able to provide community worker training in Wangaratta on Thursday 28, June alongside HRCLS lawyers Deb Fisher and Jodie Wells. The topics discussed were Fines, Family Law and Consumer Issues; three common, everyday legal problems. It is hoped that the more community workers are informed about the law in these areas and the services that are available to assist, the earlier people will be referred for the help they need.

Ms Rodgers said HRCLS would also use the opportunity of working with CALC to learn more about running law reform campaigns to target inconsistencies in the law and advocate for positive change. “CALC is a leader in the sector for highlighting legal issues and getting results, and we want to increase our law reform effort,” she said. “Identifying potential law reform areas and calling on Governments to make changes to the law stops people getting entangled in the law system in the first place. This reduction in the number of people getting in trouble with the law and their issues exacerbating is a win-win situation.”

This work has been undertaken within the framework of a broader project led by the Federation of Community Legal Centres, to improve the interaction between the 24 generalist and 25 specialist Community Legal Centres (CLCs) across Victoria. The Project is funded and supported through Victoria Legal Aid’s Community Legal Centre Innovation and Transformation Fund.

Elderly citizens have rights and deserve to feel safe in our community

Local service providers are encouraging the community to speak up if they see elder abuse occurring. World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is on Friday 15 June, and with the World Health Organisation believing elder abuse is under-reported, it is important for people to report when an elderly person has been harmed in some way.

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service senior lawyer Karen Keegan said Elder Abuse was a highly complicated issue but everyone has rights regardless of age.

“Just because you get old, doesn’t mean you become a second-class citizen and have less legal rights,” Ms Keegan said. “The elderly deserve to be respected and the more that can be done to encourage people who experience elder abuse to speak up, the better, because it’s common for people not to talk about their experience because they fear further abuse.”

Along with the shame of the experience, people can feel helpless in their situation due to the common dynamic of the relationship between victim and abuser.

HRCLS senior lawyer Karen Keegan with Albury Wodonga health Older Persons Mental Health Services OD Grace Churches after the Elder Abuse information session.

“When it occurs, it can be very distressing for victims, as it is often family members, a close friend or a trusted carer who are doing the abuse,” Ms Keegan said. “Often the victim relies on the abuser for care, for support, for transport, or because they have no one else who will help them.”

Service workers play a vital role in identifying elder abuse, and given the complex nature of how it can present, it is important they understand some of the ways elder abuse can be reduced. Ms Keegan recently visited the Albury Wodonga Health Older Person’s Mental Health Service to speak with staff about the need for elderly people to have a Power of Attorney appointed and wishes clearly stated in a Will.

“Having your affairs in order and documents in place helps reduce the risk of elder abuse, particularly around finances,” Ms Keegan said. “Elder abuse is a form of domestic violence and can take many forms. Financial abuse remains at the top of the list. This can be as simple as taking $20 here and there out of Mum’s purse, or a son or a daughter moving back home and making Mum and Dad feel uncomfortable as they overtake the residence.”

Ms Keegan praised service providers such as Albury Wodonga Health for their pro-active approach to identifying elder abuse and acting in the best interests of those people in their care. “We look forward to continuing our partnership with Albury Wodonga Health and seeing the mutual benefits that arise as a result,” Ms Keegan said.

For free legal assistance, phone Hume Riverina Community Legal Service on 1800 918 377.

Funding to help young people clear Invisible legal hurdles on the Border

Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula announced $200,000 funding over two years for a Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) integrated justice partnership on 1 June 2018. This funding will be used to continue the Invisible Hurdles project, involving the Wodonga Flexible Learning Centre, the Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service (AWAHS) and Wangaratta-based NESAY, into the 2018-19 financial year.

HRCLS principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers welcomed the additional funding and thanked the State Government for acknowledging the importance of integrated justice partnerships, particularly those helping young people experiencing family violence.

“We’re excited about continuing this important work with our partners into the future,” Ms Rodgers said. “We know young people will not walk into a lawyer’s office off the street, so being on-site with services who they trust has been crucial for the success of the project.”

“Making a difference for people affected by family violence is a key priority for our service. Young people affected by family violence often have numerous other legal problems, so providing a friendly, accessible, wrap-around service is critical,” she said. “The sooner young people get legal help, the higher the chance of a positive outcome.”

The Victorian Legal Service Board Grants Program funded the Invisible Hurdles project from December 2015 to May 2018. This latest funding has been provided by the Department of Justice and Regulation. Ms Rodgers said the Invisible Hurdles Project Stage 1 final report and evaluation was in the process of being produced, and is expected to be launched in October. Without pre-empting the findings, Ms Rodgers said the health justice partnership had made an impact at various levels.

“We’re proud of how the Invisible Hurdles Project has helped young people understand their legal rights and solved their legal problems,” she said. “Along with our legal assistance, this has been achieved through staff at each service understanding how we work, identifying legal problems, being willing to refer young people and trusting us to act in their best care.”