Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) Acting Principal Lawyer Alison Maher said victim survivors and perpetrators of violence in North East Victoria are missing out on vital resources currently available in metropolitan and other regional areas across the State. A Specialist Family Violence Court and Victoria Legal Aid office established locally would help solve these issues.

“This is a serious injustice and must be addressed,” Ms Maher said. “Having a Specialist Family Violence Court in our region would improve the safety of victim survivors and better hold perpetrators of violence to account.”

Ms Maher welcomed Member for Northern Victoria Tania Maxwell calling on the Victorian Government to address the gap in North East Victoria.

“We are pleased Ms Maxwell has recognised the need for improved resourcing for local victim survivors and perpetrators and that she has raised this important issue in Parliament and called for immediate action,” she said.

A Specialist Family Violence Court provides the range of supports crucial for victim survivors and perpetrators of violence, including specially trained workers. “In Specialist Courts, there are family violence practitioners who provide intensive assistance, such as making appropriate and timely referrals to community agencies. There are currently no support services in our Courts,” Ms Maher said.

Ms Maher said the safety of victim survivors is paramount, at a time of extreme vulnerability and stress.

“Specialist Family Violence Courts can have purpose built environments to maximise safety and choice,” Ms Maher said. “These can include separate entries and exits, safe waiting areas and interview rooms and child friendly spaces. It is important that victim survivors feel safe and comforted in what is often described as the “worst day’.”

Magistrates, Registrars, lawyers and support workers also receive specialist training. Ms Maher said Magistrates in Specialist Family Violence Courts also had different powers to those in Magistrates’ Courts, including being able to hear different matters together, instead of them being listed for another time.

“In the Specialist Family Violence Court, Magistrates can also make Orders mandating perpetrators to attend counselling, which can really hold a perpetrator to account,” Ms Maher said.

In the past five years, the number of people contacting the free legal service has been growing annually, and from 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022, HRCLS was forced to turn away more clients than they assisted.

“It is devastating that we are turning away more people than we can assist.  We are the only free legal service in our region, and just don’t have the resources that are needed.   We particularly see this with our family law appointments, where we are booked out weeks in advance.” Ms Maher said.

“More than 80% of our clients experience or are at risk of experiencing family violence,” Ms Maher said. “With the increased rates of family violence, we do not see that the need for legal assistance will decrease. This is of course not just a regional issue, but our clients are significantly disadvantaged by the lack of free legal services. A local Victoria Legal Aid service would help ease the burden.”

Ms Maher said people who could not get an appointment for free legal help from a HRCLS lawyer would most likely end up speaking over the phone with a lawyer based in Melbourne. “We know our clients don’t want this,” she said. “They want a local face that they can trust, not a call centre with lengthy waiting times.”

It is also problematic the region has only few private lawyers on the legal aid panels. “Referrals are often extremely difficult to make due to the lack of practitioners and capacity to take on new matters,” Ms Maher said. “Conflicts of interest are also common in our region, meaning people can’t get legal assistance from our service.

“We need change. This is not a good position to be in and there are too many people who are missing out on legal assistance and support services at a time when they are most needed”.

FACTSHEET – The Forgotten Region – Why we need SFVC & Victoria Legal Aid office in North East Victoria

You can read Member for Northern Victoria Tania Maxwell and Centre Against Violence CEO Jaime Chubb’s media statements here.

A significant funding boost for Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) will increase free legal services to women who have or are experiencing domestic violence in NSW, and grow the connection with Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service (AWAHS) to assist people experiencing mental health conditions deal with their legal problems.

HRCLS Acting Principal Lawyer Debi Fisher welcomed the funding, which will enhance existing partnerships over the next four years and expand the reach of the community legal service in NSW.

“We are pleased to be given the two streams of NSW NLAP funding to help more people with their legal problems, and excited at the opportunities this presents to continue growing our partnerships,” Ms Fisher said “Our community has been through a lot over the last few years with bushfires, COVID, and border restrictions. All of this takes a toll on people’s wellbeing and makes dealing with everyday legal problems even harder. We know that working in partnership leads to better outcomes for people, as they can be supported with their social, health and legal problems in a collaborative way.

“Our relationship with AWAHS has been running for 12 years and this new program will help expand the assistance we can provide to the community,” Ms Fisher said. “We are looking forward to this exciting new initiative which will help meet the demand for legal assistance and build on the success of the partnership we have had with AWAHS through the Invisible Hurdles project, targeting youth affected by family violence.”

The funding will also enable HRCLS to increase its presence in areas of the Southern Riverina such as Deniliquin, Finley and Corowa. HRCLS will work closely with the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service to ensure women in the region who have experienced or are experiencing domestic violence, have timely access to free legal services.

“We know the benefits early legal intervention have for woman and children experiencing domestic violence,” Ms Fisher said. “This funding will enable us to engage early, and to help tackle the myriad legal issues that women may be experiencing, such as family law problems, debts, fines and housing. It can be very difficult for women to get free legal assistance in these areas, and we are keen to meet clients where they are at and provide that wrap-around, holistic service which is needed.”

Funding for the additional legal service was announced as part of the extra $95 million funding under the National Legal Assistance Partnership Agreement 2020-25.


Bushfire victims in North East Victoria experiencing legal problems now have increased access to free advice.

A full-time Bushfire Lawyer, Harley Dannatt, has been employed in the role with the Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) to deliver the free and confidential legal service.

Mr Dannatt has started visiting Corryong and Bright on a fortnightly basis.

In Corryong, Mr Dannatt is attending the Corryong Neighbourhood Centre and Upper Murray Community Recovery Hub, and in Bright, the Alpine Region Community Recovery Hub, to speak to people about legal problems they have faced after the January 2020 bushfires.

HRCLS Manager & Principal Lawyer Sarah Rodgers said the focus of Mr Dannatt’s role would be to assist people with legal problems as a result of the January 2020 bushfires. He would also be helping people with legal issues arising from COVID-19.

Ms Rodgers thanked the Federal and Victorian governments for funding the position. “People in regional Australia need our support, and we are pleased governments have recognised this need,” she said. “More people are experiencing numerous legal problems when they get in difficulty, and isolation and living in a cross border environment adds another layer to the issues.”

Historically, legal issues have not affected people until months, even years, after the bushfires have wreaked havoc. “From what know, problems don’t appear straight away, so having a lawyer in the role for the next two years is vital for helping people who face issues cropping up long after the fires have passed,” Ms Rodgers said.

Legal problems can include tenancy, fencing and property, insurance, debts, consumer contracts, and family law and family violence.

When people are under stress, it is easy for legal problems to escalate and grow. Ms Rodgers encouraged anyone trying to deal with them individually to get professional help. “Getting early legal advice gives you a much better chance of solving issues before they get out of hand. A lawyer can help get a quicker resolution and better result without the hassle of trying to negotiate the system and processes,” she said.

Mr Dannatt will be working closely with the Bushfire Recovery Hubs, case managers and Gateway Health as the lead agency coordinating the recovery effort. This collective approach and effective referral pathways ensure people have support and do not fall through the cracks. “We encourage people to get in touch with us to get early advice if they find themselves with legal problems,” Ms Rodgers said.

If you need free legal advice as a result of the January 2020 bushfires, please call 1800 918 377 to talk about your issue, or email [email protected]


Corryong Neighbourhood Centre or Upper Murray Community Recovery Hub


Alpine Region Community Recovery Hub

For more information, visit

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.”

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

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

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
• 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:

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





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


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.

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.

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.