Artwork: Tammy Atkinson: “Tree of Life” 2017
Executive Officer's Report
I am pleased to introduce our annual report outlining ARC Justice’s work to
increase access to justice and secure housing for rural and regional Victorians.
People living in Central and Northern Victoria continue to experience forms of ‘postcode injustice’ that limit access to legal and tenancy support services. While many of the most disadvantaged local government areas in the state fall within ARC Justice’s catchment, we are privileged to be part of strong and resilient communities committed to working together to solve challenges and advocate for the rights of rural and regional Victorians.
This year ARC Justice has continued a strong focus on integrated and place-based services to reach people experiencing disadvantage in our community, and to find sustainable solutions to the underlying health and social issues that contribute to their legal and housing problems. The case studies throughout this report provide a snapshot of the impact of this work.
Building relationships and trust in regional and rural communities in order to work in a genuinely collaborative way takes time and requires long term commitment. We were pleased this year to expand our legal services in Maryborough and our Health Justice Partnership with Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-Operative in Shepparton. We also established a new integrated service partnership with the Centre for Non-Violence in Bendigo, which is increasing access to early legal advice and ongoing assistance for women experiencing family violence.
I would like to thank the Board of Directors, staff, volunteers and all of our supporters for their contribution this year, without which our work would not be possible.
I look forward to reporting to you on our progress in the year ahead as we continue working towards our vision of an inclusive community built on a foundation of human rights and equality.
Executive Officer ARC Justice
This year I was honored to be nominated as Chairperson following Niall Hensey stepping down from the role in November 2018. On behalf of the Board, I’d like to thank Niall for his commitment and leadership during his seven years as a Director and five years as Chairperson. Niall was instrumental in the development of our current Strategic Plan which continues to provide clear guidance for the organisation as we work to protect and promote the rights of rural and regional Victorians.
Strengthening our organisational capacity continues to be a priority for the Board, supporting ARC Justice to grow sustainably while continuing to achieve strong outcomes for clients and community. Through the targeted appointment of new Directors as part of an ongoing Board renewal process, we have established a strong governance foundation for the organisation. On behalf of the Board I’d like to thank Directors who stepped down this year for their time and commitment to strengthening ARC Justice’s impact in the community.
We remain strongly committed to ensuring that our resources are directed to where they can have the biggest impact. This year we have further invested in monitoring and evaluation, drawing on evaluation findings and client feedback to inform service planning and improvement.
The growth and increased impact of the Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centre (GVCLC) has been a highlight of the last 12 months. Starting out as a small place-based service in 2012, GVCLC has grown to 10 staff and supported 1056 clients in the last financial year. As we enter the third year of our Strategic Plan, we will be assessing opportunities to expand our place-based services to smaller regional towns in order to address significant unmet legal need in our vast regional catchment. We will continue to draw from our experience establishing the GVCLC service, along with our work in other towns such as Maryborough, as we work to increase access to justice and secure housing for rural and regional Victorians in the year ahead.
Chairperson ARC Justice
This year we provided 3366 legal advice, casework and tenancy advocacy services to our clients.
We prioritise helping people who are experiencing systemic disadvantage or marginalisation to increase their access to legal and tenancy support services and to ensure they have a voice in the justice system.
Our vision is an inclusive community built on a foundation of human rights and equality.
We are working towards this vision with a focus on the five impact areas identified in our 2017-22 Strategic Plan:
We aim to reach people where they live. To watch a video of our staff talking about the importance of local access to justice and support click here.
What we do
ARC Justice is an independent, not-for-profit organisation that provides legal assistance, tenancy advocacy and support services to people experiencing disadvantage in Central and Northern Victoria.
We also provide rights-based education and campaign for systemic change to protect and promote the rights of rural and regional Victorians.
We recognise that legal and housing issues do not occur in isolation. We work in partnership with the community and other services to address the underlying health and social needs of our clients.
This year we helped
in regional and rural
Victoria with legal and
Our staff travelled
to connect with clients and stakeholders across the region.
Increasing access to
legal and tenancy support
Increase access to justice and secure housing for the most vulnerable individuals in regional and rural Victoria
Our services will recognise and address the interconnectedness between social and economic circumstances, physical and psychological health and our clients’ interaction with the legal system and housing
The experience and expertise of our local communities will guide our work
Advocate for systemic change that enhances the rights of rural and regional Victorians
Build our organisation’s capacity to achieve its purpose
Our Family Violence and Child Protection Programs continued to experience high demand this year, with duty lawyer services provided at 10 courts across the region.
Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centre saw a rapid increase in demand for its family violence and related family and criminal law services with the opening of the new Shepparton Law Courts, including Victoria’s first Specialist Family Violence Court.
Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre saw an increase in the number of children referred to its Child Protection Program, and established a new integrated service partnership with the Centre for Non-Violence to increase access to legal support for women experiencing family violence. To watch a video about our legal services, click here
Other (e.g. Discrimination, Immigration, Environment)
Lack of housing availability continues to be one of the most significant challenges in our region. This year Housing Justice started the Sustainable Tenancies Project with support from the City of Greater Bendigo to help tenants maintain their rental properties to avoid tenancy breaches and reduce rates of eviction. To watch a video about our tenancy support, click here.
Poor Condition of Property - Living skills
Notices to Vacate
‘Jenny’ is a young mother who sustained a serious
injury as a result of physical abuse from her partner
and was put on pain medication by her doctor. Because of the
trauma Jenny had experienced, she quickly became addicted.
Jenny’s partner took out an intervention order against her and she was kicked out of her home and excluded from having contact with her kids. Jenny sought help for her addiction and was admitted to a residential rehabilitation program. She was charged with breaching the intervention order after trying to contact her kids. Jenny was referred to one of our duty lawyers at court, who listened to her story and identified that she had been the victim of family violence.
Our lawyer spoke to the court about Jenny’s history and advocated for her matter to be dealt with via a diversion order so that Jenny would not receive a criminal charge. The Magistrate agreed and acknowledged Jenny’s hard work completing the rehabilitation program. Jenny was given a diversion order and can now continue engaging with the supports she needs to be safe from family violence, to manage her trauma, and to work towards having contact with her kids again. Jenny’s story is unfortunately a common one. It highlights how women who are victims of family violence can find themselves at risk of criminalisation when they are misidentified as the perpetrator.
‘June’ was a victim of family violence before she herself was accused of perpetrating violence against her partner, resulting in the removal of her kids by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
June was connected to the Maryborough Therapeutic Justice Project (MTJP) when she met our lawyer at court after being charged with assault. Recognising that June was herself a victim of violence and in need of social supports, our lawyer connected June with the MTJP Case Worker at Maryborough District Health Service, who assisted June to get counselling and support from a specialist family violence service. Because of June’s willingness to engage with these support services, the Magistrate agreed to resolve her criminal charges by way of an undertaking without conviction. After working with the counselling services, June’s kids were returned to her care.
Without the integrated legal-health service offered by the MTJP, June’s story could have ended very differently. Recent research suggests that 70 to 90 per cent of women in prison in Australia have been victims of violence or abuse, an experience which experts say often leads to offending and criminalisation. The MTJP is helping to change the trajectory for women like ‘June’.
A lawyer and a social worker are now co-located at Maryborough District Health Service working together to provide integrated legal and health services to clients with complex needs who are in contact with the criminal justice system. The social worker also attends court with our lawyers to identify vulnerable clients and connect them with appropriate support services outside of court. This project is filling a significant service gap in the Central Goldfields Shire where specialist and therapeutic court services such as the Court Integrated Service Program do not extend.
‘Lucy’ was 15 years old when she was referred to our Child Protection Program after the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) sought a Permanent Care Order for Lucy to live with her aunt and uncle. The Permanent Care Order would give Lucy’s aunt and uncle full parental responsibility over her.
Our lawyer arranged to meet Lucy at school where she felt safe. The lawyer explained what the Permanent Care Order would mean and asked Lucy where she wanted to live. Lucy agreed to the order, but later told our lawyer that she was having some problems with her aunt and wanted to keep DHHS involved in her life. Lucy also asked for help arranging contact with her younger sibling who was living with a foster carer. With these instructions from Lucy, our lawyer advocated to DHHS for a Care by Secretary Order so that Lucy could live with her aunt and uncle but continue to receive support. Our lawyer also referred Lucy to a program to help her gain more independence by getting her learner permit when she turned 16 and help to find a job and accommodation if she needed this in future.
Thanks to the assistance that Lucy received from our lawyer, she found out how to get contact with her younger sibling and felt happy knowing that support would be available from DHHS if she needed it. This story highlights how our lawyers work with young people in the Child Protection system to ensure that they have a voice in decisions about their future
‘John’ came to Housing Justice after being issued with a Notice to Vacate his rental home. He had been experiencing difficulties with his landlord, who would often arrive at the property unannounced to conduct inspections and had ignored John’s requests to make repairs. No valid reasons were given in the Notice to Vacate and John felt that his landlord was forcing him out of the property to avoid doing the repairs that were needed.
John’s advocate at Housing Justice filed a Breach of Duty notice to stop the landlord from harassing John and issuing Notices to Vacate without reason. John still felt uncomfortable living in the property and told his advocate that he wanted to move out. He was stressed about breaking his lease and having to argue the issues with his landlord at VCAT. His advocate arranged for the Breach of Duty matter to be negotiated outside of VCAT and John’s lease was terminated by consent. He was also awarded a compensation payment.
With help from Housing Justice, John was able to move out of the property without further stress. The compensation payment he received helped John to hire a removalist and to quickly settle in to his new home.
Video about our therapeutic
This year saw the expansion of Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centre’s Health Justice Partnership with Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-Operative. A second lawyer has now been added to our team who are on-site at Rumbalara’s health service in Mooroopna five days a week, building relationships with staff and providing legal support to members of the local Aboriginal community in a culturally-safe setting. View a video about our Rumbalara Health Justice Partnership here:
When someone is experiencing family violence, struggling to pay a fine, in debt or facing eviction, they may not think about this as a legal problem or know that a lawyer can help them. We work in partnership with health professionals and other specialist support services to build their capacity to identify legal problems and help clients to access legal assistance.
Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre’s pioneering Bendigo Health Justice Partnership also received further funding to continue providing legal assistance to clients at Bendigo Community Health Service in Kangaroo Flat. This project was one of the first of its kind in Australia and continues to generate lessons about the effectiveness of legal and health services working together.
Family violence education at Tarrengower Women’s Prison in partnership with the “Out of the Dark” Program
Family violence community forum in Maryborough with over 100 participants in partnership with Maryborough Rotary Club
Seniors Rights Talks in Shepparton and Castlemaine, in partnership with Seniors Rights Victoria
Legal information stall at Sisters’ Day Out community events in Shepparton and Echuca, in partnership with Djirra Aboriginal Women’s Legal Service
We work with our community to raise awareness of rights and responsibilities, to advocate for change and to learn how we can improve our services.
This year we visited schools, prisons, clubs, libraries and community groups to deliver rights-based education including:
felt that our services were respectful and tailored to their specific personal or cultural needs
felt that they had a better understand of their legal or housing issue and options after speaking to us
felt that the assistance they received from our services had made a positive difference in their lives
We also learnt from client feedback that steps could be taken to improve our accessibility. As a result, we made changes to our Client Intake system, which we will continue to strengthen in the coming year.
We also worked collaboratively with other organisation and peak bodies in our sector to add a regional voice to state-wide advocacy campaigns, such as the Make Renting Fair Campaign which resulted in changes to the Residential Tenancies Act in Victoria to better protect the rights of renters.
Our legal services were active in advocating for improvements to regional court facilities, calling for better disability access and safety at Maryborough Magistrate’s Court, and a dedicated safe space for women and children within the new Shepparton Law Courts. Our advocacy ensured that the voices and needs of our clients, particularly those affected by family violence, were represented in the planning, design and redevelopment of these
court facilities, making them
safer and more accessible.
In November 2018 we hosted our annual Talking Justice Forum with guest speakers Gillian Triggs, Hugh de Kretser and Misha Ketchell. They spoke about the importance of Speaking Truth to Power in the context of increasing attacks on institutions like the judiciary and the Australian Human Rights Commission. Over 150 people attended this event in Bendigo and engaged in the conversation. Click here to view a video trailer of the event, or click here to view a full video of the event.
Our frontline staff are supported by our Corporate Services Team who are the backbone of our organisation providing Finance, Facilities, Human Resources, Communications and Monitoring & Evaluation services to enable us to work effectively with clients and community.
We would like to thank all of our current staff, and those who left the organisation this year, for their hard work supporting our clients and community. You can find more information about our leadership team by clicking here.
Hours contributed by volunteers to ARC Justice programs.
Louise Hanby D’Wynn
LCCLC and GVCLC core funding, family violence and child protection legal services
Housing Justice – Tenancy Assistance and Advocacy Program (TAAP), Tenancy Plus and generalist support
Rumbalara Health Justice Partnership
Maryborough – Tipping the Scales Project
Maryborough – Therapeutic Justice Partnership
Bendigo Health Justice Partnership
Bendigo Family Violence Justice Project
Employment Law Project (assisting working holiday makers)
Bendigo Student Association
Thank you also to