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QAILS Quarterly | Issue 2 | June 2013

QAILS Quarterly


Highlighting the work of Queensland's community legal centres

Queensland CLCs have over 30 years of service delivery experience providing free information, advice and referral, casework and representation to the community.

Queensland CLC casework

Queensland's community lawyers provide a vital service to clients and communities across the state.  Here are a few examples of recent casework successes:
Picture by thetaxhaven

Community lawyers providing ongoing support to flood-effected families


In May 2013, Caxton Legal Centre received the final decision from the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) for the last of the 116 flood insurance cases run by the service. All 116 clients were individuals and families affected by the January 2011 floods and who had their initial insurance claims refused.

The 116 Caxton clients were part of a cohort of more than 700 clients who engaged either a Legal Aid or a Community Legal Centre to dispute flood insurance refusals. The other three organisations were Legal Aid Queensland, Legal Aid New South Wales and the Consumer Credit Legal Centre (NSW).  The collaborative work of the four organisations is (as far as we are aware) the largest casework collaboration between the Legal Aid commissions and Community Legal sector. The project also involved volunteer solicitors and students, and the support of pro bono firms in the early days.

Caxton’s assistance resulted in reversals of refusals in nearly 50% of cases and more than 5 million dollars in money returned to the community. In a rare opportunity to quantify the value of CLC work, the $5 million returned to the community was managed with a total funding to Caxton of just $350 000 over two years. The collective efforts of the four organisations returned more than 20 million dollars to flood-affected families. 

All cases were resolved by either direct negotiation with insurers or through the External Dispute Resolution process at FOS, making the process both free and very low risk for clients. The flood recovery work also helped change the law relating to flood insurance and precipitated the rewriting of a number of insurance policies.

Centrelink debt waived in complex,
violent family situation


Christine* came to the Welfare Rights Centre with a Family Tax Benefit debt of $17,000. The debt arose because she had not made ‘reasonable attempts’ to pursue her ex-partner for child support.

Christine had made enquiries with the Child Support Agency some years ago but nothing had resulted from the enquiries and Christine assumed this was because he ex-partner did not work.

Christine had estimated that during past periods that her ex-partner had contributed around $30 worth of child support per month. This was close to what Christine believed his child support obligation would have been.

In conversations with Welfare Rights Centre, it became apparent that Christine had experienced domestic violence in her relationship with her ex-partner. Centrelink has a discretion to grant a person an exemption so that they do not have to pursue an ex-partner for additional child support where there is a risk that doing so will result in domestic violence. This discretion can be exercised retrospectively.

A Welfare Rights Advocate liaised with Centrelink on Christine’s behalf and organised for her to speak with a Centrelink Social Worker who decided that this discretion should be exercised. This  resulted in Christine’s debt of $17,000 being waived.   

Legal support helps Claire to reconnect


The Homeless Persons' Legal Clinic (HPLC) recently assisted Claire*, a woman experiencing homelessness, to transition from crisis accommodation and begin reconnecting with her son.
 
By completing a Legal Health Check with Claire and working collaboratively with her caseworkers, the HPLC identified her multiple legal needs, and also gained an understanding of her complex relationship with her son, who has serious mental health concerns and lacks capacity.
 
Through several appointments with Claire at her crisis accommodation hostel, and continued contact with her caseworkers, the HPLC provided substantive advice in relation to the guardianship, administration and restrictive practices arrangements of Claire's son, including assisting with submissions to  the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The HPLC also successfully negotiated an infringement notice waiver from a local council on compassionate grounds, and actively addressed her SPER fines. 
 
After overcoming many of her legal and non-legal issues, Claire is now residing in more secure accommodation. The efforts of the HPLC and Claire's caseworkers since late 2012 have also made it possible for her to be able to meet with her son for the first time in over 10 years.

Assisting a family to reunite


In 2008 the Refugee and Immigration Legal Service (RAILS) assisted Shera* to propose her mother for migration to Australia through the Refugee Family Reunion program. DNA tests requested by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) showed that Shera was not the biological child of the applicant, but that her two younger siblings were biological children of the applicant. Shera had been born in an ad hoc medical facility in a refugee camp, where identity tags were not used, and it seems that she had been inadvertently switched with another child soon after birth.
 
DIAC initially accepted this explanation and continued processing the application. However, there was significant delay, the matter was re-allocated to a different case officer, and in early 2012 the application was refused.
 
There is no merits review of such decisions. There is also a time limit on proposals, which had elapsed while this application was being processed. It appeared that these children had no prospects of being re-united with their mother.
 
RAILS filed an application to the High Court under its original jurisdiction, seeking to have DIAC reconsider the application. The issue to be determined was the correct construction of “parent” in the Migration Act.
 
After an initial hearing, the Minister conceded the case, and remitted the matter for further processing.

* Names have been changed.

Queensland needs specialist
tenancy advocates


The Queensland Government has announced that it will not continue to fund the vital Tenancy Advice and Advocacy Services across Queensland. These services provide advocacy and support to tens of thousands of vulnerable households every year, and act to prevent families being evicted into homelessness.

QAILS supports the continued funding of these important services, to ensure that people in crisis can access specialist advocates. CLCs value the role of TAAS services, and regularly refer clients to these agencies for support in tenancy disputes. Without sustained funding for TAAS services, Queensland's 500,000 renter households will lose a vital support service.

Find out more.

Community lawyers recognise volunteers working to improve access to justice


In May, communities around Australia recognised the valuable contribution of unpaid workers as part of National Volunteer Week, while at the same time lawyers are reaching out to the community as part of Law Week. It’s fitting that these weeks overlap, as volunteers make a huge contribution to community legal centres to ensure ordinary Queenslanders are able to access legal advice and assistance, especially at times of crisis.
 
A 2012 survey of 19 Queensland CLCs showed that 844 volunteers contribute 1,357 hours per week in Queensland’s CLCs, in addition to 3,623 hours contributed through formal pro bono programs each year.

Read QAILS's media release.

Improving the coronial system

Family members can be left traumatised, mystified, frustrated and disempowered by the coronial process. Coronial investigations can result in long delays, and there are barriers to participation of families and other advocates. As a result, further deaths may occur in similar circumstances before recommendations are handed down.

On 10 July 2013, QAILS will partner with a number of community organisations at a public forum to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities for Queensland’s coronial system, to ensure that coronial investigations are supportive and effective.
Register for the forum.

QAILS webinar series

QAILS is piloting a new program of CPD webinars for staff and volunteers at Queensland community legal centres.

Using UN human rights tools

Respect for international human rights and the rule of law is essential for a fair, just and secure global community. This session will examine a number of UN treaties and mechanisms that allow for the protection and promotion of human rights in Australia.
Presenter: Ben Schokman, Human Rights Law Centre
Date: 2-3pm, Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Register here

Victims Assist

Following a personal and violent crime, victims are often seeking a range of support systems, which can include recovering expenses incurred as a result of the crime. This session will provide an overview of the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 2009.
Presenter: John McKenna, Victim Assist Queensland
Date: 10-11am, Tuesday, 2 July 2013
Register here    

Conflicts and CLCs

This session will update the latest law on client conflicts, but also examine some of the related ethical questions which can (and have) arisen in the sector.
Presenter: Mark Thomas, QUT Law School
Date: 11am-12noon, Thursday, 11 July 2013
Register here    

Tenancy Law Basics

This session will provide a brief overview of the fundamentals of Queensland tenancy law with a focus on outlining the formal dispute resolution process, responding to notices to leave and challenging listings on tenant databases.
Presenter: Peter Mott, Tenants Union of Queensland
Date: 11am-12noon, Wed, 7 August 2013             
Register here
QAILS is partnering with a number of community organisations to launch Balanced Justice. Balanced Justice seeks to enhance the safety of all Queenslanders by promoting understanding of criminal justice policies that are effective, evidence-based and human rights compliant.
Balanced Justice is about smart action for a safer community.
Find out more:
Website
Twitter
Facebook

Refugee Family Reunion Guide

In May the Refugee and Immigration Legal Service (RAILS) launched the updated Refugee Family Reunion Guide – a comprehensive, easy-to-use resource for those seeking to bring family members to Australia under the Humanitarian Program and the Family Migration Program and for those assisting refugees in this process.
The Guide (available here) is written in plain-English and reflects changes to family reunion following the 2012 Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers. The Guide was originally funded by DIAC and the updated guide funded by CLSP.

CLC events

 

Homeless Connect

On Wednesday 29 May, Homeless Connect was held at the RNA Showgrounds, giving homeless people an opportunity to access a wide range of support services offered by CLCs, homelessness agencies and government. Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic (HPLC) staff and volunteer lawyers from Clayton Utz, Minter Ellison, McCullough Robertson, MurphySchmidt and Herbert Smith Freehills ran a stall at the event, assisting attendees and connecting them with legal clinics.

Youth Justice: A balanced approach

Pic: Mike ‘Dakinewavamon’ Kline
On Wednesday 29 May, QAILS partnered with the Youth Advocacy Centre to host a free public forum at Parliament House, to discuss a balanced approach to youth justice in Queensland.
Experts in criminology, human rights and youth justice provided suggestions on the best way to reduce youth offending, based on ‘what works’.

'Can we agree?' QCAT forum

On Thursday 16 May, QAILS partnered with the Tenants Union of Queensland to host a Law Week forum toexplore the history of tenancy dispute resolution in Queensland, the strengths of the current QCAT system and what might be improved in the future. TUQ also launched their new online resources designed to improve tenant access and participation in QCAT. Thanks to Minter Ellison for hosting this forum.

Walk for Justice

On Tuesday 14 May, QPILCH held the 6th annual Walk for Justice.  Over 900 people registered to walk in Brisbane and around 60 turned out in Townsville, raising close to $40,000.  The Walk also takes place in Newcastle, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide and in the UK.  In Brisbane the Walk was led by the Chief Justice and Attorney-General, who announced continued funding to QPILCH’s Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic.
 
Much of QPILCH’s fundraising contributes to the Disbursements Fund, which can be used to pay for disbursements in cases run pro bono by QPILCH member firms or community legal centres.  For example, it has most recently been used to assist with disbursements for a QPILCH member barrister being instructed by the Townsville Community Legal Service.

Collaborating to Enhance Access to Justice – Planning for the Future

On Friday 10 May, QAILS, QPILCH and Griffith University hosted Collaborating to Enhance Access to Justice - Planning for the Future, which started a fruitful discussion about how to improve the avenues for communication among stakeholders in the legal assistance sector to allow for effective collaboration and efficient and best-practice delivery of services.
 
The panel included Professor Pascoe Pleasence from University College, London, with an international perspective, as well as representatives from Legal Aid Queensland, QAILS and both the State and Commonwealth Attorney-General’s departments.  The seminar was well-attended by members of the community legal sector, government, Legal Aid and academics.

Accreditation

The National Accreditation Scheme has been developed to provide an industry based certification process for Community Legal Centres (CLCs) that will support and give recognition to good practice in the delivery of community legal services.
Queenland CLCs are leading the way in the accreditation process, with the first four certified centres in Australia being from the Sunshine State!

Read more about accreditation at the NACLC website or contact QAILS regional accreditation coordinator Jude Clarkin.
Find a centre near you
If you're looking for services in your local area, our Centre Locator provides a map-based search of all accredited Community Legal Centres in Queensland.

Visit the QAILS website for more information about QAILS or Queensland's community legal centres.

Upcoming events


World Elder Abuse Awareness Day
starting 15 June 2013; various activities all around Brisbane.
Jennifer Townsend and Anthony O’Sullivan from Caxton Legal Centre are presenting a talk on ‘Prevention rather than Legal Solutions’ for Wynnum Manly CLS at Wynnum Manly RSL Club on 17 June 2013 at 2 pm.

Supported Decision-Making Forum
Friday 28 June 2013
Co-hosted by Queensland Advocacy Inc. with QUT's Health Law Research Centre
Gardens Theatre, George St Brisbane CBD (on the grounds of QUT)
Details

Musgrave Park Family Fun Day
Friday 12 July
Community Legal Centres will have an information stall to raise awareness of legal services in the community
Details

Seniors’ Week
17 to 25 August 2013; details to be confirmed; contact Vivienne Campion

Human Rights vs Restrictive Practices
Friday 30 August 2013
Co-hosted by Queensland Advocacy Inc and Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland
Level 17, 53 Albert Street Brisbane
Details

Mediawatch

CLCs in the media
 

Group goes and funds dry up, Cairns Post, 31 May 2013

Let's wrap it all into a big act with teeth, Maroochy Weekly, 30 May 2013

Tenant Advice and Advocacy Service funding cuts, ABC612 Brisbane Mornings, 30 May 2013

Funding offer won't dictate policy on tenant service: LNP, Brisbane Times, 29 May 2013

Appeal to save tropics, Cairns Post, 24 May 2013

Tenant service in deep water despite 'life raft', Brisbane Times, 22 May 2013

Vegetation laws are 'backward', Noosa News, 21 May 2013

Legal Aid funding a rare bright point in gloomy budget, Financial Review, 17 May 2013

Lifeline for legal service, Bribie Weekly, 17 May 2013

Funding for legal aid causes concern, ABC RN Breakfast, 16 May 2013

Queensland out of step on age of consent laws, Brisbane Times, 16 May 2013

Funding for legal aid causes concern, ABC RN Breakfast, 16 May 2013

$118m to improve community's access to justice, Financial Review, 15 May 2013

Lawyers leg it for justice, ABC North Queensland, 14 May 2013

Bleijie boosts funding for vital homeless legal service, Bundaberg News-Mail, 14 May 2013

Community lawyers call for $48m in funding, The Australian, 12 May 2013

Funding cuts may leave tenants high and dry, 7.30 Queensland, 10 May 2013


Dedicated volunteer takes well-earned rest, Bayside Bulletin, 7 May 2013

Rachel Antonio Inquest, Today Tonight, 7 May 2013

'The place I'd run away from was the place I could make the most difference', Q Magazine, 5 May 2013

Driscoll-linked community centre giving funding boost, Brisbane Times, 3 May 2013

Charity day could find new golf star, Maroochy Weekly, 2 May 2013

The challenges of working in a regional community legal centre, 4ZZZ Brisbane Lines, 2 May 2013

Grandparents have legal rights, Maroochy Weekly, 2 May 2013

JPs at QCAT, ABC612 Brisbane, 1 May 2013

Legal funding is 'vital', Coolum Weekly, 26 April 2013

Looking after our older citizens, Cairns Post, 26 April 2013

World Heritage areas threatened by funding cuts, 7.30 Queensland, 26 April 2013

Fears for Qld's homeless services after funding cuts, ABC Online, 26 April 2013

Make your own decisions early, Townsville Bulletin, 23 April 2013

Green anger over cuts to 'red tape', Sunshine Coast Daily, 20 April 2013

Call to scrap Qld tree clearing law changes, ABC Online, 17 April 2013

Tenants group faces eviction, Brisbane Times, 12 April 2013

Qld won't fund tenant group, NineMSN, 12 April 2013

Legal help team gets cash boost, Queensland Times, 8 April 2013

Funding lifeline keeps advocacy centre's doors open, The Chronicle, 8 April 2013

Higher court fees 'unjust', inquiry told, Australian Financial Review, 5 April 2013

Conciliation works it out, Maroochy Weekly, 4 April 2013

Three strikes you're out of your public housing, Morning Bulletin, 4 April 2013

Tenants groups fear homelessness after funding cut, Bayside Bulletin, 3 April 2013

Free service to aid abuse commission, Brisbane Times, 3 April 2013

Hike in divorce charges hit unhappy couples hard, Courier Mail, 2 April 2013

Forced to save money to split, Gold Coast Bulletin, 2 April 2013

Coaching for Court, Proctor, April 2013

Services for Queensland's homeless population have been warned a government funding squabble could put them at risk, Courier Mail, 30 March 2013

Seventeen year olds treated as adults in the Queensland Justice System, 612 ABC Brisbane, 27 March 2013

Facebookers pull plug on vigilante site, Townsville Bulletin, 27 March 2013

Queensland's Environment Minister defends changes to vegetation laws, ABC Rural, 27 March 2013

Be careful who you appoint, Townsville Bulletin, 26 March 2013

Legal learners in awe of the law, Springfield News, 20 March 2013

Going begging, The Project, 11 March 2013


Criminal procedures, Maroochy Weekly, 7 March 2013

Helping hand extended for those struggling after ex-tropical cyclone Oswald, Hervey Bay Observer, 1 March 2013

Not-for-profit groups get advice, Central Queensland News, 1 March 2013

The Nundah Community Legal Centre, Loving Nundah, February-March 2013

Community legal education


CLCs talk to our communities about common legal issues, and the assistance that's available for them.  Here are some recent CLE activities:
 

‘Thief!' DVD

RAILS has developed a legal and language education resource which explores crime and courts within a story about bullying and belonging.
 
Police find Wally with a stolen wallet and shirt. Who stole it?  Was it Wally or the bully in his group? Why? If you were Judge, what would you decide?

 
‘Thief’ is aimed at young people with low English literacy. It includes:
  • a 15 minute film with music and key word sub-titles,
  • comprehensive language activities covering vocabulary, comprehension, grammar and recount.
  • a role-play
  • the courtroom script
‘Thief’ was produced by RAILS with students and teachers from Milpera State High School, a language-intensive school for refugee and migrant students transitioning to secondary school. It was filmed with students at the school and at the Brisbane Magistrates Court. Funding support came from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Settlement Grants Program and Legal Aid.
Prevention rather than Legal Solutions
Jennifer Townsend and Anthony O’Sullivan from Caxton Legal Centre are presenting a talk on ‘Prevention rather than Legal Solutions’ for Wynnum Manly CLS at Wynnum Manly RSL Club on 17 June 2013 at 2 pm.
CLE Evaluation and Strategy Development
In 2012, Caxton Legal Centre Inc. received funding from the Legal Aid Queensland Community Legal Education Collaboration Fund to evaluate its community legal education work, conduct a literature review and develop a CLE strategy. The material generated through this project has been of value in enhancing the knowledge of staff within the CLE program and enabling a greater focus on CLE communication, coordination and planning. The resulting strategy is based on four areas: community engagement; distribution of self-help material to clients and partner organisations; collaboration and development; and maintenance of self-help material. For a copy of the report please contact Camielle Donaghey.
QPILCH Mental Health Volunteer Advocacy training
On the weekend of 11-12 May, the Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House (QPILCH) trained a new group of volunteer advocates to appear in Mental Health Review Tribunal hearings for clients of its Mental Health Law Practice.  The advocates are a mix of senior law students and junior lawyers.  The advocates will assist clients to prepare for their hearings and advocate for clients at the Tribunal, assisting them to have their views heard by the Tribunal members.

Policy and law reform


When assisting individual clients, CLCs see opportunities to improve laws, policies and practices to ensure real access to justice.  Here are some recent CLC policy projects and activities:

Vegetation Management Framework Amendment Bill 2013, EDO, 10 April 2013

Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (Justices of the Peace) Amendment Bill, QAILS, 4 April 2013

Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry Discussion Paper Feedback, QPILCH, March 2013

Impact of federal court fee increases since 2010 on access to justice in Australia, Cairns Community Legal Centre, 25 March 2013

 

QAILS history project

QAILS has received funding from the Commonwealth Government's Your Community Heritage program to record the history of the Queensland CLC movement.  2013 is the twentieth anniversary of QAILS's incorporation and establishment, and a great opportunity to reflect on the significant social impact CLCs have on our communities. We'll keep you posted as this project develops.
Thanks to our partners and supporters:
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