Starting from 1 July 2014, community legal centres such as Youthlaw can’t use federal government funding we receive to engage in policy reform or advocacy work.
The ban has been heavily criticised by community legal advocates as it is contrary to the findings of the recent Productivity Commission report on ensuring everyone has access to justice.
At Youthlaw, we provide direct legal assistance to young people who are experiencing homelessness, escaping family violence, struggling with mental health issues, recovering from substance addiction, dealing with a history of neglect and abuse and feeling like the law is there to persecute them, not protect them. Our services include a drop-in clinic at a homelessness access point, Skype advice to young people in country Victoria and outreach services.
Youthlaw’s role is to provide flexible services that are relevant and effective for young people who need the most help. This means that – as well as providing direct assistance to clients who attend our legal clinics – we draw on these experiences to fight for fairer long-term outcomes for at-risk young people.
For example, Youthlaw has been advocating that the current infringements system operates in a way that has an unfair impact on young people experiencing homelessness, and that fines don’t work to address the reasons why most young people experiencing disadvantage keep getting minor infringements. As a result of this important advocacy from Youthlaw and other community legal centres – in collaboration with a range of government agencies and other community organisations – the Victorian Government has unveiled changes to the infringements system which will implement:
- a streamlined, easier system to keep track of fines;
- a fairer internal review process to deal with fines early;
- a faster method for dealing with fines (without them dragging on for years and being dealt with by already busy courts); and
- ‘work and development permits’ for people to pay their fines through community work or by addressing the reasons why they received the fines in the first place (eg. drug and alcohol counselling, mental health counselling).
We think this ban ignores the importance of community lawyers advocating for what is fair, just and right, and the contributions community legal centres make towards advancing social justice in Australia.