VLAF Newsletter Winter 2012

Welcome to the first Victorian Legal Assistance Forum (VLAF) E-Newsletter for 2012. We already have lots to report on for this year and also offer you an insight into some interesting events waiting in the wings.
But firstly, it is with great sadness that we say goodbye to VLAF’s Project Sponsor at VLA, Rachna Muddagouni, who is moving on to take up the role as CEO of Community West (http://communitywest.org.au/). Rachna worked at VLA for 4 ½ years and was primarily responsible for setting up Bushfire Legal Help and VLAF, both entities born from a vision of working cooperatively across the legal assistance sector for the benefit of clients. Everyone at VLAF wishes Rachna all the best for the next part of her career.

Planning for 2012

The project team and working group convenors met on two occasions earlier this year to map out VLAF work for 2012. Plans were then taken to working groups for consultation and the VLAF Main Forum for endorsement. Some of the main priorities for the VLAF Working Groups for 2012 include:
Policy Network

CALD Working Group

Disability Working Group

Legal Referral Working Group

Are you culturally competent? – VLAF’s Forum addressing CALD communities

Michal Morris 
One of the most vexed questions in the legal aid sector is how do we plan for service delivery addressing clients from diverse cultural backgrounds who have limited or no understanding of our legal system. For example, many of us are  familiar with, and have worked with, clients who think that any interaction with the courts and police means ‘big trouble’.
VLAF’s CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) Working Group identified this  as a major issue for legal aid sector workers and hosted a forum addressing this issue on 16 February 2012.
Over 80 people attended this VLAF Forum, The Question of Culture – dealing with CALD Communities, to hear Michal Morris, from the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health in Carlton present the keynote address. Michal highlighted that the context of culture and how organisations engage with recently arrived migrant and refugee groups is mission critical to planning programs in this sector.  Her talk looked at the question of what a culturally competent organisation looks like and what steps can be taken to reach that goal.
In short, cultural competence requires that organisations:

The keynote address was followed by an excellent panel discussion on Good Practice Models of CALD Engagement chaired by Angela Costi, Chair of the VLAF CALD Working Group and VLA’s Senior Community Legal Education Coordinator. The panel members were:

The panel discussed a number of compelling approaches to working with CALD communities and common themes emerged on the approaches that got the best results, such as listening carefully, thinking deeply, having an open mind and empathetically engaging with clients. The panel members openly discussed projects or programs that had failed and shared their learnings and experience. Jeremiah Temple for example related the exasperation of African communities and community workers to the general expectation that all Africans could be dealt with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Jemal Ahmet thought that organisations that already knew how to deal with people, respect them, listen to their needs and respond, were ahead of the game. All agreed that the organisations in the room dealt with the same clients and that the Forum had brought different sectors closer to working together on solutions.

VLAF Spotlight Speaker Series

Tina Turner

This year saw VLAF launch a new innovation – an occasional speaker series to showcase projects and to share knowledge. With the larger VLAF forums looking at topics more in-depth, the idea behind the speaker series is to make sure that good work and new approaches in the sector are brought to the attention of a wider audience, and we hope that giving people this platform will lead to further innovation and partnerships.
The first speaker series on 22 March 2012 included:

Next Speaker Series, 22 June 2012

The VLAF occasional speaker series continues with three interesting and relevant talks that showcase innovative approaches to community engagement.
VENUE LMC, 360 Queen Street, Melbourne Vic 3000
DATE Friday, 22 June 2012
TIME 2.30 pm – 5 pm
Space Invaders
Michele Lee, Community Legal Education, Victoria Legal Aid
Across 2010 and 2011, Victoria Legal Aid, Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre and Western Edge Youth Arts developed and delivered 'Space Invaders', a legal education theatre project on police powers and young people, and presented the theatre show to seven high schools across Melbourne. Michele Lee, Senior Community Legal Education Co-ordinator, Victoria Legal Aid, will talk about the evaluation of the project and show some footage from the performance.
Tenancy and emerging communities
Laura Berta, Footscray Community Legal Centre
Footscray Community Legal Centre’s Refugee Tenancy Project was developed in response to the need for tenancy advocacy services in Melbourne’s western suburbs for vulnerable tenants of refugee background.  The Project, which is supported by multi-lingual refugee community workers, encompasses a legal tenancy clinic, community legal education and community development initiatives. 
Laura Berta, Community Development Solicitor, will talk about this work and the major policy report Making it Home: Refugee Housing in Melbourne’s West, which makes significant housing and tenancy recommendations.
Schools education programs – what works
Joh Kirby, VictoriaLaw Foundation
Joh Kirby, Executive Director. will talk about the Foundation’s schools education program -  what works and what doesn’t in delivering schools programs drawing on the experience of the project team and the Teacher-in-Residence. 
RSVP by Monday 18 June 2012 to Sina Oum -vlaf@vla.vic.gov.auor (03) 9269 0138. Video conferencing will be available through VLA regional offices by prior arrangement. Please indicate if you wish to attend via video conferencing. For more information regarding the event contact Simon Roberts, VLAF Project Officer - simonr@vla.vic.gov.au or (03) 9269 0545.

Evaluation group

As a result of Tina Turner’s presentation at the Speaker Series on 22 March2012, VLAF organised a meeting for those interested in sharing knowledge to further capacity build around program evaluation. This group will not undertake any formal work but will meet from time-to-time so that participants can continue to share methodologies and outcomes. Funders and governments will increasingly demand more rigorous and  formal evaluation processes which is a good reason for this group to continue to meet on an ad hoc basis. If you are interested in being part of this group contact Simon Roberts by email simonr@vla.vic.gov.au or phone 03 9269 0545.

Employment Forum

Top photo: (L to R) Kristen Hilton, Fiona Knowles, Erin McCoy and Zana Bytheway. Bottom Photo: the attentive participants in the VLAF Employment Forum
The number of clients seeking help for employment law problems has been steadily growing in recent years and in recognition of this trend VLAF hosted a forum on “Employment Law in Victoria” on 29 May 2012.
The forum brought together not only workers from the legal assistance sector, but representatives from the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO), Fair Work Australia (FWA) and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) to discuss the current problems and look for adequate solutions. Hugh de Kretser, the Executive Officer of the Federation of Community Legal Centres, facilitated the event and started proceedings with an overview of the type of casework involved. He highlighted the complexity of addressing individual client needs given that employment law is at the intersection of state and federal jurisdictions, OH&S laws, awards and agreements, anti-discrimination legislation, human rights commissions and tax and superannuation law. He also stressed the complex referral options include community legal centres (CLCs), VLA, private firms and unions. By many measures, employment law matters continue to be amongst the most frequent legal issues and CLCs and VLA have tracked a large unmet demand in the area. At the same time, there was a big reduction in the resources allocated to the specialist Victorian CLC, Jobwatch.
Hugh’s overview was followed by a panel discussion, including Kristen Hilton, Director, Civil Justice, Access and Equity, Victoria Legal Aid, Fiona Knowles, Principal Lawyer Discrimination, Fair Work Ombudsman, Erin McCoy, Industrial Officer, ACTU and Zana Bytheway, Executive Officer, Jobwatch. Each of the panel members set out how their organisation was addressing employment law client demand:

After the panel attendees broke out into three workshops on:

Reporting back from the workshops it was apparent that participants from within and outside the legal assistance sector were keen to continue the dialogue around capacity building, better referral procedures and ongoing advocacy to ensure a proper level of resources is allocated to employment law in Victoria.

Summer 2011 newsletter