Law Reform and Policy Work
The Illawarra Legal Centre’s policy and law reform work is focused on challenging potential and existing unfair laws and practices and making recommendations for improvements.
Law reform activities include projects that do the following four things:
- Highlight the impact of the law on our community, particularly on groups who experience social and economic disadvantage;
- Draw the community’s attention to any injustices within the law;
- Bring to the attention of government and other institutions any injustices within the law;
- Recommend changes to the law and the way it operates based on our experiences within our community
We supported sector actions by taking the issues up with local politicians or the relevant Minister, or received media coverage Re:
- Shaping Better Child Protection Systems – Re: Their Futures Matter Legislative Reforms – Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Amendment Bill 2018.
- Medical Evacuations from Manus Island and Nauru
- Opposing funding cuts to the Law & Justice Foundation
- The need for a Human Rights Act
- The need for affordable housing.
- The legal challenge to Centrelink re Robodebt
- Rise of poverty in NSW – need to increase Centrelink payments
- Closure of Centrelink office at Warrawong
- Increasing poverty levels in Australia
We fed into:
- The National Social Security Rights Network Impact Report. This report highlighted the level of social security need in Australia, why specialist social security legal services are needed, new risks with digital/automation transformation for vulnerable people living with disadvantage, and the policy and law reform responses that are needed.
- National Social Security Rights Network Submission in relation to Social Services Legislation Amendment (Cashless Debit Card Trial Expansion) Bill 2018. Discussing evidence of flawed evaluation of past use of card, opposing the continuation and expansion of the use of the cashless debit card.
- How well does Australia’s Social Security System support victims of family and domestic violence? Report
Submissions to Enquiries:
- Review of Community Legal Centres (CLC) Services. We wrote a submission to the Cameron Review re type, scope and geographic spread, funding Levels required (more as concluded by the Productivity Commission), funding model that should be used for CLCs generally and about the organisation and operation of our own legal centre’s work, especially our one stop shop model of service delivery. We supported the unique role of CLCs, their effectiveness and efficiency and the need for extra and secure funding.
- Australian Charities and Not for Profit Commission (ACNC) Review. Arguing that the objects of the ACNC are adequate and should not be altered to include any possibility of the ACNC imposing directions on the use of funds for particular purposes. We supported the right to advocate by all groups in society as fundamental to democracy.
- Submission to the NSW Government Consultation of the Civil Justice System. Urging the need for the maintenance of in person services for clients living with disadvantages who are unable to adequately use online services for access to justice.
- Privacy Protections and Right to Advocate. Australian Services Union (ASU) are running a Civil Society campaign and calling on people and organisations to put to them what is needed for a “civil” (fair) society. ILC has put Privacy Protection issues and Right to Advocate growing from meetings at ILC and carried to the ASU state wide delegates meeting.
- Legal Aid Contribution Policy. In May 2018 CLCNSW endorsed our submission to Legal Aid NSW about their contribution policy and its detrimental effect on clients.
- Victims Support. We asked the CLCNSW Victims Support Subcommittee to tell Victims Services that they too often fail to tell victims of their right to claim a recognition payment, and that they sometimes delay the start of enquiries for over 8 months. We provided examples to Victims Services and the Lead Client Services Advisor acknowledged the problem and said they have implemented a new system to request documents earlier. We made further complaints about poor handling of documents by Victims Services. The Commissioner of Victims’ Rights responded to us personally (though briefly). We pointed out that Victims Services had not only ceased providing Support Coordinators for victims but that their brochure said they did provide that support. This resulted in Victims Services correcting their brochure.
- Criminalisation of Poverty. We are involved in a joint research project with the University of Queensland along with 10 CLCs and 4 universities on the criminalisation of poverty. The group made a submission to the Law Council and a grant application to the Australian Research Council. ILC obtained NSW government’s Homeless Protocol and passed it on to Wollongong Homeless Hub.
- Work and Development Orders. We were consulted in September 2017 by Legal Aid Victoria as the Victorian government is introducing Work and Development Orders.
- Credit Provider ASIC Investigation Case Studies. Provided case studies for an Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) investigation of a credit provider.
- Family Law. Endorsed CLCNSW submission in May 2018 to an Australian Law Reform Commission on family law.
- Closure of Warrawong Centrelink Office. Helped coordinate local community organisations and to get case studies to try to prevent the closure of the Warrawong Centrelink office. Spoke at a public meeting with local members of parliament and to media.
- Silencing Civil Society. NACLC National Conference presentation.
We supported sector actions by taking the issues up with local politicians or the relevant Minister, and/or received media coverage Re:
- Tougher eligibility rules re Disability Support Pension (DSP)
- Changes to ways Centrelink assesses drug addiction re DSP.
- Victims compensation Domestic violence and cuts to support services
- Underpayment of young workers
- Language and Bullying at school
- Funding cut threats to Community Legal Centres
- Omnibus Bill re delay to youth allowances
- Renter Rights
- Public housing tenants and home ownership
- Rentberry App (re tenants bidding for rentals “Bidding App to Squeeze Most Needy”
- Increase in homelessness
- Tenancy and pets
- HNSW home maintenance
- Centrelink debt distress
- Opposition to funding cuts to Community Legal Centres
Education Act Changes. The team represented CLCNSW on the Education Act Prosecutions NSW Legal Assistance Forum (NLAF) working group. This has resulted in a policy direction to Education Officers that warrants are not sought to enforce proceedings and that all parties have legal representation at any proceedings.
NSW Government Releases Consultation Paper On Civil Justice System Reform. The NSW Government is reviewing the civil justice system, releasing a consultation paper late last year that asks for public submissions on how it can improve the current system.
In a media release announcing the launch of the paper, the Government cited figures from the Law and Justice Foundation saying that around 2.8 million people in NSW face a significant legal problem each year, with 85% of those matters involving civil law.
However, the Foundations says that ‘one in five people take no action because they don’t know how to or think it will be too stressful or expensive’.
The Illawarra Legal Centre provided an extensive submission including case studies to the NSW Department of Justice in February this year.
We supported sector actions by taking the issues up with local politicians or the relevant Minister, and/or received media coverage Re:
- The Welfare Rights Project made submissions in relation to changes in the Disability Support Pension and contributed to submissions in relation to changes in the Guide to Social Security Law.
- Children’s Court Assistance Scheme prepared press releases and talked to our local print, radio and TV media, highlighting why changes to Youth and Newstart Allowances would be so harmful to the young people of the Illawarra.
- Concerns with the impact of ‘no grounds notices of termination’ for renters led to the Tenants Service joining a statewide push for reform leading to major parties taking up the reform.
- ILC was involved in meeting and preparing written correspondence and fact sheets for Federal MPs and State MPs about cuts to our Centre funds.
Rights of Marginal Renters. Also, on the reform front, the Tenancy Service took part in discussions with Fair Trading over strengthening the rights of ‘marginal renters’ – that is, boarding house residents and sub-tenants. Again, the need to provide greater security for these renters is apparent from our day to- day work, and again it appears there is more work to do to convince decision makers of the need for change.
Robo-debts. So-called Centrelink ‘robo-debts’ featured heavily in the service’s law reform and policy work. We appeared before the Senate Select Committee investigating robo-debts. One of our Welfare Rights solicitors was a member of a panel involving representatives from the Legal Aid and the Welfare Rights Centre in Sydney and was interviewed by The Illawarra Mercury, ABC radio and our Centre’s involvement was reported on Channel 7 & 9 news.
We attended the National Social Security Rights Network and Departmental briefings on robo-debts and also partnered with Law Access and Legal Aid to set up a referral line.
Victims Support. ILC continues to work with Victims’ Support. We contributed to the Review of Victims’ Rights and Support Act, we helped draft questions to be asked at Budget Estimates in relation to Victims ‘Support, we raised with our state peak body CLCNSW privacy concerns about the computer network of FACS and we lobbied for improvements to the standard letters sent by Victims Services in relation to the last day to provide submissions.
Criminalisation of Poverty. The ILC is participating in a joint University of Queensland project grant entitled “Criminalisation of Poverty and Homelessness in Australia: A National Study”. The research involves assessment of the policing and enforcement of public order crimes on individuals experiencing poverty and homelessness. The aim is to identify law and policy reform options to reduce the criminalisation of homeless people.
- Illawarra Legal Centre was asked to provide a broad response to the NSW Department of Primary Industries Public Consultation Draft regarding the ‘Fisheries Management Admendment Bill’ on behalf of the participants at a number of local fishing rights workshops the ILC has conducted as well as from feedback provided at the unprecedented gathering of members from the 13 clans of the Yuin Nation at Killalea on 26-28 June 2015 (‘the Killalea Gathering’).
Tenancy Law and Policy Reform
- The Illawarra & South Coast Tenants Service provided an extensive submission to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into Social, Public and Affordable housing. The Service used their submission to call upon the government to increase funding for repairs and maintenance of properties, invest in social and affordable housing stock, and ensure that funds from the sale of public housing stock are reinvested into maintaining existing stock or creating new stock. The Tenants Service was also called to give evidence at a public hearing relating to the Inquiry.
Generalist Law Reform
- Illawarra Legal Centre sent important submissions and case studies to members of the New South Wales parliament regarding changes proposed to the Victims’ Compensation Scheme. The Victims’ Rights and Support Bill 2013 proposing to drastically reduce compensation payments made to victims of crime, domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault was introduced into parliament on Tuesday 7 May 2013. It was passed on 30 May 2013.
Children’s Court Assistance Scheme (CCAS) Law Reform
- ILC participates in submission to parliamentary inquiry into strategies to reduce alcohol abuse among young people in NSW.
Tenancy Law Reform
- The Boarding Houses Act 2012 commenced on 1 January 2013 with the objective to protect the rights of people who reside in boarding houses and promote the sustainability of the boarding house industry. The Act provides that the Commissioner for Fair Trading can publish a standard form occupancy agreement for use in boarding houses.
- The NSW State Government has recently undertaken a review of the Residential Parks Act 1998, and released a draft Bill to entirely replace the existing Act. The draft Bill includes reforms in areas like: mandatory education for all new operators, improved processes for making, ammending and enforcing comunity rules and community-based approaches to dealing with increases in site fees.
Work Development Orders
- ILC aiding the success of Work and Development Orders (WDO) as an option for fines debt of young people and others
2010 – 2011
The Illawarra Legal Centre also:
- Contributed to the CLCNSW submission on police accountability
- Contributed to a law reform project in relation to errors on the NSW Police database
- Provided input into the law reform work of CLCNSW in relation to access to documents in victims’ compensation matters
- Contributed to the CLCNSW submission on interpreters. We sought improvements to the automated Telephone Interpreter Service.
- Attended meetings to discuss law reform issues at Wollongong Local Court with credit and debt workers
- Wrote to local members regarding the Residential Tenancies Bill
- Submission to the National Human Right’s Consultation on the need for a Human Right’s Act.
- Submission to the Access to Justice Taskforce 2009.