Community Development, Law Reform & Education
Community Development and Law Reform Projects
It is widely recognised that women are at increased risk of family violence during pregnancy and early parenthood. The AIFS reports that 29% of first-time mothers experienced male partner violence within the first four years post-partem.
The health impacts of family violence upon women are also widely recognised and include pregnancy and birth complications, substance abuse and trauma responses. Impacts on children are particularly damaging and include impaired cognitive functioning, learning difficulties, poor mental well-being and low self esteem. Ongoing exposure to violence is associated with the highest likelihood of behavioural difficulties in children.
Pregnancy and early parenthood are opportune times for early intervention, as women are more likely to have contact with health care and other providers. The Common Risk Assessment Framework argues that professionals working in perinatal and maternal and child health services should play a critical role in early intervention, by identifying family violence and referring appropriately. Recommendation 96 of Victoria's Royal Commission into Family Violence also calls for routine screening for family violence in all public antenatal settings.
WEstjustice will collaborate on this pilot project with Wyndham Maternal and Child Health and Wellness Unit, Wyndham Children and Family Resource Team, VICSEG New Futures and Wyndham Health Justice Network to deliver a training package and ongoing supports which will build the capacity of Maternal Child Health Nurses and Playgroup Facilitators to identify women at risk of or experiencing family violence and make early intervention referrals to legal and non-legal support services.
The project commenced in September 2018, with funding support from Wyndham City Council.
WEstjustice launched ‘Fare Go: Myki, Transport Poverty and Access to Education in Melbourne’s West’ on 22 March 2016.
This research report examined the impact of the public transport fares and fines system on young people’s access to education in Melbourne’s West.
Our research found that travel to and from school on the Victorian public transport system is too costly for a significant proportion of students in the West of Melbourne. This is creating transport poverty, meaning many young people regularly miss school simply because they cannot afford to get there, or risk the incursion of public transport fare evasion fines in order to do so.
The stress, anxiety and negative emotional well-being that thousands of young people experience as a result of contact with the infringements system is both costly and pointless. In 2014-15, more than 7000 warrants for non-payment of fines by young people in Victoria were not executed.
New thinking about young people and the public transport system is required.
WEstjustice is calling for the abolition of Myki fines for secondary students and free public transport for secondary students whose parents receive a Centrelink benefit.
Download the full report and recommendations here.
‘Fare Go: Myki, Transport Poverty and Access to Education in Melbourne’s West’ was generously funded by Victoria Law Foundation.
WEstjustice is working with the Werribee Mercy Hospital, Fines Victoria, the Centre for Innovative Justice, toll road operators and other CLCs to assist Wyndham residents who collectively owe more than $54 million in unpaid fines.
Justice figures revealed that 147,716 warrants for unpaid fines were issued to Wyndham residents in 2013-2014. New data from the Sheriff’s Office shows that unpaid toll-way fines dwarf all other categories of unpaid fines by a factor of nearly 2.5:1.
Many of our local residents with unpaid toll fines suffer from special circumstances and struggle to get the legal help they need. The LAW Survey demonstrates that people seek advice from a legal adviser for only 16% of all legal problems, whereas health or welfare advisers provided legal help in 35-53% of cases. This finding highlights the critical importance of that first point of contact in ensuring that vulnerable clients are referred to appropriate legal assistance.
‘Health Agency to Court’ has established a Health Justice Partnership with the Mercy Mental Health Program at Werribee Hospital, through which vulnerable psychiatric patients with fines and debts are identified and provided with legal assistance and representation. We have also established the Wyndham Health Justice Network comprising of 17 member agencies from the health, justice and community sectors which works to build collaboration between our services to better assist vulnerable clients. We are also leading the fight to reform the toll fines enforcement system and undertaking broader infringements system advocacy as co-convenors of the Infringements Working Group.
‘Health Agency to Court’ has been generously funded by the Victorian Legal Service Board.
The final report 'Health Agency to Court: Tackling the Fines System Evaluation Report 2018-2019' is here
For many newly arrived workers, sustainble employment forms the heart of successful resettlement. It provides financial security, social connections, self-esteem and independence. However, for a variety of reasons which have been well documented, migrant workers are more vulnerable to exploitation at work. They are often underpaid, unfairly dismissed, injured at work and subject to workplace bullying and discrimination.
WEstjustice's Migrant and Refugee Employment Law Project seeks to improve employment outcomes for migrant workers by increasing job readiness and access to decent and safe work. We do this by educating and empowering migrants and refugees experiencing disadvantage to better understand and enforce their workplace rights and responsibilities through legal assistance, education and capacity building, and systemic change.
After extensive consultation, the project started in 2014 with a focus on newly arrived and refugee workers, and later incorporated a specific focus on international students via our partnership in delivering the International Students Work Rights Legal Service. Over the last 7 years the Migrant and Refugee Employment Law Project has delivered the following:
- Assisted over 700 migrant and refugee workers from around 60 countries to recover over $750,000 of unpaid wages and entitlements, unpaid invoices, debt avoided and compensation for unfair treatment.
We also achieved significant non-financial practical outcomes including helping clients to keep jobs, increase hours at work and get new jobs, and restorative justice outcomes including recognition and apologies, employers undergoing training to prevent future unlawful conduct, changing practices in workplaces and helping clients get assistance with other legal and non-legal issues.
- Delivered hundreds of face-to-face information sessions to thousands of migrant and refugee community members, community workers and community leaders through our Community Legal Education, and the Employment Law Train the Trainer Program has reached over 1800 migrant and refugee community members.
This work has substantially increased knowledge and awareness of employment laws and services, and ultimately the ability to comply with responsibilities and enforce rights at work.
Evidence gathered through these activities has informed our advocacy work, including numerous submissions to government inquiries, feedback to government agencies and statutory bodies and academics, along with our major Policy Report: Not Just Work - Ending the exploitation of refugee and migrant workers, which argued for:
- Improved laws and processes to stop wage theft and sham contracting
- Reform of unfair dismissal and discrimination processes to better support vulnerable workers
- Increased accountability in labour hire, supply chains and franchises
- Better protections for temporary migrant workers
- Greater resourcing for targeted legal education, culturally responsive assistance and the linking of vulnerable workers to key services
The full report can be downloaded here.
We continue to build on this report to advocate for improved laws and services for all migrant workers, and all vulnerable workers. Explore our law reform submissions here.
Currently we are limited to providing legal assistance and education to international students and young people (aged 12-25).
- Legal help: International students
- Legal help: Youth Law
- Community legal education: Migrant and Refugee Employment Law Project
- Community legal education: Youth Employment Project
WEstjustice is working in collaboration with the Wyndham Community and Education Centre and the New Hope Foundation to submit bulk applications to rectify incorrectly recorded names for 20 local families from the Karen, Karenni and Chin communities.
The Karen, Karenni and Chin ethnic groups from Burma have cultural naming practices that differ from the ‘first name family name’ structure we use in Australia. In order to apply for resettlement in Australia, Karen, Karenni and Chin community members living in refugee campus must first register with the UNHCR. During the registration process they provide their first and only name, which is more often than not recorded as a family name.
After resettlement, Karen, Karenni and Chin community members need to sign up with a range of essential services such as real estate agents, utilities companies, banks, medical services and schools, all of which require a first name and a family name. This creates significant barriers in accessing these services, and often, material disadvantage as a consequence.
The ‘My Name’ pilot project will operate as an important test case to ascertain a suitable name change process for community members impacted by this problem. The project will also gather further evidence to inform any future reforms undertaken by the Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages as well as the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Such reforms will allow community members from a refugee background to access the services they need to ensure successful resettlement.
On Saturday 23rd November, the Pasifika Talanoa Communities Conference was held.
The conference brought Pasifika communities (Maori and Pacific Islanders) in Melbourne together to Talanoa (to share views and converse) with each other and service providers (those who work with Pasifika peoples) on significant issues such as:
- Pasifika young people and their identity according to family, church, police, schools, support services and governments;
- Pasifika young people and the barriers in pursuing their education including limited access to HECS-HELP loans and problematic structures of and approaches within schools;
- Family violence and the ways in which it is conceptualized by Pasifika peoples and the implications of these;
- The inability or difficulties in accessing support services for Pasifika peoples, often as a result of being a NZ citizen.
Participants were able to listen to remarkable keynote speakers and participate in workshops on topics such as culturally safe service provision and delivery for Pasifika peoples and the importance of identity (and knowledge of the story of their ancestors, mythology and spirituality) to Pasifika peoples.
This conference showcased the insights offered up by Pasifika people throughout Melbourne as part of Pasifika Talanoa Project’s earlier Talanoa sessions over the last 4 months. This conference also involved presenting those insights to stakeholders and putting forward recommendations of better ways of working.
This project was in partnership with The Uniting Church in Australia Synod of Victoria and Tasmania and funded by the Department of Premier and Cabinet and Department of Justice and Regulation.
The Pasifika Talanoa: A Snapshot Report is available here.
The Pasifika Project: A mixed-methods clinic supporting the Pasifika Community in the Western suburbs of Melbourne Report is available here. This report presents the work that WEstjustice has undertaken in the Pasifika Project since 2016.
Our Restoring Financial Safety project (the Project) culminated in a partnership with McAuley Community Services for Women, a provider of family violence crisis accommodation and support services in Melbourne’s west, to achieve extraordinary client outcomes. In just four months, we:
- prevented escalation of legal and financial problems arising out of family violence through early intervention;
- provided holistic legal and financial counselling support to 24 victim/survivors with the complex processes and laws related to family violence; and
- saved our clients over $100,000.
We executed the Project through the following five steps:
STEP 1: We began by working extensively with industry (regulators, peak associations, ombudsman schemes and many large/top-tier companies) on improving the understanding and responses to family violence.
STEP 2: We brought together a reference group of key organisations to share information and collaborate on economic abuse issues . That group evolved into the Economic Abuse Reference Group and is supported by the Victorian Government.
STEP 3: We created Financial Security Checklists for financial counsellors and support workers to use with their clients, that contain protocols agreed to by industry champions. These checklists have also been adapted into national resources by Financial Counselling Australia.
STEP 4: Twenty-six community organisations and top-tier companies joined a pilot to test whether family violence protocols led to improved financial security for victim/survivors. We used our pilot’s learnings to change our approach and develop the McAuley partnership.
STEP 5: The McAuley partnership was the final step in the Project. It is an effective model of economic abuse casework service delivery because it allows us to:
- reach clients earlier in the cycle of their legal and financial issues to prevent escalation;
- provide holistic legal and financial counselling support to complement the family violence, emotional, employment and housing support services provided by McAuley – meaning we can resolve more of the issues to help clients regain financial security; and
- provide space, time and emotional support for clients to work through complex and multiple issues.
Restoring Financial Safety was generously funded by the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation.
A copy of the final project report, Restoring Financial Safety: Collaborating on Responses to Economic Abuse can be accessed here.
Phase 3 of the Restoring Financial Safety Program has involved continuing the partnership established with McAuley to scale up the program for a further two years between 2018-2021, including to a new site. Phase 3 also involved a large body of systemic advocacy for change to government and industry responses to economic abuse. In just over two years we were able to assist over 130 women to resolve close to one million dollars of financial and legal problems. A copy of the phase 3 report Restoring Financial Safety: The Transforming Financial Security Project can be found here.
WEstjustice launched the School Lawyer project in partnership with The Grange P-12 College in 2015.
By embedding a lawyer within a public school community, this innovative two-year pilot program creates an inclusive relationship with students, parents, guardians and teachers that goes beyond the traditional lawyer/client relationship. It also helps to build the confidence of the wider school community to effectively engage with the justice system to improve the stability of school families and the attendance and performance of students. The School Lawyer is a member of the school’s Wellbeing Team.
Our School Lawyer has so far assisted students and parents with a broad range of legal issues including consumer law problems, criminal law matters, family law and family violence matters, homelessness, fines and employment law problems.
The School Lawyer is also delivering community legal education to staff, students and their families on a range of topics including sexting, bullying and cyber bullying, online safety, employment law and criminal law.
Based on the success of The Grange pilot, the ‘Expanded School Lawyer Project’ aims to explore a similar model that could be delivered across a cluster of schools at the one time, including alternative education settings and additional needs schools. The project will also develop and trial a ‘transient youth clinic’ that will complement the existing School Lawyer model in order to re-engage and support students who have disengaged from and/or left the school. The project partners include Warringa Park School, Wyndham Community and Education Centre and Laverton P-12 College.
School Lawyer Reference Group
Schooling has always been about preparing children for their future, so it is of no surprise that a new wave of energetic and ‘down-to-earth’ school lawyers continue to surface in high schools across Victoria.
After the success of the 1st Australian ‘in-house’ school lawyer in 2015, lawyer in school programs continue to develop in Victoria, especially within the outer urban and regional areas. Community legal service providers and the Geelong Victoria Legal Aid office have chosen to place lawyers in primary and secondary schools to break down barriers and build trust with a cohort of young people traditionally overlooked by legal services. Read more about the expansion of school lawyer programs here.
In 2016 the sector saw the creation of the School Lawyer Reference Group. The role of the School Lawyer Reference Group is to strengthen and develop the School Lawyer model thinking and practice in the non-profit, government and private sectors. See Terms of Reference for more information.
For more information about the School Lawyer programs and School Lawyer Reference Group including membership, please contact Melissa Hardham at email@example.com or (03) 9216 0023.
School Lawyer Program – Social Ventures Australia Consulting
Social Ventures Australia (SVA) Consulting were engaged to document the current School Lawyer Program model and develop a framework to assist other organisations who may want to establish a program for their own school community.
SVA will develop a Business Case, outlining the goals, initiatives, activities and funding required to achieve scale across Victoria. The Framework developed in Phase 1 is a key tool in this phase. Access the School Lawyer Program Framework here.
SVA is a social purpose organisation that works with partners to improve the lives of people in need.
For more information about the Consultancy, please contact Melissa Hardham at firstname.lastname@example.org or (03) 9216 0023.
In 2014, WEstjustice began a law reform project, exploring the experiences of young couch-surfers in Wyndham. The project involved setting up Youth Couch-Surfing Legal Clinics in schools and welfare agencies, assisting 62 couch-surfers under 25 and 24 babies/children.
More clients of the Clinic sought assistance with Myki fines than with any other issue. Thirty-three couch-surfers presented with fines for travelling without a ticket and serveral had outstanding warrants and court appearances. On average, the fines totalled anywhere between $300 to $20,000.
The majority of these couch-surfers were secondary school students who were experiencing family violence. To escape the violence, they stayed at friends' houses, sometimes moving between several houses per week. They had very little if any financial support from their parent(s), no access to Centrelink and were unemployed. Most of the fines were incurred on the way to and from school, as well as travelling between different houses where they were sleeping. Being forced to fare evade created conflict with Authorised Officers and other transport users. The resulting fines also created further conflict in the home, making the couch-surfer's situation worse.
The Schools' Couch-Surfing Myki Project created a new pathway of compliance for young couch-surfers who do not have access to income and rely on public transport to get to and from school. With funding support from Wyndham City Council and delivered in partnership with four local Wyndham schools, the project provided Myki cards to 40-50 eligible students for one month at no cost to the student.
The provision of the free Myki card through the school's wellbeing tream provided a safe way for young people participating in the project to get to and from school, as well as access services external to the school. Early indicators suggest that a number of young people might not have completed school if not for the project, and that young people were more engaged at school as a result of the project.
As noted by a participating wellbeing officer: "After being linked in with the Myki program the student's confidence in catching public transport increased, attendance increased, and overall reported mental health increased due to the support".
WEstjustice is now seeking further funding to extend the Schools' Couch-Surfing Myki Project to 20-25 schools in the Wyndham catchment area.
A final report on the project will be released shortly. For further information please contact Melissa Hardham at email@example.com.
Couch surfing is the dominant way that young people experience homelessness, crashing on a friend’s couch to avoid returning home or being out on the streets, and often moving frequently.
Yet it is largely a hidden problem and the law has failed to provide couch surfers with legal status in areas such as social security, property and discrimination laws.
WEstjustice is exploring the experiences of young couch-surfers in western Melbourne and their couch-providers in order to identify areas of law reform and recommend new models of service delivery to couch surfers and their providers.
Read the full Couch Surfing Limbo Report here.
On 17 May 2018, an Open Letter to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was sent regarding the uniquely harsh conditions facing young New Zealanders experiencing homelessness in Australia. Read the letter here.
For many young workers, positive employment experience provides a basis for ongoing participation in the economy and community. It provides financial security, social connections, self-esteem and independence. However, for a variety of reasons young workers are more vulnerable to exploitation at work. They are often underpaid, unfairly dismissed, injured at work and subject to workplace bullying and discrimination.
The Youth Employment Project started in mid-2019 and aims to improve employment outcomes for young people agred 12 to 25 in Melbourne's West. We do this by educating and empowering young people experiencing disadvantage to better understand and enforce their workplace rights and responsibilities through legal assistance, education and capacity building, and systemic change.
In particular, we are currently delivering the following services:
- Targeted legal services where young people learn, work and access support (we help with a range of legal matters including underpayments, unfair dismissal, discrimination, sham contracting, etc)
- Employment law education for young people and those who work with them (we have a range of tailored workshops for young people and agency staff
- Advocating to improve laws and processes addressing the common issues facing young workers
We are gathering data to inform a final project report and related advocacy. The final report for Phase 1 of the Youth Employment Project is scheduled to be published mid-2021.
Community Legal Education
To raise awareness of relevant laws and services, WEstjustice has developed a suite of online learning modules on Economic Violence.
Each of the four modules have been designed for people who may be experiencing economic or financial abuse, as well as workers who may be supporting someone who is experiencing economic or financial abuse.
They provide practical information about what economic or financial abuse is, and how to deal with many of the common issues that arise for someone who is experiencing economic or financial abuse. They also provide links to further information and resources.
Module 2: Economic Violence - Credit Referencing and Credit Reports (currently unavailable)
This project has been generously funded by the Lord Mayor's Charitable Foundation.
'Legal Street Smarts' is a community legal education program for senior secondary school students in the Western suburbs of Melbourne.
Delivered by WEstjustice’s Community Legal Educator, the program offers interactive workshops on a range of legal issues commonly experienced by young people, including:
- Employment rights
- Family violence
- Public transport and road use fines
- Sexting and Age of Consent
- Powers of Police, Protective Services Officers and Authorised Officers
- Weapons, Graffiti and Public Space Offences
'Legal Street Smarts' aims to increase young peoples’ awareness of their legal rights and responsibilities and empower them to make informed decisions which may have significant legal consequences.
Any secondary school in the Cities of Maribyrnong, Hobsons Bay and Wyndham may participate in this free program by contacting Gillian Davy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To increase knowledge and understanding of laws, raise awareness of services, and build trust with target communities, WEstjustice has developed an employment law education program as part of the Migrant and Refugee Employment Law Project.
Check out this video of one of our amazing peer educators, talking about our Employment Law Train the Trainer Program and Services!
The program consists of:
Information sessions for migrant and refugee community members
These sessions are provided upon request. We deliver sessions to a variety of formal and informal groups, including community organisations (for example, at church group meetings or community meetings); English as Additional Language classes (in particular, employment-oriented programs including AMEP SLPET classes); information sessions run by education providers and settlement agencies (for example, Rights and Responsibilities seminars or other organised programs); and as part of other multicultural leadership and ambassador training programs.
Information sessions for workers with migrant and refugee communities
These sessions are targeted at staff who frequently assist migrant and refugee clients. The sessions seek to rasie awareness of employment laws and services to enable workers to identify when their clients are experiencing an employment law issue and make appropriate referrals.
Employment Law Train the Trainer program
WEstjustice's Employment Law Train the Trainer Program has run for 5 years, from 2015-2020. This program provides paid employment to bilingual community leaders, who attend a 10-day training course in employment laws and services. The participants visit key agencies, including the Fair Work Ombudsman, the Fair Work Commission, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and Victoria Legal Aid. They are then supported to develop and deliver education resources and information sessions about work rights and responsibilities for their communities.
The aim of the program is to empower people from newly arrived migrant and refugee communities to understand their workplace rights and responsibilities, and to build their capacity to enforce them. The long-term goal of the program is to prevent migrant worker exploitation.
WEstjustice has run five roll-outs of this program, training 34 migrants from 21 different countries who spoke 43 different languages. Betweem them, the graduates have delivered 64 formal legal education sessions, reaching over 1880 migrants. They continue to speak to approximately tow to three community members per week about work rights and have made direct referrals for legal assistance for around 412 community members to date. 74% of graduates said that the program directly assisted them to secure further paid employment.
Watch this video to learn more about the program from the Community Education Officers:
Redfern Community Legal Centre is running a NSW pilot of the Train the Trainer Program, and in addition we are working with a range of stakeholders to try to establish ongoing support to deliver this program across Victoria and to further develop the peer education network and a fee-for-service model of delivery. To speak to us about this program please email email@example.com.
We are currently limited to delivering education services to international students, young people and workers supporting them. To request a free information session for your community, or to express interest in any upcoming sessions for community workers please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
WEstjustice prioritises the provision of community legal education to members of newly arrived communities.
We recognise that the law pervades almost all aspects of our lives, both public and private. An inability to understand, interact with and successfully navigate the legal system can and does result not only in escalating legal problems, but in entrenched economic and social disadvantage. For newly arrived communities, an understanding of the law is critical to successful resettlement and full engagement in Australian life.
Our community legal education sessions are delivered to the client groups of settlement agencies throughout Melbourne’s West, as well as through English language programs offered by community centres and migrant resource centres. Our sessions are provided to community members from dozens of countries around the world, at various stages of their resettlement journey.
They explore diverse areas of Australian law that directly intersect with resettlement including consumer law, driving, employment law, family law, family violence, infringements, neighbourhood disputes, the powers of police and protective services officers, public transport and more.
Any community organisation may request a free community legal education session by contacting Gillian Davy at email@example.com.
‘November NoViolence’ is an innovative program that provides free community legal education on family violence through a series of short plays and discussions, in collaboration with Tandem Media.
By using a more creative and less confrontational method of delivering community legal education, the program increases participant comfort levels in discussing what is considered a sensitive and difficult area of law to teach.
‘November NoViolence’ has been delivered to over 1000 people through a broad range of schools, settlement agencies and community organisations across Maribyrnong, Hobsons Bay and Wyndham, including:
- Catholic Care
- Family Empowerment Training (UPSCALE Project)
- The Grange Secondary College
- Laverton Women’s Group
- Melbourne Academy (Melbourne City Mission)
- Manor Lakes College
- New Hope Foundation
- Uniting Care Werribee Support and Housing
- Victoria Police (Multicultural Men Ambassador group)
- Victoria University, Werribee
- Werribee Secondary College
- Western Bulldogs
- Williamstown Community Education Centre
- Wyndham Ambassadors of Multicultural Youth
- Wyndham Youth Resource Centre
- Wyndham Community and Education Centre
Any settlement agency or community organisation may participate in this free program by contacting Gillian Davy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information sessions for young people
These sessions are provided upon request. We deliver sessions to a variety of formal and informal groups, including at schools, educational institutions and youth centres.
Information sessions for workers supporting young people
These sessions are targeted at staff who frequently assist young people. The sessions seek to raise awareness of employment laws and services to enable workers to identify when their clients are experiencing an employment law issue and make appropriate referrals.
To request a free session for your community, or to express interest in any upcoming sessions for community workers please email email@example.com.
WE are located
Level 1 / 72 Buckley Street, Footscray VIC 3011
Tel: + 61 3 9749 7720
Fax: + 61 3 9749 8276
Monday to Friday, 9.00am-1.00pm and 2:00pm-5:00pm. (Office currently closed due to COVID-19 situation)
Please call us to get legal help (appointment time needed).
Level 1 / 8 Watton Street, Werribee VIC 3030
Tel: + 61 3 9749 7720
Fax: + 61 3 9749 8276
Monday to Friday, 9.00am-5:00pm. (Office currently closed due to COVID-19 situation)
Please call us to get legal help (appointment time needed).
Visy Cares Hub, 80B Harvester Road, Sunshine VIC 3020
Tel: + 61 3 9091 8237
Fax: + 61 3 9091 8207
Monday, Wednesday & Friday, 9.30am-1.00pm and 2.00pm-4.30pm.
Drop-in service on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 9.30am-4.30pm, for people up to 25 years old ONLY.