Free community info session – FV and why early intervention helps

Looking for information about family violence for yourself or someone else? The Ovens Murray Integrated Family Violence Committee will be running a series of free community information sessions in Wangaratta in 2018. The sessions are free, informal and community oriented.

The first session will feature Hume Riverina Community Legal Service family lawyer Jodie Wells. It will be held at Gateway Wangaratta on Wednesday 28 March 2018, from 8am-9am.

Since March 2017, Ms Wells has attended the Centre Against Violence under a health-justice partnership arrangement in Wangaratta and Wodonga to give free legal assistance to women impacted by family violence.

“These clients are particularly vulnerable and are not entitled to legal aid, and they do not have the financial means to get legal assistance from private lawyers,” Ms Wells said.

The legal assistance provided to women in need covers a range of legal issues, including family violence, family law (child contact, property and divorce), debt problems, tenancy issues, applications to Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT) and fines and infringements. As part of the evaluation process for the health justice partnership, statistics are recorded. Ms Wells said the top five categories overall have been

  1. Family Law Property in Marriage/De Facto
  2. Family Law Child Contact
  3. Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal applications
  4. Tenancy issues
  5. Fines/Infringements

“These top five issues make up about 40 per cent of my advice, and many people have multiple legal issues,” she said.

Ms Wells said the information session is aimed at support workers and health professionals, as well as victims and their family and friends. “This session will help people understand how this legal process works and how early intervention is important for getting a positive result,” she said.

For more information about the community session, or to register, visit EventBrite at or call Jasmine Isaacs on 03 5722 3009. If you or anyone you know needs immediate help with family violence call 000 or contact Safe Steps on or 1800 015 188. 1800 015 188 1800 015 188 1800 015 188

Partnerships helping young people get over life’s hurdles

Giving young people access to free legal advice in a ground-breaking first in regional Australia has resulted in many positive outcomes beyond helping fix legal problems.

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers welcomed Federal Member for Indi Cathy McGowan to NESAY on January 11 to meet with all the partners involved in the Invisible Hurdles project. HRCLS has partnered with NESAY, Wodonga Flexible Learning Centre and the Albury Wodonga Aboriginal Health Service (AWAHS) to deliver the Invisible Hurdles project from October 2016 onwards.

Ms Rodgers thanked Ms McGowan for showing a strong interest in the project and offering her support in Parliament for community legal centres and initiatives to help young people struggling with life’s challenges.

“We appreciate the support from all MPs who see the value in our work and how we make a difference for people in our communities,” Ms Rodgers said.

Ms Rodgers said it was important to highlight how the partnerships were working to deliver positive outcomes, and everyone agreed co-location, relationship building and trust, and regular access to an Invisible Hurdles lawyer were main ingredients for the project’s success.

“All partners are keen for the project to continue and this is testament to the excellent work everyone is doing,” Ms Rodgers said. “Health-justice partnerships are delivering positive outcomes and it’s important for us to show Government this is a productive service model.”

The Invisible Hurdles health justice partnership project received funding through the Victorian Legal Services Board Grant program, and Legal Aid NSW also provides funding for the project to be run at AWAHS.

Representatives from NESAY, Wodonga Flexible Learning Centre and AWAHS outlined how the Invisible Hurdles was helping young people, particularly in family violence situations, as well as creating other benefits for service workers, such as upskilling and education on the legal system.

NESAY executive officer Leah Waring said the health-justice partnership had created a positive ripple effect and helped enhance relationships, while giving support workers new skills.

“Our staff can now identify a potential legal problem and have the confidence to refer the people they’re seeing to the Invisible Hurdles lawyer, and young people would never make an appointment for help without this encouragement,” Ms Waring said. “Our young people are blown away that they can see a lawyer for free. Without access to the Invisible Hurdles project, the opportunities for them to get legal help are almost non-existent.”

Ms McGowan praised the Invisible Hurdles partners for their collaborative approach to address legal problems for young people in vulnerable situations and encouraged them to continue showing Government how the service model was working.

Invisible Hurdles project partners gather to discuss the success the program has created through helping young people with Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan AO MP.

Invisible Hurdles project partners gather to discuss the success the program has created through helping young people with Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan AO MP(middle).


Family violence legal services gets boost on the Border

Family violence victims living in NSW towns along the border will have the opportunity to access more legal assistance. In a positive move, the addition of a new family law position bolsters Hume Riverina Community Legal Service’s (HRCLS) ability to ensure people living in NSW who are experiencing family violence have access to legal support.

HRCLS principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers said the project, funded through Commonwealth funding distributed by Legal Aid NSW, would enable HRCLS to deliver family law and family violence services in the Southern Riverina of NSW, including Albury, Corowa, Deniliquin and Finley.

“Having a dedicated lawyer provide these services will help improve support we can provide to clients in rural communities who face these issues,” she said. “We will strengthen our links with other family violence services in the region. We already have dedicated lawyers providing targeted family violence services on the Victorian side of the border, so this will ensure those living in NSW receive a similar service.”

These services will officially begin in January 2018 and have been funded until June 30, 2020.

NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman visited Hume Riverina Community Legal Service last week to find out how the legal service was helping people with everyday legal problems, and to hear about a new family law/family violence project targeting people in the Southern Riverina of NSW.

Ms Rodgers said the opportunity to speak directly with Mr Speakman, who made the approach to HRCLS to visit, was a chance for lawyers to explain the day-to-day challenges they face, and provide solutions.

“The Attorney General was interested to learn more about our approach and what was working well, and also what could be improved to help people get access to legal assistance,” she said. “Mr Speakman was very attentive, asked plenty of questions and able to clarify how the National Domestic Violence Order Scheme (NDVOS) will be implemented.”

Ms Rodgers said the NDVOS, which started on November 25, would help people living on the border because they no longer need to manually register their family violence protection order in NSW or Victoria.

“We have been asking for change and highlighting the difficulties for victims of family violence, who up until this point, have been responsible for registering their family protection orders across the Border,” Ms Rodgers said.


Family violence a key focus for community legal centre helping Border families

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) is joining the 16 Days of Activism campaign and principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers has welcomed the family violence focus on the Border, with local organisations playing a role to change attitude and behaviour in the community.

Ms Rodgers said it was the important for the community legal service to help promote the 16 Days of Activism and support partners, including The Women’s Centre, Yes Unlimited, Women’s Health Goulburn North East, the Ovens Murray Integrated Family Violence Network and the Centre Against Violence.VAV_A3_Many_hands_poster_V1-page-001

“We want to show the wider community the legal system is responding and we want to play a role to help people,” Ms Rodgers said. “When people separate they need to understand the family law process, and I encourage anyone needing free legal assistance to get in touch with us on 1800 918 377.

“We are seeing an increasing number of clients experiencing family violence and more than half the work we do is in the family law/family violence area.”

People seeking free legal help often experience a number of problems, along with domestic violence. Ms Rodgers said the excellent partnerships HRCLS has formed helped to refer people quickly to the right service to get their problems solved.

“Many people have complex issues, such as housing, fines, credit and debt,” she said. “Often they also have child safety to consider, so we work closely with our auspicing body UMFC and local service providers to get these people help to make sure their families have support and can feel safe.”

Although residents in Albury-Wodonga view themselves as living in one community, Ms Rodgers said the differences in NSW and Victorian family law meant legal issues could be complicated. “This makes it even more critical to help people through the steps in the legal process,” she said.

Getting early legal advice was also important to prioritise the best way forward. “Many people think they need to take certain steps, when in fact they made need to do other things first,” she said.

Making a difference to help people fix legal problems

Partnerships with key community organisations have been crucial for ensuring more people struggling with issues in their life get free legal assistance, according to Hume Riverina Community Legal Service (HRCLS) principal lawyer Sarah Rodgers.

More than 30 people from community service providers attended the HRCLS ‘Report to the Community’ on Thursday, 9 November, to hear the impact HRCLS had in 2016-17. Ms Rodgers said she was proud of the role the service played in helping people access legal assistance.

“Our team’s commitment to link the community with the law has resulted in meeting our strategic aims and beating targets, with an increase in key areas of the service,” Ms Rodgers said.

Ms Rodgers said the strengthening of partnerships was having an impact, and allowed HRCLS lawyers to give more advice to people than in the previous year.

“Our partners such as Wodonga Flexible Learning Centre, NESAY, Gateway Health and Centre Against Violence are having a real impact through the collaborative programs we have established,” Ms Rodgers said. “People trust these services and our referrals are increasing as clients open up about their problems, which include legal issues. With our presence at each of these sites, we can quickly identify how to potentially fix these legal issues.”

Ms Rodgers said the legal service was investigating more projects to further extend its reach into the HRCLS catchment to ensure people needing legal advice on everyday problems. Outreach services are currently delivered from Benalla and Wangaratta to Henty and Holbrook, and west to Deniliquin, Finely and Corowa.

“We are in a unique environment on the Border and we regularly face cross border legal problems,” she said. “People dealing with legal problems often have interrelated Victorian and NSW legal problems and it can be extremely complex to get these issues resolved. These cross border issues problems continue to create confusion and frustration among the community and we will keep advocating for them to be addressed.”

NSW cross border commissioner James McTavish was guest speaker at the ‘Report to the Community’ and told the audience about the role of his office in addressing cross border issues.

Mr McTavish said local knowledge was vital for his work advocating to the NSW Government for resolutions to cross border problems, and he encouraged people to contact his office.

Mr McTavish said the NSW Government had addressed laws that would impact people living on the NSW-Victoria with legislation passed to allow the registration of interstate Intervention Violence Orders. Work is also being done in the child protection area to ensure border living is recognised.

Hume Riverina Community Legal Service 2016-17 highlights

Highlight breakout 2016-17

The above statistics are not a full representation of the data for the 2016-17 year. HRCLS will publish more data  when more is available.

The HRCLS Annual Report 2016-17 can be found online here.

NSW Cross Border Commissioner_James McTavish_Hume Riverina CLS team_Report to the Community_Nov_2017

NSW Cross Border Commissioner James McTavish

with the HRCLS team at the Report to the Community 2016-17