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Annual Report 2011 - 2012

Aboriginal community partnerships

The Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) (NSW/ACT) is our key partner in delivering legal services to Aboriginal people in New South Wales.

The ALS is a key member of the Aboriginal Justice Committee chaired by the Director, Aboriginal Services.

The Aboriginal Services Unit of Legal Aid NSW is responsible for managing the relationship between Legal Aid NSW and the ALS.

Legal Aid NSW funds two Field Officer positions at the ALS offices at Walgett and Coffs Harbour. Legal Aid NSW also funds the ALS to employ three care and protection lawyers in regional New South Wales.

Major achievements

Priority: Access to justice

Web conferencing trial

We commenced a web conferencing trial with the ALS in Walgett/Dubbo and Grafton to improve the access of remote and rural Aboriginal clients to civil and family law advice and minor assistance.

The blend of traditional face-to-face support with delivery of expertise via technology potentially offers the best of both worlds.

The trial involved the Aboriginal Field Officers (civil and family), appointed to implement the recommendations of the Law Faculty, University of NSW report, Civil and Family Law Needs of Aboriginal People in New South Wales. We partnered with the ALS to employ field officers in two high-need locations, the Far North West (Walgett) and the Mid North Coast (Coffs Harbour), in addition to a Field Officer already working at Campbelltown.

At both locations, a Field Officer supports clients in person while Legal Aid NSW civil and family lawyers take part via web conference. As the Field Officer at Walgett is at a considerable distance from the closest Legal Aid NSW office, this is an excellent opportunity to trial desktop web conferencing for providing civil and family law services to Aboriginal clients in remote locations.

Darrin Cruickshank, Linda Meyns and Emma Shean

Left to right: Darrin Cruickshank, WDO Field Officer, Aboriginal Legal Service Nowra, Linda Meyns, Wollongong Legal Aid WDO lawyer and Emma Shean, Wollongong Legal Aid WDO paralegal – working closely on expanding the WDO Service in the South Coast area. Photo: South Coast Register

Family lawyers from Legal Aid NSW, together with the Greater Sydney Family Law Pathways Network, organised the conference Our Children…Our Journey …Our Way to work with Aboriginal people on family law issues and to improve the family law system for Aboriginal clients. It was held on the fourth anniversary of the apology to the Stolen Generation.

We also provided legal education and developed a family law workbook to improve access by Aboriginal people to our family law services.

Priority: Linking services

The close partnership between Legal Aid NSW and the ALS in the South Coast and Central West regions maximised the reach of the Work and Development Order Service in Aboriginal communities, providing assistance with fines debt.

During NAIDOC Week in July 2011, a new Statement of Commitment was launched, outlining how our two agencies will work together for the next two years.

This year saw the implementation of the second Aboriginal Services, Employment and Partnerships Plan 2011-2013 (following on from the 2008-2011 plan) to ensure our services meet the needs of Aboriginal people. Many of the goals and outcomes in the plan are achieved through community partnership.

In addition, a working group began to develop a Reconciliation Action Plan in May 2012 to ensure we are contributing to the principles of reconciliation, and strengthening our relationship with Aboriginal organisations and communities around the State.

The plan will have clear actions with measurable targets, developed in consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The community legal education program called Civil law – what’s that? was developed for Aboriginal justice workers to help prevent civil and family law issues from potentially becoming criminal law matters. During 2011-2012, 75 Aboriginal workers from the ALS, the NSW Department of Attorney General and Justice and Community Legal Centres were trained to identify civil law issues, and to make supported referrals for their clients. Legal Aid NSW staff visited 18 ALS offices to conduct this training.

Gerry Moore, outgoing CEO Aboriginal Legal Service

Gerry Moore, outgoing CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ ACT), signs the new Statement of Commitment during NAIDOC Week in July 2011.

Planning ahead

Year ahead

Introduce more clients to the web conferencing trial and monitor their experiences with the technology by trialling a ‘virtual clinic’ in a remote community once a month.

Evaluate the web conferencing trial at the start of 2013.

Begin implementing the Reconciliation Action Plan.

Implement a training program – Practical skills for private lawyers working with Aboriginal clients – by June 2013.

Key challenge

Ensuring that we meet the targets and goals set in the Aboriginal Services, Employment and Partnership Plan 2011-2013, at the end of its cycle in June 2013.