Author Archives: Eastern Community Legal Centre

  1. Star Mail: Thousands turned away from legal support as funding stagnates

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    By Mikayla van Loon

    Turning people away from accessing essential legal support has become the reality for community legal services in the outer east as funding hasn’t kept pace with demand.

    After a decade of minimal funding increases, community legal services are urging the Federal Government to make some significant changes in the upcoming budget.

    Eastern Community Legal Centre (ECLC) chief executive officer Michael Smith said funding has always been a struggle for community legal services but recent years have proved the most challenging.

    “The funding Eastern Community Legal Centre is getting from the Federal Government hasn’t really changed in about 10 years,” he said.

    “We’re not really getting indexation and nothing’s matched the growth in the issues we’re seeing from the community.”

    Mr Smith said Community Legal Centres Australia has put forward a minimum of a $124 million increase to current funding, a figure he believes would accommodate the growing demand of services.

    “We would have hoped that our funding from the Federal Government would double. We’re only getting about $600,000 from their federal money.

    “So we’d hope they would double the money for our core work. It wouldn’t be a lot of money for them but it’ll be a huge change for us.”

    The shortfall impact has meant ECLC has had to turn away hundreds, if not thousands, of people every year due to a lack of staff capacity.

    “We’ve just got huge demand across our services. A lot of our work is in family violence. We’re helping women in particular, who are desperate for assistance with legal help for things like intervention orders, sometimes family law and children’s issues,” Mr Smith said.

    “We’re helping people with infringements and local law issues, people with employment issues and a whole range of other things too but we’re having to turn people away because we haven’t got capacity with our staff.”

    Last year, Mr Smith said some contract staff members had to be put off, yet again reducing the ability to help provide legal support to those who need it.

    “It’s stressful for the team and it’s stressful for the clients who we really want to help. We have a fantastic intake team that takes the call, tries to prioritise which clients should get the help from our staff and which clients might be referred somewhere else.

    “So when they have to tell people we can’t give them an appointment with a lawyer that they really need because we haven’t got the capacity, that’s pretty tough.”

    Mr Smith said an example of the funding models needing to be more flexible and adaptable has been post the 2021 storms that hit the Yarra Ranges and the most recent storm event this year.

    “When the storms happened in 2021, we did eventually get some funding to provide some more support around the storm’s work and that funding ran for two years so it has just run out.

    “The staff we had with the extra money for that storm response in the Dandenong Ranges, their funding has just finished. We will be able to adapt to respond with the limited resources we have but if the demand is large, it’s going to be hard to meet that.

    “It does show that the funding models need to adapt to have more flexibility and agility because if a big event happens, you can’t wait months for the government to get its act together before you put the extra resources on the ground.

    “So we’ll always respond straight away but it is hard when your funding is not very flexible.”

    The demand post the February storms has been “fairly limited so far” for ECLC but Mr Smith said sometimes it does take time for people to understand the legal needs they may have, especially when it comes to insurance.

    While ECLC hasn’t experienced this yet, Mr Smith said other organisations and people on the ground have heard of many cases of family violence post storms as well, meaning more people may inquire about legal help.

    “We know from previous experience with the storms in the Yarra Ranges about two years ago, that’s an issue and even back to the bushfires of 2009,” he said.

    “We know when these major disasters happen, it affects families in lots of complex ways and things like family violence can get a lot worse in those situations, too.

    “Sadly, about 80 per cent of our staff’s work is related to family violence but it does continue to rise when these things happen.”

    Pushing for increased funding, Mr Smith said, is not only about the immediacy of helping people now but in the long term as more and more people seek support.

    “This is really, really urgent, and we need to make the community aware of how important this is.

    “I think people often aren’t aware of what their community legal centres are doing and then also, they don’t recognise their need for legal help until they really need it.”

    The National Legal Assistance Partnership (NLAP) review currently sits with the Attorney General in the lead up to the May budget and the adoption of a new NLAP in June 2025.

    Anyone requiring legal assistance for storm recovery can find information here, eclc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/Disaster-Recovery-Legal-Help.pdf

    You can read the original article here

  2. 2024 Storms in Melbourne

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    Pic credit: Mark Bourke/ 13 Feb 2024/ ABC News

    The storms that caused significant damage and disruption throughout several areas of Melbourne yesterday saw almost half a million homes with no power and caused damage to roads, homes and infrastructure. ECLC is deeply concerned for the community in various areas particularly in the Yarra Ranges that are still without power. ECLC’s Yarra Ranges office is currently closed for safety reasons.

    To assist people to move from crisis to recovery, Eastern Community Legal Centre (ECLC) has released a legal help check tool that walks people through a list of common issues and guides them to get assistance where needed.

    The Disaster Recovery Legal Help Check asks residents to consider issues around safety, housing, insurance, employment, children and other areas.

    Going through the check can help identify new issues or ones that may have been exacerbated by the impact of the storms. For example, many people may not realise that legal advice could help with lodging insurance claims or managing employment issues.

    Family violence can also increase in the aftermath of a disaster. This was observed around the time of the Black Summer bushfires and throughout the lockdown periods of the pandemic.

    If you are concerned for your wellbeing or the wellbeing of someone you know, help is available.  The Orange Door is the access point for local family violence services and ECLC can provide a range of family violence legal assistance including support with intervention orders. In the case of an immediate safety risk, please call Triple Zero (000)

    ECLC’s Director of Legal Services, Belinda Lo, said many people don’t realise they have a problem until well after a natural disaster has occurred.

    “We are working with  all of our local councils and other services to support people on the ground. This legal help check is another tool that can save people additional problems down the track. People who identify legal issues can come to us for assistance or referrals.”

    ECLC is the local lead for Disaster Legal Help Victoria in Yarra Ranges and the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

    The Disaster Recovery Legal Help Check can be downloaded below. Please call 1300 325 200 or complete our Appointment Request Form to find out how we can help.

    Download: ECLC Disaster Recovery Legal Help Check

     

  3. ECLC welcomes the Federal government’s announcement of the parameters of the Australian Law Reform Commission Inquiry into how the justice system handles cases of sexual violence.

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    ECLC welcomes the Federal government’s announcement of the parameters of the Australian Law Reform Commission Inquiry into how the justice system handles cases of sexual violence.

    The Inquiry will examine laws and frameworks about evidence, court procedures, processes and jury directions, laws about consent, policies, training for judges, police and legal practitioners as well as support services for those who have experienced sexual violence.

    A sexual violence lived-experience Expert Advisory Group comprised of 20 lived‑experience experts, including victims and survivors of sexual violence and their advocates will inform the Inquiry.

    The Inquiry, which could potentially overhaul judicial responses to sexual violence, is a definite step in the right direction for victim-survivors who have long felt retraumatised by the justice system.

    The Centre looks forward to the report from the inquiry which is due on January 22, 2025.

     

    To read the official media release from Attorney-General, Hon Mark Dreyfus KC MP , click HERE

  4. Eastern Community Legal Centre Submission on Climate Change Amendment (Duty of Care and Intergenerational Climate Equity)

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    To read the full Submission, click HERE or scroll down. 

     

    ECLC is pleased to provide a submission to the parliament on the Climate Change
    Amendment (Duty of Care and Intergenerational Climate Equity) Bill 2023 (the Bill) and
    wishes to endorse the submission of the Federation of Community Legal Centres (FCLC),
    Australian National University, Human Rights Law Centre and the Climate Council.
    In this submission, ECLC will highlight the ways in which the Bill will strengthen protection
    and access to justice for young people and the legal issues can be created or exacerbated by
    climate change and disasters, then provide recommendations for improving outcomes of
    the submission.

    A call for Climate Justice from Eastern Community Legal Centre
    As noted by the FCLC, “Climate Justice views the acceleration of environmental changes through a human rights lens and strives to address these inequities. Disaster Justice focuses on the role of governing structures in creating and perpetuating risks, inequalities and injustices that are magnified by climate hazards. Together, the principles of Climate and Disaster Justice promote sustainable and just solutions to the challenges posed by climate change and disasters and ensure that all affected individuals and communities have access to the resources and support they need through all phases of prevention, preparation,
    response and recovery.”

    Based on the current climate change trajectory data, it is likely that future generations will
    be exposed to significant and increasing risk of climate related impacts. ECLC has recognised this risk and in 2023, designated Communities Impacted by Climate Change as a strategic priority community within its service framework.

    ECLC acknowledges the multifaceted impact of climate change, extending beyond environmental and political realms to encompass social, legal, and financial implications. Emphasising climate justice as a core priority, ECLC contends that as the climate warms and disasters become more frequent and intense, communities experiencing marginalisation, and subgroups within these communities, bear a disproportionate burden. For this reason, ECLC works closely with key at-risk groups including First Nation’s communities, regional
    and remote areas, and women, including those who may be experiencing family violence linked to an event.

    Across Melbourne’s East, ECLC has observed early signs that a failure to address the legal implications of climate change can lead to a cycle of entrenched disadvantage within the communities we serve. ECLC advocates for breaking this cycle by addressing the legal challenges arising from climate-related disasters through address the key systemic drivers that lead to some communities being at greater risk of climate impacts and advocating for changes that promote the key principles of climate justice.

    Further, there is community support in the Eastern Metropolitan Region for the Bill’s
    passing. Mums of the Hills Inc (MotHs) is a community group that advocates on local issues
    and provides community-driven services for over 6,500 families in Melbourne’s Dandenong
    Ranges. Often described as the ‘lungs of Melbourne’ the area comprises Sclerophyll forests,
    bushy blocks and treed urban areas.

    The area is prone to extreme weather events such as the 2021 storm in which an estimated 25,000 trees fell in one night rendering families displaced and critical infrastructure such as power, communications and schools destroyed. Bushfires are also an ever-present risk to the area, considered one of the world’s most at-risk communities.

    In the 2023 Mums of the Hills Perspectives Survey, 75% of all participants (n=963) stated climate change as the most pressing issue residents were concerned about. Now more than ever before, our families are susceptible to climate change. The group represents multiple generations, from young families to grandparents, all of whom are extremely invested in and concerned for our environment and the well-being of our children, grandchildren and generations to come. Both Mums of the Hills and ECLC share profound concerns that young people in our region will experience a diminished quality of life compared to current generations if global temperatures exceed the 1.5-degree warming limit. The group says
    “We urge members of parliament to support and adopt the Climate Change Amendment
    Bill 2023 to fulfil the Duty of Care and Intergenerational Climate Equity”.

    ECLC believes that without significant climate action, future generations will confront substantial challenges, including those of a complex-legal nature. Of the individuals ECLC supported through Centre services with disaster related legal matters since the June 2021 storms in the Yarra Ranges, over 15% were a family and/or with dependent children. These children would have also been impacted by their family units’ legal challenges. As climate change intensifies, it is likely that we will see an increase in families with children who are
    impacted by disaster related legal issues.

    ECLC also recognises the following high confidence statements from the Intergovernmental
    Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):
    • Climate impacts are cascading and compounding across sectors and
    socioeconomic systems.
    • Complex connections are generating new types of risks, exacerbating existing
    stressors and constraining adaptation options.
    • Adverse impacts of climate change, development deficits and inequality
    exacerbate each other.
    • Existing vulnerabilities and inequalities intensify with adverse impacts of
    climate change.
    • These impacts disproportionately affect marginalised groups, amplifying
    inequalities and undermining sustainable development across all regions.2

    Based on the current climate change trajectory data, it is likely that future generations will be exposed to significant and increasing risk of climate related impacts. ECLC has recognised this risk and in 2023, designated Communities Impacted by Climate Change as a strategic priority community within its service framework.

    The approach to climate justice advocated by ECLC seeks a paradigm shift in how climate change is perceived. Instead of framing the issue solely as an environmental or political issue, climate justice places issues of social equity and human rights at the forefront of decision-making as emphasised above by FCLC.

    ECLC supports the need for the Climate Change Amendment (Duty of Care and Intergenerational Climate Equity) Bill 2023 (the Bill), as a substantial step towards achieving equitable climate change action.

    Bill to Strengthen protection and access to justice for young people
    As noted by FCLC in their submission, “The legal system is complex and hard to navigate without climate change impacts compounding access to justice issues. People experiencing economic, environmental and social precarity, people living with a disability, First Nations people, the elderly, people from migrant and refugee communities, people experiencing homelessness and single parents are even more likely to have complex legal problems as well as face greater complexity recovering from extreme weather events.

    The exacerbation of climate harms on the livelihoods of present generations will have an inevitable impact on future generations. As Community Legal Centres focus upon an integrated, holistic approach to addressing access to justice for communities it is imperative that the slide into intergenerational poverty, trauma and precarity is prevented and these legislative changes will assist in that goal.”

    Additionally, Collin and McCormack (2020) state that there are a range of broader structural barriers that continue to prevent young people’s participation in policy discussions and decisions. Young people are often excluded from decision-making processes due to both institutional and systemic obstacles, including the historical exclusion of young people from conversations about planetary health, and a lack of monetary investment in youth-led and focused initiatives.

    This Bill’s potential contributions to the strengthening of “access to justice” and increasing
    opportunities for participation of young people in climate change issues is multifaceted.

    The Bill introduces a “duty of care” that holds the potential to significantly fortify protection for young people and concurrently enhance their access to justice. By explicitly recognising the health and well-being of current and future children, including young people, as paramount, this duty ensures their interests are a crucial consideration in decisions contributing to climate change. Consequently, it establishes a legal foundation for
    safeguarding the rights of young people. Failure by decision-makers to fulfill their duty of care opens legal avenues, including provisions for judicial review, providing mechanisms for holding those in power accountable.

    This judicial review process will likely create pathways for empowering young individuals to have their voice heard through legal proceedings as they will be able to be formally recognised as stakeholders in environmental matters. Provisions for judicial review create a formal process for challenging decisions that could impact their well-being, broadening their access to justice. The statutory duty of decision-makers to consider the health and well-being of children establishes a legal framework for protecting the interests of young people, providing a basis for legal arguments and advocacy.

    The Bill’s extension of standing for judicial review, including individuals who are children, broadens the scope for young people to engage in legal actions related to significant decisions. Moreover, prohibitions on harmful activities, such as those related to the exploration or extraction of coal, oil, or natural gas, indirectly contribute to protecting young people from adverse environmental effects.

    This preventive approach acts as a protective mechanism, averting decisions that could jeopardise the health, wellbeing and future prospects of generations to come. It aligns with the principles of prevention and resilience, minimising potential risks and enhancing the protection of young people. The duty of care contributes to the broader concepts of climate justice referred to above. By making decision-makers accountable for the impact of their choices on young people, the Bill supports the intergenerational climate justice ideals established by the UN, notably that “pursuit of welfare by the current generation should not
    diminish opportunities for a good and decent life for succeeding generations.”3

    This is crucial in addressing the disproportionate burdens often borne on young people and future
    generations in the context of climate change.

    The duty of care may also serve as a tool for public education and awareness, fostering a better understanding of the link between environmental decisions and the rights of the young and future generations. Empowered with this knowledge, young people can actively engage in environmental issues, further contributing to a proactive stance in decision making.

    In essence, the Bill emerges as a critical instrument in creating a regulatory environment that recognises and safeguards the rights and interests of young people in the context of climate change, thereby fortifying their access to justice in environmental matters.

    Legal Issues creates or exacerbated by climate change and disasters
    The aftermath of the June 2021 storms that impacted the Yarra Ranges Shire demonstrated the interconnected social, financial, mental health and legal challenges facing residents in the region (refer to Yarra Ranges Council Submission to General Insurance Code of Practice4).

    Following this event, ECLC saw a range of legal issues which over time have become increasingly complex. including lengthy disputes with insurers, property damage disputes, challenges covering rental costs, difficulties accessing social security and increases in family violence in the home. This is often referred to as the ‘long legal tail’ of disaster impacts5.

    As climate change continues to drive an increase in the frequency and intensity of weather events, the community legal sector anticipates an increase in demand for free and accessible legal support.

    Further, ECLC expresses deep concern over the potential repercussions should the Bill fail to pass. This could lead to a surge in diverse legal challenges linked to climate change and environmental degradation within communities across Melbourne’s East.

    Recent data linking legal need and extreme weather events showed that “disasters [can] have a significant impact on both people’s likelihood of experiencing justiciable problems and their opportunities to resolve them. Findings relating to the 2019–2020 bushfires in Victoria point to challenges ahead. Those affected by bushfires were more likely to have justiciable problems, have a greater number and longer lasting problems, and make greater use of services. As climate change continues, the frequency of fires, floods and other
    climate-related disasters will place increasing burdens on legal and related services.” 6

    The Eastern Metropolitan Region (EMR) is already grappling with challenges accessing necessities, impacting their right to access safe water, housing and standard of living. This often presents as practical issues such as disruptions in water supply, difficulties accessing heating and cooling, power outages, and other resource-related issues. ECLC is steadfast in its commitment to advocate for the protection of these resources and the rights of young people to access them both now and in the future.

    The absence of a duty of care could expose young people to situations where their human rights are violated due to inadequate protection from climate-related harms. As noted by FCLC, “Climate change and disasters can have significant impacts on human rights, including the right to life, health, housing and water. Legal and policy strategies aimed at protecting and promoting human rights in the context of climate change and disasters are essential in preventing certain communities from being disproportionately affected or discriminated against.”

    In the absence of the Bill’s passage, young people may face a myriad of legal issues arising from the impacts of climate change, and community legal centres will play a pivotal role in addressing these concerns. ECLC will continue to advocate and work with its partners and pro bono firms in handling cases involving human rights violations, seeking remedies, and holding responsible parties accountable.

    Recommendations
    1. Include special consideration for marginalised young people

    ECLC endorses the recommendation made by the Australian National University that the Bill should be strengthened to recognise that the impact of climate change on children varies based on socioeconomic and geographic factors. As noted by the Human Rights Law Centre, “For marginalised or socio-economically disadvantaged children, the risks to health and well-being are compounded. Children who live in insecure or remote housing, for example, are more vulnerable to flooding, fires, and inadequate thermal protection.7 Lower cost housing is often located on land that is more vulnerable to extreme weather events or less accessible to services”8 Decision-makers should be mandated to give special consideration to children facing disproportionate harm due to their socio-economic and/or geographic circumstances. Additionally, it is known that other intersectional issues, such as being of First Nations descent, gender, poverty, and disability status, should be considered, acknowledging their compounding effect on vulnerability to climate change. The duty of care in decision-making should have regard for alignment with the specific challenges faced by young people.

    2. Broaden the definition of health and wellbeing
    ECLC endorses the recommendation made by the Australian National University to enhance and clarify the definition of health and well-being to align with global standards. The current amendment refers to emotional, cultural, and spiritual health, but it should be expanded to explicitly include physical health, consistent with the World Health Organization’s constitution. Also, mental health, given its significant impact on young people, should be explicitly addressed.

    Highlighting the relevance to children’s health, specific attention should be given to the physical health of pregnant individuals. Research indicates that current oil and gas developments, especially fracking, contribute to adverse health effects, impacting heart disease, respiratory disorders, and birth outcomes. As noted by the Human Rights Law Centre, “According to the Australian Medical Association, climate change is already
    responsible for an estimated 250,000 to 400,000 global deaths per year, of which almost 90 per cent are children9 Infants younger than one year old, for whom extreme heat can be particularly life threatening, are now exposed to twice as many heatwave days as they would have experienced in 1986 to 2005.”10 Considering these factors is crucial for assessing the potential health impacts on future generations. Access to justice and public health research has independently identified the impact of legal problems on people’s health, health systems, and health costs11.

    3. Consider specific impacts on First Nation’s children
    The Bill, with its focus on considering the health and well-being of current and future children in Australia, including Indigenous or First Nations children, is likely to have specific implications for these groups. The Bill should be elaborated upon, to strengthen recognition of the unique risks faced by First Nations peoples due to factors like geographical location, cultural practices, and historical injustices. The Bill should go further to emphasise the disproportionate impact of climate change on First Nations populations. If passed, the Bill
    could strengthen protection for First Nations communities, particularly those in remote or high-exposure areas who may be disproportionately affected by climate change.

    ECLC supports the following statement made by the Human Rights Law Centre around the intersection of First Nations peoples and climate change impacts: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are also uniquely and disproportionately affected by the crisis. As noted by the Lowitja Institute, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are more likely to live in areas of increased geographical risks, for example, the hot, dry conditions of central Australia, and have a stronger dependence on land and water resources than non-Indigenous Australians12. The Institute has found that climate change is already impacting deep, spiritual ties to Country, which is a fundamental determinant of health, foundational to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity, knowledge systems, and cultural practices13.

    Climate change is and will continue to exacerbate the already disproportionate levels of ill health, stress and hardship experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, particularly children and young people.” Further, ECLC supports the language used in the Bill to explicitly address impacts on
    “cultural health and well-being” as part of the definition of health and well-being. This recognition is important for First Nations children as it acknowledges the significance of cultural practices, connections to land, and traditional knowledge in their overall health and well-being. Climate change can disrupt traditional ways of life for Indigenous communities, impacting access to traditional foods, water sources, and cultural practices. The Bill’s provisions, by requiring consideration of the impact of decisions on greenhouse gas
    emissions, may indirectly contribute to the preservation of these aspects critical to the health and well-being of First Nations children.

    The Bill’s alignment with international human rights principles, including the right to health, underscores the interconnectedness of environmental sustainability and human rights. This
    recognition is particularly relevant for Indigenous communities whose health and well-being are closely tied to the health of their environment and connection to country.

    The Bill must recognise the paramount need for self-determination and the ability for communities and Indigenous people to make decisions for themselves, and to have resources available to make those decisions (Mibu Fisher 2021). If the Bill includes provisions for meaningful consultation with Indigenous communities in decisions that may affect them, it could align with Australia’s obligations under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), fostering a more inclusive and rights-based
    approach. While these points highlight potential positive impacts, it ‘is essential to ensure that the implementation of the Bill is culturally sensitive, respects Indigenous rights and self-determination, and involves meaningful engagement with First Nations communities to address their specific concerns and aspirations. For these reasons, it is strongly recommended that meaningful consultation occurs with Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisations in the Eastern Region of Melbourne.

    4. Strengthen commitment to Australia’s obligations under international laws
    and frameworks.

    Failure to pass the Climate Change Amendment (Duty of Care and Intergenerational Climate Equity) Bill might raise concerns about meeting Australia’s obligations under international human rights law, including:

    Climate Agreements: The Bill’s amendments to the Climate Change Act 2022 align with international climate agreements such as the Paris Agreement. If the Bill does not pass, there could be implications for Australia’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fulfilling its obligations under these agreements.

    Children’s Rights: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) emphasises the right of children to the highest attainable standard of health and protection from activities that may harm their well-being. If the Bill is not enacted, there could be implications for Australia’s compliance with its obligations under the UNCRC, particularly regarding the health and well-being of children in the context of climate change. Further, the Government should meet its obligations under international law, including those
    observed in the United Nations CRC/C/GC/26: General comment No. 26 (2023) on children’s rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change: “As rights holders, children are entitled to protection from infringement of their rights stemming from environmental harm and to be recognized and fully respected as environmental actors. In taking such an approach, particular attention is paid to the multiple barriers faced by children in disadvantaged situations in enjoying and claiming their rights”.

    Intergenerational Equity: The Bill explicitly addresses intergenerational equity, recognising the responsibility of the present generation to consider the impact of decisions on future generations. Failure to pass the Bill might be seen as a gap in fulfilling the principle of intergenerational equity under international environmental and sustainable development frameworks.

    Human Rights and Climate Justice: The Bill’s focus on considering the impacts of decisions
    on health and well-being aligns with broader human rights principles. Failure to pass the bill might be viewed as a failure to integrate human rights and climate justice into national legislation, potentially impacting Australia’s commitment to these principles on the international stage.

    In summary, ECLC strongly endorses the Climate Change Amendment (Duty of Care and Intergenerational Climate Equity) Bill 2023. Without meaningful climate change action from decision makers, future generations will be increasingly susceptible to the growing impacts of extreme weather events. By making decision-makers accountable for the impact of their choices on young people, the Bill supports the intergenerational climate justice, improve access to justice and provide opportunities for judicial review if their basic rights and needs are not met. Local communities in ECLC’s catchment have express concern if the Bill is not passed and have provided support for its passing by Parliament. Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission on this important proposed Bill.

    Submission to Australian Parliament House on Climate Change Amendment (Duty of Care and
    Intergenerational Climate Equity) Bill 2023

  5. Eastern Community Legal Centre Submission on Climate Change Amendment (Duty of Care and Intergenerational Climate Equity)

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    To read the full Submission, click HERE or scroll down. 

    ECLC is pleased to provide a submission to the parliament on the Climate Change
    Amendment (Duty of Care and Intergenerational Climate Equity) Bill 2023 (the Bill) and
    wishes to endorse the submission of the Federation of Community Legal Centres (FCLC),
    Australian National University, Human Rights Law Centre and the Climate Council.
    In this submission, ECLC will highlight the ways in which the Bill will strengthen protection
    and access to justice for young people and the legal issues can be created or exacerbated by
    climate change and disasters, then provide recommendations for improving outcomes of
    the submission.

    A call for Climate Justice from Eastern Community Legal Centre
    As noted by the FCLC, “Climate Justice views the acceleration of environmental changes through a human rights lens and strives to address these inequities. Disaster Justice focuses on the role of governing structures in creating and perpetuating risks, inequalities and injustices that are magnified by climate hazards. Together, the principles of Climate and Disaster Justice promote sustainable and just solutions to the challenges posed by climate change and disasters and ensure that all affected individuals and communities have access to the resources and support they need through all phases of prevention, preparation,
    response and recovery.”

    Based on the current climate change trajectory data, it is likely that future generations will
    be exposed to significant and increasing risk of climate related impacts. ECLC has recognised this risk and in 2023, designated Communities Impacted by Climate Change as a strategic priority community within its service framework.

    ECLC acknowledges the multifaceted impact of climate change, extending beyond environmental and political realms to encompass social, legal, and financial implications. Emphasising climate justice as a core priority, ECLC contends that as the climate warms and disasters become more frequent and intense, communities experiencing marginalisation, and subgroups within these communities, bear a disproportionate burden. For this reason, ECLC works closely with key at-risk groups including First Nation’s communities, regional
    and remote areas, and women, including those who may be experiencing family violence linked to an event.

    Across Melbourne's East, ECLC has observed early signs that a failure to address the legal implications of climate change can lead to a cycle of entrenched disadvantage within the communities we serve. ECLC advocates for breaking this cycle by addressing the legal challenges arising from climate-related disasters through address the key systemic drivers that lead to some communities being at greater risk of climate impacts and advocating for changes that promote the key principles of climate justice.

    Further, there is community support in the Eastern Metropolitan Region for the Bill’s
    passing. Mums of the Hills Inc (MotHs) is a community group that advocates on local issues
    and provides community-driven services for over 6,500 families in Melbourne’s Dandenong
    Ranges. Often described as the ‘lungs of Melbourne’ the area comprises Sclerophyll forests,
    bushy blocks and treed urban areas.

    The area is prone to extreme weather events such as the 2021 storm in which an estimated 25,000 trees fell in one night rendering families displaced and critical infrastructure such as power, communications and schools destroyed. Bushfires are also an ever-present risk to the area, considered one of the world’s most at-risk communities.

    In the 2023 Mums of the Hills Perspectives Survey, 75% of all participants (n=963) stated climate change as the most pressing issue residents were concerned about. Now more than ever before, our families are susceptible to climate change. The group represents multiple generations, from young families to grandparents, all of whom are extremely invested in and concerned for our environment and the well-being of our children, grandchildren and generations to come. Both Mums of the Hills and ECLC share profound concerns that young people in our region will experience a diminished quality of life compared to current generations if global temperatures exceed the 1.5-degree warming limit. The group says
    “We urge members of parliament to support and adopt the Climate Change Amendment
    Bill 2023 to fulfil the Duty of Care and Intergenerational Climate Equity”.

    ECLC believes that without significant climate action, future generations will confront substantial challenges, including those of a complex-legal nature. Of the individuals ECLC supported through Centre services with disaster related legal matters since the June 2021 storms in the Yarra Ranges, over 15% were a family and/or with dependent children. These children would have also been impacted by their family units’ legal challenges. As climate change intensifies, it is likely that we will see an increase in families with children who are
    impacted by disaster related legal issues.

    ECLC also recognises the following high confidence statements from the Intergovernmental
    Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):
    • Climate impacts are cascading and compounding across sectors and
    socioeconomic systems.
    • Complex connections are generating new types of risks, exacerbating existing
    stressors and constraining adaptation options.
    • Adverse impacts of climate change, development deficits and inequality
    exacerbate each other.
    • Existing vulnerabilities and inequalities intensify with adverse impacts of
    climate change.
    • These impacts disproportionately affect marginalised groups, amplifying
    inequalities and undermining sustainable development across all regions.2

    Based on the current climate change trajectory data, it is likely that future generations will be exposed to significant and increasing risk of climate related impacts. ECLC has recognised this risk and in 2023, designated Communities Impacted by Climate Change as a strategic priority community within its service framework.

    The approach to climate justice advocated by ECLC seeks a paradigm shift in how climate change is perceived. Instead of framing the issue solely as an environmental or political issue, climate justice places issues of social equity and human rights at the forefront of decision-making as emphasised above by FCLC.

    ECLC supports the need for the Climate Change Amendment (Duty of Care and Intergenerational Climate Equity) Bill 2023 (the Bill), as a substantial step towards achieving equitable climate change action.

    Bill to Strengthen protection and access to justice for young people
    As noted by FCLC in their submission, “The legal system is complex and hard to navigate without climate change impacts compounding access to justice issues. People experiencing economic, environmental and social precarity, people living with a disability, First Nations people, the elderly, people from migrant and refugee communities, people experiencing homelessness and single parents are even more likely to have complex legal problems as well as face greater complexity recovering from extreme weather events.

    The exacerbation of climate harms on the livelihoods of present generations will have an inevitable impact on future generations. As Community Legal Centres focus upon an integrated, holistic approach to addressing access to justice for communities it is imperative that the slide into intergenerational poverty, trauma and precarity is prevented and these legislative changes will assist in that goal.”

    Additionally, Collin and McCormack (2020) state that there are a range of broader structural barriers that continue to prevent young people's participation in policy discussions and decisions. Young people are often excluded from decision-making processes due to both institutional and systemic obstacles, including the historical exclusion of young people from conversations about planetary health, and a lack of monetary investment in youth-led and focused initiatives.

    This Bill's potential contributions to the strengthening of "access to justice" and increasing
    opportunities for participation of young people in climate change issues is multifaceted.

    The Bill introduces a "duty of care" that holds the potential to significantly fortify protection for young people and concurrently enhance their access to justice. By explicitly recognising the health and well-being of current and future children, including young people, as paramount, this duty ensures their interests are a crucial consideration in decisions contributing to climate change. Consequently, it establishes a legal foundation for
    safeguarding the rights of young people. Failure by decision-makers to fulfill their duty of care opens legal avenues, including provisions for judicial review, providing mechanisms for holding those in power accountable.

    This judicial review process will likely create pathways for empowering young individuals to have their voice heard through legal proceedings as they will be able to be formally recognised as stakeholders in environmental matters. Provisions for judicial review create a formal process for challenging decisions that could impact their well-being, broadening their access to justice. The statutory duty of decision-makers to consider the health and well-being of children establishes a legal framework for protecting the interests of young people, providing a basis for legal arguments and advocacy.

    The Bill's extension of standing for judicial review, including individuals who are children, broadens the scope for young people to engage in legal actions related to significant decisions. Moreover, prohibitions on harmful activities, such as those related to the exploration or extraction of coal, oil, or natural gas, indirectly contribute to protecting young people from adverse environmental effects.

    This preventive approach acts as a protective mechanism, averting decisions that could jeopardise the health, wellbeing and future prospects of generations to come. It aligns with the principles of prevention and resilience, minimising potential risks and enhancing the protection of young people. The duty of care contributes to the broader concepts of climate justice referred to above. By making decision-makers accountable for the impact of their choices on young people, the Bill supports the intergenerational climate justice ideals established by the UN, notably that “pursuit of welfare by the current generation should not
    diminish opportunities for a good and decent life for succeeding generations.”3

    This is crucial in addressing the disproportionate burdens often borne on young people and future
    generations in the context of climate change.

    The duty of care may also serve as a tool for public education and awareness, fostering a better understanding of the link between environmental decisions and the rights of the young and future generations. Empowered with this knowledge, young people can actively engage in environmental issues, further contributing to a proactive stance in decision making.

    In essence, the Bill emerges as a critical instrument in creating a regulatory environment that recognises and safeguards the rights and interests of young people in the context of climate change, thereby fortifying their access to justice in environmental matters.

    Legal Issues creates or exacerbated by climate change and disasters
    The aftermath of the June 2021 storms that impacted the Yarra Ranges Shire demonstrated the interconnected social, financial, mental health and legal challenges facing residents in the region (refer to Yarra Ranges Council Submission to General Insurance Code of Practice4).

    Following this event, ECLC saw a range of legal issues which over time have become increasingly complex. including lengthy disputes with insurers, property damage disputes, challenges covering rental costs, difficulties accessing social security and increases in family violence in the home. This is often referred to as the ‘long legal tail’ of disaster impacts5.

    As climate change continues to drive an increase in the frequency and intensity of weather events, the community legal sector anticipates an increase in demand for free and accessible legal support.

    Further, ECLC expresses deep concern over the potential repercussions should the Bill fail to pass. This could lead to a surge in diverse legal challenges linked to climate change and environmental degradation within communities across Melbourne's East.

    Recent data linking legal need and extreme weather events showed that “disasters [can] have a significant impact on both people’s likelihood of experiencing justiciable problems and their opportunities to resolve them. Findings relating to the 2019–2020 bushfires in Victoria point to challenges ahead. Those affected by bushfires were more likely to have justiciable problems, have a greater number and longer lasting problems, and make greater use of services. As climate change continues, the frequency of fires, floods and other
    climate-related disasters will place increasing burdens on legal and related services.” 6

    The Eastern Metropolitan Region (EMR) is already grappling with challenges accessing necessities, impacting their right to access safe water, housing and standard of living. This often presents as practical issues such as disruptions in water supply, difficulties accessing heating and cooling, power outages, and other resource-related issues. ECLC is steadfast in its commitment to advocate for the protection of these resources and the rights of young people to access them both now and in the future.

    The absence of a duty of care could expose young people to situations where their human rights are violated due to inadequate protection from climate-related harms. As noted by FCLC, “Climate change and disasters can have significant impacts on human rights, including the right to life, health, housing and water. Legal and policy strategies aimed at protecting and promoting human rights in the context of climate change and disasters are essential in preventing certain communities from being disproportionately affected or discriminated against.”

    In the absence of the Bill's passage, young people may face a myriad of legal issues arising from the impacts of climate change, and community legal centres will play a pivotal role in addressing these concerns. ECLC will continue to advocate and work with its partners and pro bono firms in handling cases involving human rights violations, seeking remedies, and holding responsible parties accountable.

    Recommendations
    1. Include special consideration for marginalised young people

    ECLC endorses the recommendation made by the Australian National University that the Bill should be strengthened to recognise that the impact of climate change on children varies based on socioeconomic and geographic factors. As noted by the Human Rights Law Centre, “For marginalised or socio-economically disadvantaged children, the risks to health and well-being are compounded. Children who live in insecure or remote housing, for example, are more vulnerable to flooding, fires, and inadequate thermal protection.7 Lower cost housing is often located on land that is more vulnerable to extreme weather events or less accessible to services”8 Decision-makers should be mandated to give special consideration to children facing disproportionate harm due to their socio-economic and/or geographic circumstances. Additionally, it is known that other intersectional issues, such as being of First Nations descent, gender, poverty, and disability status, should be considered, acknowledging their compounding effect on vulnerability to climate change. The duty of care in decision-making should have regard for alignment with the specific challenges faced by young people.

    2. Broaden the definition of health and wellbeing
    ECLC endorses the recommendation made by the Australian National University to enhance and clarify the definition of health and well-being to align with global standards. The current amendment refers to emotional, cultural, and spiritual health, but it should be expanded to explicitly include physical health, consistent with the World Health Organization's constitution. Also, mental health, given its significant impact on young people, should be explicitly addressed.

    Highlighting the relevance to children's health, specific attention should be given to the physical health of pregnant individuals. Research indicates that current oil and gas developments, especially fracking, contribute to adverse health effects, impacting heart disease, respiratory disorders, and birth outcomes. As noted by the Human Rights Law Centre, “According to the Australian Medical Association, climate change is already
    responsible for an estimated 250,000 to 400,000 global deaths per year, of which almost 90 per cent are children9 Infants younger than one year old, for whom extreme heat can be particularly life threatening, are now exposed to twice as many heatwave days as they would have experienced in 1986 to 2005.”10 Considering these factors is crucial for assessing the potential health impacts on future generations. Access to justice and public health research has independently identified the impact of legal problems on people’s health, health systems, and health costs11.

    3. Consider specific impacts on First Nation’s children
    The Bill, with its focus on considering the health and well-being of current and future children in Australia, including Indigenous or First Nations children, is likely to have specific implications for these groups. The Bill should be elaborated upon, to strengthen recognition of the unique risks faced by First Nations peoples due to factors like geographical location, cultural practices, and historical injustices. The Bill should go further to emphasise the disproportionate impact of climate change on First Nations populations. If passed, the Bill
    could strengthen protection for First Nations communities, particularly those in remote or high-exposure areas who may be disproportionately affected by climate change.

    ECLC supports the following statement made by the Human Rights Law Centre around the intersection of First Nations peoples and climate change impacts: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are also uniquely and disproportionately affected by the crisis. As noted by the Lowitja Institute, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are more likely to live in areas of increased geographical risks, for example, the hot, dry conditions of central Australia, and have a stronger dependence on land and water resources than non-Indigenous Australians12. The Institute has found that climate change is already impacting deep, spiritual ties to Country, which is a fundamental determinant of health, foundational to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity, knowledge systems, and cultural practices13.

    Climate change is and will continue to exacerbate the already disproportionate levels of ill health, stress and hardship experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, particularly children and young people.” Further, ECLC supports the language used in the Bill to explicitly address impacts on
    "cultural health and well-being" as part of the definition of health and well-being. This recognition is important for First Nations children as it acknowledges the significance of cultural practices, connections to land, and traditional knowledge in their overall health and well-being. Climate change can disrupt traditional ways of life for Indigenous communities, impacting access to traditional foods, water sources, and cultural practices. The Bill's provisions, by requiring consideration of the impact of decisions on greenhouse gas
    emissions, may indirectly contribute to the preservation of these aspects critical to the health and well-being of First Nations children.

    The Bill's alignment with international human rights principles, including the right to health, underscores the interconnectedness of environmental sustainability and human rights. This
    recognition is particularly relevant for Indigenous communities whose health and well-being are closely tied to the health of their environment and connection to country.

    The Bill must recognise the paramount need for self-determination and the ability for communities and Indigenous people to make decisions for themselves, and to have resources available to make those decisions (Mibu Fisher 2021). If the Bill includes provisions for meaningful consultation with Indigenous communities in decisions that may affect them, it could align with Australia's obligations under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), fostering a more inclusive and rights-based
    approach. While these points highlight potential positive impacts, it 'is essential to ensure that the implementation of the Bill is culturally sensitive, respects Indigenous rights and self-determination, and involves meaningful engagement with First Nations communities to address their specific concerns and aspirations. For these reasons, it is strongly recommended that meaningful consultation occurs with Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisations in the Eastern Region of Melbourne.

    4. Strengthen commitment to Australia’s obligations under international laws
    and frameworks.

    Failure to pass the Climate Change Amendment (Duty of Care and Intergenerational Climate Equity) Bill might raise concerns about meeting Australia’s obligations under international human rights law, including:

    Climate Agreements: The Bill's amendments to the Climate Change Act 2022 align with international climate agreements such as the Paris Agreement. If the Bill does not pass, there could be implications for Australia's commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fulfilling its obligations under these agreements.

    Children's Rights: The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) emphasises the right of children to the highest attainable standard of health and protection from activities that may harm their well-being. If the Bill is not enacted, there could be implications for Australia's compliance with its obligations under the UNCRC, particularly regarding the health and well-being of children in the context of climate change. Further, the Government should meet its obligations under international law, including those
    observed in the United Nations CRC/C/GC/26: General comment No. 26 (2023) on children’s rights and the environment with a special focus on climate change: “As rights holders, children are entitled to protection from infringement of their rights stemming from environmental harm and to be recognized and fully respected as environmental actors. In taking such an approach, particular attention is paid to the multiple barriers faced by children in disadvantaged situations in enjoying and claiming their rights”.

    Intergenerational Equity: The Bill explicitly addresses intergenerational equity, recognising the responsibility of the present generation to consider the impact of decisions on future generations. Failure to pass the Bill might be seen as a gap in fulfilling the principle of intergenerational equity under international environmental and sustainable development frameworks.

    Human Rights and Climate Justice: The Bill's focus on considering the impacts of decisions
    on health and well-being aligns with broader human rights principles. Failure to pass the bill might be viewed as a failure to integrate human rights and climate justice into national legislation, potentially impacting Australia's commitment to these principles on the international stage.

    In summary, ECLC strongly endorses the Climate Change Amendment (Duty of Care and Intergenerational Climate Equity) Bill 2023. Without meaningful climate change action from decision makers, future generations will be increasingly susceptible to the growing impacts of extreme weather events. By making decision-makers accountable for the impact of their choices on young people, the Bill supports the intergenerational climate justice, improve access to justice and provide opportunities for judicial review if their basic rights and needs are not met. Local communities in ECLC’s catchment have express concern if the Bill is not passed and have provided support for its passing by Parliament. Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission on this important proposed Bill.

    Submission to Australian Parliament House on Climate Change Amendment (Duty of Care and
    Intergenerational Climate Equity) Bill 2023

  6. Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes acknowledges ECLC in Parliament

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    ECLC was so pleased that the Victorian Attorney-General, Jaclyn Symes MP took time to thank Community Legal Centres (CLC) in Parliament recently for their amazing work in helping people most at risk in the community.

    The Attorney-General highlighted the series of Roundtables with CLCs and commended the sector on its work. ECLC’s Elder Abuse Awareness Program was given commended by the AG.

    “I would like to update the house on the government’s continued support for Victoria’s amazing Community Legal sector. Last Wednesday, I had the pleasure of joining many Community Legal Centres at the historic Queen Victoria Women’s Centre for our sixth round table since I have been Attorney-General, but it was the first in person. These Roundtables provide me with an opportunity to hear directly about the excellent work that our CLCs are doing in the community. The round table theme was community legal education and community development.

    Community legal education is a core area of work for our CLCs. They delivered more than 3,643 community legal education and community development sessions last financial year, which is essential to help vulnerable people learn about their legal rights. I heard directly about Barwon Community Legal Service’s skill-building program for social services professionals, Eastern Community Legal Centre’s Elder Abuse awareness program, JobWatch’s continued support of vulnerable workers and Tenants Victoria’s outreach work with multicultural communities, and I particularly was interested in South-East Monash Legal Service’s sporting change program, which is an integrated service where they have put a lawyer into some local schools, providing increased access to justice for young people and for them to learn about their legal rights.

    I would also like to thank the CLC sector for the work they do in supporting victims of family violence, including supporting agreements between parties to resolve family violence intervention order matters prior  to the first hearing and in some cases providing broader support for family law matters. Community Legal Centres are an important part of every community, which is why we provided almost $14 million in the last budget to continue 19 critical legal assistance programs. I would certainly like to take the opportunity, as I am sure many people would agree, to thank the CLCs for the work they do, the CLCs that presented on the day and the CEOs and staff, who just continue time and time again to step up when people need it most in our community. I look forward to further strengthening and consolidating the Government’s relationship with our CLCs, and I do indeed encourage all members of this place to support this fabulous sector.”

  7. Star Mail: Funds fall short for community legal centre

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    ECLC currently sends one lawyer to the Ringwood Specialist Family Violence Court four days per week. PICTURE: STEWART CHAMBERS 357196_01

     

    By Tyler Wright

    The Eastern Community Legal Centre (ECLC) is “gravely concerned” that promised support for its work at the Ringwood Specialist Family Violence Court (SFVC) has not been forthcoming as promised.

    It was announced in the state government’s May budget that the Ringwood court was one of five specialist facilities in Melbourne would share in $22.8 million in funding over four years.

    This funding was to be spread across eight new SFV courts in Broadmeadows, Dandenong, Latrobe, Melbourne, Ringwood, Sunshine, Werribee and Geelong, and shared between Community Legal Centres and Victoria Legal Aid.

    But it’s been revealed ECLC will only receive $198,251 for pre-court engagement this financial year; when the organisation was expecting to receive $500,000 to help with its services four days a week at court.

    “We didn’t know how much would be coming to ECLC… there’s about $8 million a year, we’d hope to get close to half a million dollars to support that work, which would be almost enough; not quite enough, but a good start,” ECLC CEO Michael Smith said.

    “But then we were very surprised and disappointed to discover that the allocation to ECLC is only about $125,000.

    “We don’t quite know where the rest of the money has gone; and we’re pretty frustrated because it’s really about how we provide support to women and children in particular.”

    Mr Smith said the Ringwood court is the second busiest specialist family violence court in the state; servicing around 800,000 people.

    “We know there are some other courts that are similar, about the same or a little bit less busy, that have three lawyers that they employ to support that work too, so our plan was to employ more legal staff; to send down two lawyers, quite often on the same day, to do that work and to really to provide the assessment and safety support that people need there,” he said.

    “We were looking to employ more staff and to expand the services, but at the moment, we’re going to have to keep the limits on the courts that we’re currently doing, which is really frustrating.”

    Mr Smith people can initiative their own applications for intervention orders if they are having a difficult time, with police also able to initiate orders for those in need.

    “It’s great that people are more aware, it’s great that people are taking action to improve their safety, but the court system needs to keep up with that,” he said.

    “It’s a real shame if we can’t actually get to the end of that line and can’t fulfil that work, too, because these things are really important to complete the picture; otherwise we have got an incomplete system and women are missing out.”

    A Victorian government spokesperson said the government continues to ensure “all court locations in Victoria are fit for purpose, safe and accessible”.

    “This includes a focus on establishing Specialist Family Violence Courts (SFVCs) at 13 Magistrates’ Court of Victoria locations,” the spokesperson said.

    “We have provided $22.8 million as part of the 2023-24 Budget over four years and $3.4 million ongoing to ensure specialist family violence legal assistance can be provided at Ringwood, Broadmeadows, Dandenong, Latrobe, Sunshine, Melbourne and Geelong courts.

    “We have invested more than $200 million to rollout SFVCs at the 13 Magistrates’ Court locations since Victoria’s landmark 2016 Royal Commission into Family Violence recommended courts move towards a more specialist and therapeutic approach to family violence cases.”

    Read the original article here

     

  8. ABC News: Dandenong Ranges residents struggle with insurance and building costs two years on from massive storm

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    Posted updated 

    Sarah Millman and Ben Cotton at their Sassafras block nestled in the Dandenong Ranges.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

    Two years on from the storm that destroyed their “forever home”, Sarah Millman and Ben Cotton have some advice.

    “Look at your insurance, and make sure you are over-insured,” Mr Cotton said, standing on the block of land where their house once stood.

    “Because everything costs more.”

    The couple and their two daughters had only just moved into their home in Sassafras six weeks before the storm hit the Dandenong Ranges, east of Melbourne, in June 2021.

    Winds of up to 100 kilometres per hour tore down a massive mountain ash about 2am, which sliced through their house as they slept just metres away.

    “There was the most enormous crash, bang, smash, because a tree had landed through the house and my car, and that was it,” Ms Millman said.

    A large tree sliced through the family’s “forever home”.(Supplied: Sarah Millman)

    The house was one of 76 on the mountain deemed uninhabitable as a result of the storm.

    The couple got a full insurance payout of $500,000 in October 2021, which they thought would be enough to rebuild.

    But a year later, when their plans were finalised, they were told the cost of building had gone up an extra 20 per cent.

    “We can’t afford to rebuild at the current cost,” Mr Cotton said.

    They decided to put the empty block on the market and hope they can attract a buyer.

    Delays with insurance a common problem

    In total, the June 2021 storm damaged 173 buildings in the Dandenong Ranges, including 112 homes.

    The dangerous winds also ripped down trees and destroyed homes in parts of Central Victoria, and led to flooding in parts of Gippsland.

    The Yarra Ranges Shire council said of the 12 homes that had to be demolished in the Dandenongs, only two had permits to rebuild.

    None have rebuilt.

    Yarra Ranges Mayor Jim Child said problems with insurance were the biggest ongoing concern for residents whose homes were damaged.

    “There’s still people on that tough journey with insurance companies, and that’s the very disappointing thing about this whole recovery process,” he said.

    “It’s taking so long.”

    The council has been caught up in delays with its own insurer, over the Mt Dandenong Kindergarten.

    The kindergarten is still fenced off, with children’s toys visible through the torn-off wall.

    In May, the council voted to move the kindergarten program into the primary school campus down the road.

    Councillor Child said that was a great result, but “normal client and insurance company negotiations” meant there had been a long delay.

    More than 100 complaints to financial regulator

    Data from the Insurance Council of Australia shows the storm led to 34,385 claims, and so far more than $278 million has been paid out.

    The Australian Financial Complaints Authority has received 116 complaints in relation to the storm, and has ordered a total of $1,000,690 be paid out.

    It said the top three issues had been claims being denied because of a policy condition, delays, and disputes over the amount.

    The Eastern Community Legal Centre (ECLC) has worked with more than 100 clients with legal problems to do with insurance after the storm.

    Donna Askew says a “long tail” of legal issues persists years on from the storm.(ABC News: Darryl Torpy)

    Director of partnerships and community engagement, Donna Askew, said there had been “a consistent flow of issues related to insurance”.

    She said initially the main problem was dealing with tree damage, but then once people started lodging insurance claims, some reported those claims were being denied.

    “More recently we’ve seen the long tail of legal issues that can flow down the track,” she said.

    “There can be issues around people moving out into temporary accommodation and in that time further damage may happen, there’s potential issues around settlement and the cost of rebuild increasing.”

    Ms Askew said the rising cost of insurance itself was also a big problem.

    “Our main concern is for communities already experiencing marginalisation or complex life challenges, the ability to be able to afford insurance is a huge one,” she said.

    survey by the Yarra Ranges Shire found about half of respondents said their insurance premiums had increased since the storm.

    Large trees that fell during the storm blocked roads and damaged power infrastrucutre.(ABC News: Billy Draper)

    Psychological problems also an issue

    Down the hill, in Belgrave, Paige and Phil Caves are still dealing with ongoing repairs to their home, after a tree flattened the back half of their house during the storm.

    A couch where their son had been sitting just 15 minutes earlier was crushed.

    Ms Caves said they were initially told the repairs would be completed by Christmas 2021, but the deck is still a mess of scaffolding, and they have to move out while the floor is repaired.

    “We’re hoping this Christmas, but we’re not holding our breath,” she said.

    She said she really wanted people to know about the psychological damage the storm caused in her community.

    “I never really had anxiety before, but now every single day I feel anxious — it made my world feel very unsafe,” she said.

    Council urges locals to be prepared

    Councillor Child said the community in the Dandenong Ranges was very resilient, and there was plenty of support available.

    But he said it was an environment where more disasters were likely in the future.

    “Just think about where you live,” he said.

    “Have you done that fuel reduction work, have you done the maintenance to your road or drain so water can escape freely?”

    He also urged residents to contact their insurance company, to understand how much they are covered for.

    “I think that’s a very important thing to do.”

    You can read the original article here

  9. Star Mail: National Disaster Funds for the Yarra Ranges

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    By Tyler Wright

    To prepare for and respond collaboratively to disaster risks and hazard after a funding boost from the federal government, The Eastern Community Legal Centre (ECLC) is looking to increase the capacity and capability of local organisations in the Yarra Ranges.

    On Wednesday 7 June, the National Emergency Management Agency announced the successful applicants from round one of the Disaster Ready Fund (DRF); including the Jesuit Social Services’ Centre for Just Places, ECLC, ARC Justice and the Federation of Community Legal Centres Victoria (FCLC) coalition.

    $1.8 million awarded through the fund will go towards combining up to 40 community groups in the Yarra Ranges; including community service organisations, community legal services, health services, emergency management and local government together to build an action plan to prepare for future natural disasters.

    ECLC’s director of partnerships and community engagement, Donna Askew, said the organisation is hoping to lead a consistent and supportive community-led response to future disasters.

    “We’re hoping this will be a project full of rich collaboration and capacity building across local place-based organisations, so that collectively we can support community identifying risks and responding through strength based resilience,” Ms Askew said.

    “From the 2009 bushfires to more recent storm events in 2021, we’ve had a long history of providing legal help and education to support communities who’ve been impacted by the extreme weather and the impact of climate change, and we’re continuing to see that.

    “We see that it’s really important to continue to work with community and with local organisations to support people’s resilience in future, support communities to understand what place based risk there might be and how to address those.”

    Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards said the project looks to recognise where existing and future disaster and climate change risk exist, and will support a network of place-based organisations in the Yarra Ranges and Campaspe Shire to build resilience through collaborative action.

    “Cross sector coalitions will be developed in each region to design and implement a Collaborative Action Plan as a shared vision and guide for strategic action on disaster and climate resilience,” Ms Edwards said.

     

    You can read the original article here

  10. Latest news: State Budget addresses funding gap at Specialist Family Violence Courts

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    Eastern Community Legal Centre (ECLC) welcomes the State Government’s budget announcements confirming their commitment to supporting victim-survivors of family violence through Community Legal Centres and Victoria Legal Aid.

    Attorney-General Hon. Jaclyn Symes MP announced that victim-survivors of family violence will be better supported with $22.8 million to provide Specialist Family Violence Legal Assistance at Courts in Ringwood, Broadmeadows, Dandenong, Latrobe, Melbourne, Sunshine, Werribee and Geelong.

    ECLC has been strongly advocating for funding to be provided to both meet surging demand and implement the new model at the Ringwood Specialist Family Violence Court, which formally commenced in October 2022.

    The Centre provides free duty lawyer services at Ringwood Court four days each week and has been seriously affected by the lack of funding which has left victim survivors at risk. ECLC reluctantly introduced a limit on assistance at the Court to protect both client safety and staff wellbeing.

    ECLC’s CEO Michael Smith said, “We know the distressing impacts for community members – mostly women and children – of not being able to fully support victim survivors who are facing immense challenges in navigating the court system and are at their most vulnerable.”

    “We are very reassured that the government is recognising the vital importance of this support for victim-survivors of family violence and look forward to more fully implementing the recommendations of the landmark Royal Commission into Family Violence.

    The State Budget also confirmed continuing funding for the court Early Resolution Service as well as broader CLC family violence and early intervention programs. Further funding to meet organisational wage pressures will also ensure key programs continue.

    ECLC has received strong support from key MPs across Melbourne’s East and greatly appreciate their advocacy. ECLC thanks the Attorney-General, the Victorian government as well as all of the local MPs and the broader community for their advocacy and support, particularly for people experiencing family violence,” added Smith.

    Download Media Release here

    Download State Government Media Release here