16 May 2011

Loddon Campaspe CLC's CU Foundation Fellow helps Goulburn Valley community access the legal system

Melbourne, 16 May 2011: The residents of Shepparton and the Goulburn Valley in central Victoria will have their own community legal service for at least another year, following the Victorian government's announcement that it will assume funding of a pilot community legal service established by Clayton Utz Foundation Fellow Joanne Ellis[1], through Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre.

The Clayton Utz Foundation has funded Joanne at Loddon Campaspe CLC in Bendigo, Victoria, since July 2009. Joanne's role as Fellow has been to establish a pilot community legal service based in Shepparton, and has highlighted the demand for a permanent community legal centre in the Goulburn Valley region.

In its first year, the pilot service had assisted 364 people who could not afford legal advice or representation. Joanne and the service provided telephone and face-to-face assistance, as well as delivering community legal education; coordinating pro bono legal assistance from volunteer local lawyers; running a Migration clinic in partnership with Victoria Legal Aid, the Refugee Immigration Legal Centre and Loddon Campaspe CLC; providing outreach services to Cobram and the Goulburn Valley Hospice, and; conducting community consultations on legal disadvantage in the region, with members of the local migrant community, agencies dealing with family violence, young people, older people and people from Indigenous backgrounds.

On 4 May, the Victorian government announced that it would fund the pilot Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centre for the next 12 months, continuing community legal services to a region of over 160,000 people.

Clayton Utz has worked through its Pro Bono practice with Loddon Campaspe CLC since 2005, including assisting in the research and writing of the initial October 2008 LCCLC report entitled Access to Justice in the Goulburn Valley: Responding to Unmet Legal Need through Community Legal Services.

Peter Noble, the principal solicitor at Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre, said that he was "delighted with the news" and congratulated the community and local members of parliament for fighting for the service. "The fight isn’t over by a long shot but this is a real foot in the door and the beginning of great things for permanent community legal services in the Goulburn Valley."

Peter also said that without the Clayton Utz Foundation funding, the project would not have been possible. "This funding shows that when you reveal a critical need, can propose a credible solution, and demonstrate a pilot with focused resources, government funders are responsive. It’s the perfect example of how project money can lead to permanent government funding."

Clayton Utz pro bono partner David Hillard also welcomed the Victorian government's decision. "Clayton Utz's Pro Bono practice has a strong focus on providing assistance to people in rural, regional and remote communities, and the outcome of this project is exactly what we had hoped to achieve when we established the Clayton Utz Foundation Fellowships," said David. "Congratulations to Joanne Ellis, Loddon Campaspe CLC and UnitingCare:Cutting Edge for their leadership in bringing access to the legal system for disadvantaged people in regional Victoria. Hopefully within 12 months time, the Goulburn Valley Community Legal Centre will have become a permanent, fully-funded part of the community legal centre sector."

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[1] Joanne is our third Clayton Utz Foundation Fellow. The Fellowship program was established in 2007 to address unmet legal need in regional Australia through the recruitment of graduate lawyers to regional community legal centres. Each Fellowship lasts 2 years.

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