MEDIA RELEASE 18 February 2021
Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS)

VALS is outraged that Facebook has blocked our page and the pages of many community organisations that represent marginalised groups as part of its political battle with the government and media outlets.

To apply a blanket ban without considering marginalised groups is re-enforcing the systemic discrimination that marginalised communities are fighting against. Facebook should immediately lift all blocks and reconsider its tactics and how they impact marginalised people.

VALS is also disappointed that the Government has taken a hard position in this battle and not considered the impact on marginalised groups. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have played a key role in disseminating government information to our communities and relaying the problems our community have faced to Government. This political battle will hinder the nation’s pandemic response if the Government does not find a resolution.

We do not get the billions of dollars of revenue that Facebook, media outlets, and Governments do. We work hard on a very tight budget. Being collateral damage in the political stoush of the rich and powerful does serious damage to our work and risks compounding the systemic discrimination that leads to marginalised people having worse outcomes in justice, health, education, and ultimately mortality.

Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

“Facebook’s actions today were racist. They must immediately remove all bans and put more thought into their future political actions.”

“Aboriginal people are always sacrificed in these political battles and all sides should feel great shame and guarantee to ensure the voices of Aboriginal people and marginalised groups are properly involved in the future.”

“The Prime Minister gave a speech last week on the anniversary of the Apology to the Stolen Generations. He made many promises about doing better. Hopefully, his Government will fulfill that promise and manage this issue with greater awareness and engagement.”

Media inquiries

Patrick Cook
Senior Communications and Media Officer
pcook@vals.org.au
0417 003 910

 

To determine eligibility VALS will:

  • enquire as to the Aboriginality of the client;
  • enquire as to perceived or actual conflict of interest;
  • enquire as to compliance with the Means Test;
  • consider the merit of the client’s matter.

Aboriginality
The first time someone uses VALS they must provide proof of their Aboriginality using the Confirmation of Aboriginality Form. This form must be signed and sealed by the Officer Bearers of a recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation.

Conflict
VALS must not decline to provide assistance to an eligible person, group or body on the grounds that the other party to the matter is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person. In circumstances where the relationship between the parties to a case would result in a conflict of interest, that conflict must be managed in accordance with the Victorian Legal Practice requirements and Policy Direction 9 – “Managing Conflicts of Interest” – of the Attorney-General’s Department Policy Directions for the Delivery of Legal Aid Services to Indigenous Australians (2008).

VALS will not act if a conflict of interest exists. A conflict of interest may be an ‘actual’ conflict of interest or a ‘perceived’ conflict of interest. A conflict of interest can involve:

  • Clients who have different interests, such as VALS may have advised or acted for person “A” (old client) who has an interest that conflicts with person “B” (intended new client).
  • Clients and VALS, such as a VALS staff member or Board Member has an interest that conflicts with an intended new client. Conflicts involving client-provider relationships are:
    •  An owner, director, manager, employee, contractor or agent of VALS and/or;
    • An employee of the Department; and/or
    • A close relative (spouse, de facto, parent, sibling or child) of any of the above.

VALS provides assistance on a first in best dressed basis (i.e. provide direct assistance to the party who approaches VALS first). VALS will refer the other party to another legal service provider or “brief out” the client to a private lawyer (subject to the client meeting the requirements for brief outs). Where appropriate, VALS may act for one client and provide assistance by brief out to the other.

Means Test
Where a person seeks casework assistance, VALS must ensure that applicants satisfy the Means Testing provisions of the Policy Directions.

VALS must ensure that all applicants for legal casework assistance satisfy one or more of the following requirements:

  • Under 18 years of age;
  • Main source of income comes from Community Development Employment Projects; (CDEP) participant wages or Centrelink (or equivalent) benefits; or
  • Gross household income is under $52,000 per annum.

Note: Household income includes the income of your partner, spouse, relative including an adult child who you live with.

The Means Test will be administered in two parts:

Part A: Requires the completion of a small number of questions relating to the applicant’s personal circumstances and income level.

Part B: Is required where applicants do not satisfy the criteria in Part A. It requires more detail about the applicant’s income, assets, employment status and number of dependents.

Merit Test
Discretion will be used to determine if a particular case has merit.