MEDIA RELEASE 8 February 2021

Building Back Better for Victoria’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

VALS has launched the Building Back Better: COVID-19 Recovery Plan to provide a strategy for the Victorian and Federal Governments to ensure Victoria’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not left behind during the pandemic and the pandemic recovery. Prior to the pandemic, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities were already more marginalised than non-Aboriginal Victorians. VALS has seen a rise in demand for our services during the pandemic, which is a strong indicator that Aboriginal people are not getting a fair share of Government support during the pandemic. VALS has also identified that our clients have borne the brunt of the punitive policing measures put in place by the Victorian Government to manage the pandemic.  Building Back Better provides real and tangible actions for Governments including:
  • Implementing all of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
  • Expanding culturally appropriate services to help those in need
  • Supporting people in financial hardship
  • Improving police accountability and
  • Recommendations to ensure the Victorian court system operates more effectively
Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service “Victoria will never recover from the pandemic if it leaves Aboriginal people worse off.” “The pandemic is an opportunity for systemic reform of the justice system. The Victorian Government should aim high and use this crisis to make significant changes that improve the lives of Victoria’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.” “It has been 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. We are still locked up at btc bonuses higher rates than non-Aboriginal people and we are still dying in custody. It would be a remarkable legacy for the Victorian Government if they used this opportunity to do the work that has gone undone for too long.” Building Back Better – Click here to download 

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.