An all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander panel discussion about important justice issues. In the lead up to Invasion Day 2022, VALS is hosted a panel discussion about Aboriginal Self-Determination, systemic racism, ending Aboriginal deaths in custody, and protest rights.

Panel Moderator: Nerita Waight, CEO of VALS Nerita is a proud Yorta Yorta woman and will moderate the panel discussion. Nerita is the Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service. Nerita began working at VALS in 2014 as a civil lawyer and went on to work in our family and youth team. Nerita established Balit Ngulu, a specialist legal service for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Nerita has a Bachelor of Arts and Law from University of Melbourne and is currently completing her Master of Law, also at the University of Melbourne. Nerita has a passion for social justice and equity, which she brings to her work at VALS.

Panellist: Tarneen Onus Williams, Community Legal Education Officer at VALS Tarneen is a proud Gunditjmara, Bindal, Yorta Yorta and Torres Strait Islander person living on Wurundjeri country. Tarneen is a community legal education officer at VALS and has worked in multiple roles at VALS. Tarneen is community organiser has worked on the campaigns that include Invasion Day, Blak Deaths in Custody and Stop the Forced Closures of Aboriginal Communities. They’re a writer who’s been published in IndigenousX, The Saturday Paper and NITV.

Panellist: Marcus Stewart, Co-Chair at First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria Marcus is the elected Co-Chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria. He sits on the Assembly as the Taungurung Land and Waters Council’s representative. Marcus has worked in the Aboriginal community for over 20 years. Through his experience he believes that systems and structures must change to better empower Aboriginal people. Marcus studied Developmental Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne and undertook postgraduate studies in Family Therapy, going on to work as a child and family therapist. Prior to being elected to the Assembly, Marcus was the CEO of the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations. Renowned for his leadership skills, Marcus is proud to continue the journey towards Treaty in Victoria.

Panellist: Meriki Onus, Co-Director at Foundation for Young Australians Meriki Onus is a Gunai and Gunditjmara woman who lives on Wurundjeri country. Founder of Yarnda Consulting, writer, and Atlantic Fellow 2021. She is currently a co-director at Foundation for Young Australians. Meriki brings strong experience in the areas of campaigning, community organising, research, and facilitation. Before establishing Yarnda Consulting, Meriki worked in the legal sector for Aboriginal women’s rights for over 10 years and is the Co-Founder of Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance. Meriki is also a Co-Founder of Pay The Rent, a national initiative to distribute wealth on stolen land. Meriki just completed her master’s by course work where she focuses on the history of the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service in Fitzroy at the University of Melbourne.

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Resources mentioned on the webinar:

If this discussion raises any issues or concerns for you, we encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to call Yarning Safe’N’Strong – a helpline run by the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service – on 1800 959 563. And everyone can call lifeline on 13 11 14.

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.