2 August 2022

VALS is extremely concerned that the Victorian Government continues to push through legislation expanding the powers of police. The Government’s Justice Legislation Amendment (Police and Other Matters) Bill would let police order someone to leave the vicinity of a police station if they are ‘antagonistic’, even if they are not breaking any law. Refusing to follow this order would be a criminal offence – effectively criminalising being rude to a police officer.

Police already have extensive powers to deal with people who may pose a threat, including move-on orders and breach of the peace orders. Those powers are used disproportionately against Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. These new powers will be enforced in the same discriminatory way. This will bring more people into contact with the criminal legal system to face potentially crippling financial penalties.

The Bill also expands police powers in other ways. It would give new powers to Protective Services Officers, who have significantly less training than police officers. Recent events have shown that Victoria Police needs more oversight. Hundreds of police officers were not correctly sworn in because Victoria Police didn’t understand its own governing legislation. IBAC has also reported on Victoria Police’s chronic failure to properly investigate misconduct complaints made by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people.

Instead of addressing the deep-seated problems within Victoria Police, the Victorian Government continues giving them more money, weapons, staff, and power. The Government should be focusing on what actually needs to be done – the long overdue overhaul of police oversight. VALS has provided the roadmap on how to achieve this.

Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of VALS

Under these laws, someone standing outside a police station being rude to an officer could be fined over $900 if they don’t. This is over the top and unnecessary.

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people are more likely to have negative interactions with police, because of the police force’s history of racism, and ongoing systemic racism. Our community will inevitably bear the brunt of these new proposals.

The Victorian Government needs to stop giving Victoria Police everything they ask for and start addressing the many scandals and cultural problems within the Victoria Police.”

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.

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.

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.