Hello and welcome to this edition of the DCLS newsletter.
My first month with DCLS has demonstrated the variety of issues that impact on the Top End community’s access to justice. In this edition, you will find short pieces on our Elder Abuse work and also on the work to reform Residential Tenancies law that has been championed by DCLS.
We have also been active in other areas of law reform including providing support for the modernisation and reinforcement of the Anti-Discrimination Act, and scrutinising proposed legislation to enable costs to be awarded in the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
We have shared our stories and concerns at a roundtable to consider consumer leases and payday loans and support recommendations to regulate the industry, promote financial inclusion, and protect consumers. Because no action has been taken by the Government to introduce the draft Bill, we are pleased that the opposition has taken heed of consumers and advocates concerns and has recently introduced the Government’s Bill as a Private Members Bill to get it moving.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme has been on “slow burn” in the months leading up to the 1 July 2018 rollout but, we are already seeing cases where clients are being moved off other supports on the basis that the NDIS will fix it.
The expectations are significant, and it is not realistic that on the 1st of July the NDIS will waive a magic wand and all will be resolved.
The narrowing of the range of supports and the gap before the NDIS becomes fully operational has left many people with disabilities disadvantaged. The power of advocacy has been demonstrated clearly here as those with advocates have realised significant improvements in support under their personal plans.
The issue of funding is ever present.
While funding cuts for legal assistance services were reversed at the Federal level last year, they are now being administered by the Northern Territory government, who has only provided funding for one year.
We are yet to receive confirmation of funding beyond 30 June 2018. This once again puts the legal needs of those who are disadvantaged in jeopardy, as well as impacting on jobs of the workers and the incredible efforts of the volunteers to provide access to justice for those in need.
Linda Weatherhead, Executive Director
Elder abuse survey and national response
DCLS was represented at the Together Making Change conference, the 5th National Elder Abuse Conference bringing stakeholders together from across Australia to gain the latest information about the issue, exchange ideas and develop strategies for creating positive change.
At the opening of the conference the Hon. Christian Porter MP announced that the Federal Government will develop a national plan to address elder abuse.
DCLS and Council of the Aging NT made a joint statement in response welcoming the announcement and seeking confirmation that the plan would:
Clearly outline reforms planned
Be developed in consultation with the elderly and community sector
Be adequately resourced
Focus on service delivery that better supports social and economic participation.
Tenancy Act reforms campaign hits a significant milestone
Important protections for tenants were introduced in NT Parliament recently to regulate the practice of “blacklisting” tenants and ensure that any records kept in relation to tenancy issues will be relevant and correct.
A key reform is the introduction of maximum periods that tenants can be placed on a blacklist.
DCLS was acknowledged for its role in advocating for the reforms in the Attorney-General’s introductory speech.
The reforms are part of the Tenancy Advice Service (TAS) campaign, Make Renting Fair and Safe, and while an important first step, there is still a long way to go to bring the NT in line with protections in other jurisdictions.
We welcome the NT Government’s commitment to reform and stress the urgent need to update the legislation. In particular, further reforms should include:
An Independent bond board, an independent umpire to reduce the risk of misuse of bond funds and to oversee disputes re the return of security deposits
Domestic and family violence reforms, Given the incidence of domestic violence in the NT, secure housing tenure is a critical element in addressing the problem. Other states have taken the lead in providing consideration for these circumstances such as removing the perpetrator or the victim from the lease agreement, and separating liability for damage
Longer notices periods and good reason to terminate tenancies, 14 days for fixed-term tenancies and 42 days for periodic tenancies is far too short a minimum period for a tenant to pack up their lives and find alternate accommodation
Protections for co-tenants, this could streamline resolving common disputes
A significant victory for a TAS client in the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal has set standards for safety and security of tenants in their own homes.
The Tribunal found that the landlord had failed in their responsibility to provide reasonable security and ordered that the landlord pay $5,026 to the tenant in compensation for stolen property where security issues had been neglected.
TAS continues to experience high demand for its services.
TAS has recently employed two new staff Myles Brown and Rachel Athaide. Rachel is working as an advocate but upon receipt of her practising certificate will become Tenancy Solicitor. Solicitor Andrew Smith is currently filling the role of TAS team leader replacing Abhishek Jain who is now working in the position of Senior Solicitor.
Volunteers needed for free legal advice drop-in sessions
DCLS has been working with volunteers from the legal community to provide the Darwin community free legal advice sessions for over twenty-five years.
We provide three advice sessions per week:
Monday at Palmerston library (6.00-7.00pm)
Thursday at our city office (5.30-7.00pm)
Saturday at Casuarina library (10.00-11.45am)
To maintain this essential community service, we urgently need the support of lawyers holding a practising certificate that share our vision for a community where all people can obtain legal and social justice.
Volunteers working at these sessions obtain practical, front-line experience advising clients on a diverse range of legal issues, the opportunity to network with other legal practitioners and gain first-hand insights into the operations of a busy community legal service.
Volunteer opportunities also exist for session coordinators, a role that does not require a practising certificate and is often filled by law students who have reported that the experience gained through volunteering at DCLS contributed significantly to their professional development.
Your regular commitment to volunteer for between two and four hours a month will allow us to ensure the continuation of this important advice service.
In addition, DCLS is engaged in legal research, lobbying, law reform, policy development and community legal education and welcomes additional volunteer expertise in these areas either on a regular basis or for a limited time in relation to specific areas.
If you are interested in pursuing volunteer opportunities with DCLS, please contact with Maureen Wright on 8982 1111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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