Rumbalara project transforming community

Our Rumbalara clients are more than just a number or a matter to us. They are individuals and members of a strong local community. By working with the community we are helping people to work within a legal system that has previously been foreign and confusing. By helping to transform people’s lives, we are demonstrating the benefits of our innovative approach to legal practice.

The Rumbalara Health-Justice Partnership between Goulburn Valley CLC and Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative provides legal services to the region’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community in a culturally safe setting: Rumbalara itself. Our Lawyer and Paralegal are based at Rumbalara five morning a week, although community members can see our Lawyer at our Shepparton office if they prefer.

Health-Justice Partnerships recognise that many legal problems present as health issues, and vice versa. By working together, health and legal services are better able to help clients resolve their health, social and legal issues.

Goulburn Valley CLC and Rumbalara initiated the partnership in 2016. It is funded by Victoria Legal Aid’s Innovation and Transformation Fund and Rumbalara. Our partnership is overseen by a Reference Group with representatives from VLA, ARC Justice, Goulburn Valley CLC and Rumbalara.

We began the partnership by outreaching to an office at Rumbalara’s Mooroopna Campus. Our Rumbalara Community Lawyer, Georgia Morrissey, has since become a regular face on campus and has extended our coverage beyond our office to include meetings with every department on campus as well as home visits and visits to Rumbalara’s Elder’s Facility in Shepparton.

Georgia has set aside the lawyer’s traditional role to work alongside social workers, counsellors, drug and alcohol workers, DHHS workers and family violence workers. Clients are intensively case managed to ensure they develop the life skills they need to support the legal solutions put in place to assist them.

Georgia has now helped almost 80 clients, ranging in age from early teens to late seventies. Georgia provides legal advice to community members and secondary consultations to Rumbalara staff with legal queries. Our Paralegal, Jasmine Day, provides administrative assistance to Georgia and information and referrals to community members.

Georgia commonly provides advice on civil matters such as debts, and helps community members with matters such as superannuation and understanding legal documents. Criminal matters are referred to Goulburn Valley CLC’s Therapeutic Criminal Lawyer, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, Victoria Legal Aid or private lawyers. Sometimes Georgia helps community members to draft their will or provides them with advice about Powers of Attorney. However, Georgia mostly deals with Family Law and family violence matters. Many cases involve both.

Georgia has helped many family violence victims to secure safe and sustainable outcomes that prevent further violence. She has helped some community members to recognise that what they are dealing with is family violence, and she has helped to steer them towards safety. She has helped community members wrongly identified as the perpetrators of family violence to make their own applications for Intervention Orders. And she has helped perpetrators of family violence own their behaviour and steered them towards appropriate services and supports.

Georgia takes a therapeutic approach to her work. She takes time with each client to assess whether underlying issues are contributing to their legal situation. And she helps her client to engage with (and remain engaged with) services that will help them to address issues underlying their behaviour, for example an alcohol or drug dependency.

As part of her therapeutic approach, Georgia maintains more frequent contact with clients than necessary to obtain the desired legal outcome. She also maintains contact with clients after the legal issue has been addressed, to ensure the client is supported.

For example, a Rumbalara staff member might refer a community member responding to an application for a family violence Intervention Order to Georgia before the matter is heard in Court. Georgia will discuss the client’s options with them prior to the Court date, and before the clients’ decision-making ability is clouded by the stress of appearing in Court. She will discuss the client’s behaviour with them prior to the Court date and, if necessary, will refer them to appropriate services (for example an anger management or men’s behaviour change program, a drug and/or alcohol counsellor, or a mentoring program).

She will also determine if there are Family Law matters contributing to her client’s behaviour (for example the client is being prevented from seeing their children). If so, she will help her client with this matter, if possible before the family violence matter is heard at Court. She will then attend Court with the community member, and after Court will maintain contact with the community member to ensure they continue to engage with services that are helping them to address their underlying issues.

This approach to lawyering is time consuming, however it delivers sustainable outcomes.

If Georgia cannot help a community member, for example there is a conflict of interest or their workload prevents them from taking on another client, she and Jasmine will provide the community member or Rumbalara staff member with relevant information and a referral to the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, Victoria Legal Aid or a private lawyer.

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