The Australian Pro Bono Centre was delighted to attend the 2019 National CLCs Conference, held on 27 to 29 August 2019 in Brisbane. The Centre’s CEO, Gabriela Christian-Hare, and Policy and Project Officer, Sally Embelton, attended.
The conference was hosted by the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) and Community Legal Centres Queensland. It was attended by representatives from community legal centres (CLCs) and the access to justice sector.
The theme of the 2019 conference was Power, Purpose, Possibilities. Some of the key messages from the conference across the three days included the following:
Climate change: CLCs and the pro bono sector need to be ready to face an increasing demand for legal advice and representation from climate activists facing legal action. To address climate change, lawyers from the Queensland and NSW Environmental Defenders Offices also encouraged the sector to advocate for law reform to implement new Climate Change Acts.
Human rights: Lee Carnie from the Human Rights Law Centre demonstrated that positive messaging can be very effective when advocating for an Australian Charter of Human Rights. To convince the Australian community of the importance of a Charter of Human Rights, Lee noted that we should focus on messaging that emphasises the importance of our values being reflected in our laws, and the ability of a Charter to give people the power to hold governments to account.
ILAP: Nerita Waight from the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service spoke eloquently about the importance of retaining the Indigenous Legal Assistance Program (ILAP), in order to guarantee a culturally safe approach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services. Nerita emphasised that this is particularly important given that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are the fastest growing prison population, and there is no guarantee they will be provided with appropriate legal services without ILAP.
Measuring impact: Representatives from Health Justice Australia offered helpful insights into how to successfully evaluate the impact of a program. Suzie Forell spoke about the importance of using evaluation to learn new information, rather than to prove things you think you already know.
Royal Commissions: A panel discussion revealed that a powerful way for CLCs to advocate for their clients at Royal Commissions is to find relevant case studies among their client base that bring to light the systemic issues being investigated. Attendees were advised that this approach can be much more impactful than writing submissions.
Gender equality: Louise Allen, Global Gender, Peace and Security Expert, reminded the attendees at a plenary session on Gender and Rights in 2019 of the strong links between gender equality and a secure and low-conflict society.
Gabriela and Sally left the conference feeling energised by the fresh ideas, resilience and commitment of the community legal sector.