Senin, 25 Februari 2013

New guideline catches CLCs' law reform work

The NSW State Government has indicated that it will implement new guidelines for the State's 40 community legal centres – of which the Tenants' Union is one. The main thrust of the guidelines is about getting legal services to disadvantaged and vulnerable people – which is a big part of what we're all about.

But one of the proposed guidelines is a real worry. It says:

Funding [to CLCs] may not be used for lobbying activities, public campaigning and providing legal advice to activists and lobby groups.

It's a worry becauses CLCs engage in activities that may be said to answer each of these descriptions – and always for the benefit of our clients and the wider public interest. But the guildeline would restrict against it.

For example, the Tenants' Union engages in discussions with members of the State Government, other Members of State Parliament, government officers and industry stakeholders on matters affecting tenants, marginal renters and residents of residential parks. We do so with the purpose of reforming tenancy law and policy for the benefit of our clients and constituents, and we understand from feedback from senior members and officers of the State Government that this assists in the development of good law, policy and practice. But isn't this 'lobbying'?

We also take our proposals for policy and law reform into public forums. A recent example is our work drawing public attention to the need for boarding house sector reform – reform that the O'Farrell Government has enacted and is now in the process of implementing. But isn't this 'public campaigning'?

Finally, in the course of responding to requests from tenants for advice, we from time to time respond to requests from tenants who identify themselves as 'activists'. In all events our advice is objective and directed to resolving the tenant's present problems effectively, efficiently and within the law. Sometimes it is to discourage unlawful activities, or inefficient or ineffective legal proceedings. But isn't this still 'providing legal advice to activists'?

Each of these types of activities is a valuable service to our clients and constituents, to the State Government and to the wider community. But the guideline proscribing 'lobbying activities, public campaigning and providing legal advice to activists' will cause us to reconsider undertaking these activities.

This would cause very substantial practical problems for us: for example, at what point does the making of a submission on law reform become lobbying or campaign, and how do we weed out 'activists' from all the tenants who seek our legal advice? It would also cause a substantial detriment to our clients and constitutents, by reducing the representation of their interests in policy and law reform processes, and to the State Government and the community generally.

If you're worried too, please let the Premier, the Attorney-General, and your local MP know about it.