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Effective and co-ordinated legal assistance essential to disaster recovery

Effective and co-ordinated legal assistance essential to disaster recovery

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

We recently made submissions to two inquiries relating to the 2019–20 Victorian bushfires.

Our submissions to the Inquiry into the 2019–20 Victorian Fire Season and the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements recommend recognition of the importance of effective and co-ordinated legal assistance as part of disaster recovery, and emphasise the need for this to be adequately funded and resourced.  

‘The evidence we’ve given to these inquiries highlights the crucial role of co-ordinated legal assistance to reduce the impact of disasters and support the recovery of affected people and communities,’ said Rowan McRae, Executive Director, Civil Justice, Access and Equity at Victoria Legal Aid and Disaster Legal Help Victoria spokesperson.

‘Our recent experience helping people impacted by the Victorian bushfires tells us that to prepare for future disasters, we need proper funding and resources for existing services to meet increased legal need, manage legal volunteers and ensure the legal sector is co-ordinated in its response.’

As with many disasters before, the legal assistance sector banded together after the recent bushfires to provide free legal help to people in need through Disaster Legal Help Victoria.

As at 17 April 2020, Disaster Legal Help Victoria has, in response to the recent Victorian bushfires:

  • participated in local networks to develop responses
  • answered more than 125 calls to the centralised Disaster Legal Help phone line
  • provided in-person legal information and advice to dozens of people through volunteer lawyers at bushfire recovery centres in Bairnsdale and Corryong and mobile recovery teams
  • triaged and referred 16 clients to lawyers offering pro bono assistance
  • through local and specialist community legal centres, provided legal assistance to more than 45 clients
  • worked with non-legal services to build capacity to identify legal need.

We saw an outpouring of support from the Victorian legal profession following the bushfires, with hundreds of lawyers across the state volunteering their time and expertise to help those impacted.

‘Providing on-the-ground assistance would not have been possible without volunteer lawyers, including local lawyers and lawyers from across the state. We believe investing in the recruitment, training and management of volunteers is essential for Disaster Legal Help’s services to have the greatest impact in future,’ said Rowan.

‘We have also seen the value of co-ordination through Disaster Legal Help, ensuring legal services across the state are sharing information, making appropriate referrals and working together to ensure people receive free disaster legal assistance.

‘A range of legal problems can emerge after a disaster and if left unaddressed, they tend to lead to other social problems and can spiral out of control. It’s important that free, high-quality and co-ordinated legal assistance is available to help resolve these issues as they arise.’

More information

Read Disaster Legal Help Victoria’s submission to the Inquiry into the 2019–20 Victorian Fire Season or the accessible Word version.

Read Disaster Legal Help Victoria’s submission to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements or the accessible Word version.