A new report shows the justice system is struggling to meet the needs of the Latrobe Valley community, and specific measures to address legal problems are essential for building sustainable economic and social growth.
Equal justice for a strong, healthy and resilient Latrobe Valley has been released by the Gippsland Legal Assistance Forum (GLAF), to inform our collective work to help improve the support and legal services provided in the region.
GLAF is comprised of Victoria Legal Aid (VLA), Djirra, Gippsland Community Legal Service (GCLS) and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS).
Our practice experience, data and client stories demonstrate that the level of disadvantage and legal need in the Latrobe Valley is higher than other parts of the state, demand for legal and other support services is not being met and the court system is not keeping up. This is very challenging for the local community.
The report shows:
- The Latrobe local government area has the highest rates of family violence incidents per population in the state.
- The Latrobe local government area has the second highest rate of criminal incidents per population in Victoria, after Melbourne.
- The rate of child protection reports in the Gippsland region is more than double that of the state-wide average.
We strongly support the current focus on community-led regional planning and investment in the Latrobe Valley, as this presents a genuine opportunity to make sure all members of the community are supported to contribute and participate in an equal way.
When people miss out on early support and opportunities, it increases their vulnerability and risk of facing a legal problem. Legal problems can also cause health and social issues, such as stress-related illness, physical ill health, relationship breakdown, loss of income, or financial strain.
We have made 12 recommendations for change, including:
- Include explicit measures to address access to justice issues and legal problems in local regional planning, funding and policy decisions.
- Map current gaps in support services, like drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs or parenting help, with the goal of reducing waitlists and intervening earlier.
- Invest in culturally safe legal services, including Aboriginal community-controlled organisations.
- Establish a clear intake, triage and referral process to legal services in The Orange Door support and safety hub to help address family violence earlier.
- Increase social housing stock and plan for future accommodation needs as part of the Latrobe Valley economic development agenda.
- Provide additional resources to increase capacity and reduce delays in the Latrobe Valley courts.
We hope this report and its recommendations will ensure the links between health, economic and legal issues are recognised and addressed in development plans for the region.