Indigenous Law Bulletin
by Phynea Clarke and Teresa O’Sullivan
The Central Australian Aboriginal Family Legal Unit (the ‘CAAFLU’) was funded as part of a national funding initiative of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (‘ATSIC’). It is one of 12 violence prevention units within Australia, and is under the auspices of the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (the ‘CAALAS’). The CAAFLU started on 12 October 2000. We look after victims of family violence. We have one lawyer and three Indigenous workers doing community work and legal advice and representation.
Our targeted communities are the Alice Springs Region, Yuendumu (288 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs), Papunya (244 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs), Hermannsburg (128 kilometres west of Alice Springs) and Tennant Creek (505 kilometres north of Alice Springs).
The CAAFLU’s core business is legal representation, community development and policy development. The legal representation and advice covers:
We provide legal information to ensure that victims, families and communities understand their rights. We enlist the assistance of interpreters so our clients can have a better understanding of the law and communication can be more meaningful.
A large amount of our casework comes from bush clients in our targeted communities. These clients have never had representation or support for the legal problems they experience as a result of being victims of family violence. Only now are they able to access legal representation with an interpreter.
Whilst legal representation is an important part of our work, we believe we have an important role in providing advocacy and community development. We would like to focus more on prevention rather than only reacting after violence has occurred.
Strategies for prevention include workshops, working closely with other agencies and having regular community meetings to obtain community input. We prioritise the work we do with young people and work closely with youth services. We also prioritise our involvement in the development and implementation of community driven alternatives to the white court system, such as Aboriginal Law and Justice Committees.
We are currently working with the Law and Justice Committee in Yuendumu. The Committee now has a vital role in the court process. Whilst it is still part of the slow-to- change white legal system, it has the role of advising and influencing decisions made by police and magistrates. It has an extremely important role in cultural translation.
The Committee is made up of Aboriginal elders. The Committee meets regularly before the circuit court sits at Yuendumu. The members discuss the court list with the police and in some cases advise the police not to charge at all. On the morning of court the Committee meets with the magistrate, defence lawyers, prosecutor, community corrections officers and the CAAFLU. The presence of an interpreter is essential for the meeting to function well. General issues are discussed such as whether there have been certain trends, and opinions are offered on what strategies may be working. For example, at a recent meeting held in Yuendumu the Committee was able to report that there was no petrol sniffing in the community thanks to a new program, and that there was less family violence.
CAAFLU is essentially an Indigenous service run by Indigenous people for Indigenous people. The role of the unit will change from time to time. At the moment we are learning from our clients what we can do to make a difference. Family violence affects the whole community one way or another, and issues such as Aboriginal governance are just as important for our clients as are restraining orders and crimes compensation. We are excited about the potential of a service such as CAAFLU.
Lisa Doust - Senior Lawyer
Phynea Clarke - Senior Client Service Officer
Lillian Davis - Client Service Officer
Yvette Hampton - Administration/ Paralegal
18 Leichhardt Terrace,
PO Box 2109
Northern Territory 0870
Phone: 08 8953 6355
Fax: 08 8953 6749
Freecall: 1800 088 884
Phynea Clarke is the Senior Client Service Officer of the CAAFLU and Teresa O’Sullivan was formerly the Senior Lawyer of the CAAFLU.