Victoria Legal Aid Newsletter Tuesday, 25 February 2020

posted Jul 27, 2020, 5:58 PM by Gippsland Community Legal Service

Local legal services leading the bushfire response

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Lawyers, legal practices and community legal centres in bushfire-affected regions are working together to help local people impacted by the fires with their legal issues. 

After the fires, Gippsland Community Legal Service set up a rapid response phone line for people to access immediate legal assistance. Gippsland Community Legal Service staff have also been attending the Bairnsdale bushfire recovery centre to provide on-the-ground legal support to those who need it..

‘At these initial stages, people have had having trouble obtaining emergency financial assistance because their identification documents have been destroyed in the fires. We’ve also dealt with insurance queries and displacement and homelessness issues for tenants,' Lorraine Murray, Team Leader at Gippsland Community Legal Service said.

‘Past experience with natural disasters tells us that legal issues arise once a person’s safety and practical needs have been sorted. We’re expecting the legal issues to escalate and be long term.

‘We see our role in the long-term provision of legal assistance to those affected by the bushfires.’

Gippsland Community Legal Service staff
(L–R) Letitia, Michelle, David, Kim, Beenush and Abigail from Gippsland Community Legal Service. Not pictured: Lorraine, Becky, Sharon, Narelle and Leah.

Katherine Argentino, a lawyer from East Gippsland firm Warren Graham and Murphy, has been doing regular shifts at the Bairnsdale recovery centre and said a steady flow of people have been coming in for help since the centre opened in early January.

‘Each of the people that I have seen has lost something; whether it be their home, their animals, fences or possessions. It has been an incredibly traumatic time for our community and people are feeling tired and stressed,’ Katherine said.

‘It is so important for regional people to be able to speak to someone in person, particularly at difficult times such as this.'

‘The two most common legal related issues that I have found people present to the recovery centre with are fencing and insurance claims. I have a background i​n insurance law so I have been able to support them with information about the insurance claim process.'

Victoria Legal Aid staff in Gippsland are also assisting in the bushfire response. Local VLA Gippsland lawyer Hetty de Crespigny has been working at the Bairnsdale recovery centre on a fortnightly basis on top of her regular work as a criminal lawyer.

‘It has been a troubling time for our community, everyone in the region has been affected in some way. It's uplifting, however, to see the outpouring of help that the local community is offering to people affected by the fires,' Hetty said.

'The recovery centre is being staffed mostly by local people who are well placed to offer assistance to people in their region. We'll see an ongoing need for support as people face legal problems such as disputes with their insurance providers.'

Victoria Legal Aid Associate Director Access and Equity and Disaster Legal Help Victoria spokesperson Jon Cina said the role of local legal assistance services is key to responding effectively to legal problems caused by the fires.

‘Disaster Legal Help is providing centralised support with tasks such as volunteer co-ordination, raising awareness and developing community legal information, but it’s local lawyers’ awareness of services and supports and connection with affected people and places that makes them best placed to understand community needs,’ Jon said.

Information for community legal centres

Disaster Legal Help Victoria is co-ordinating the Victorian legal sector’s response to the bushfires, with a focus on supporting local legal assistance services and referring people who need help to local services wherever possible.

Disaster Legal Help is using the information in Victoria Legal Aid’s referral database, Legal Help Online (formerly ORBIT), to refer people who contact Disaster Legal Help to appropriate local services.

If your CLC uses Legal Help Online, please make sure the information about eligibility for your services is up to date in the system. If your CLC does not use Legal Help Online, please email any updates to