Law & Justice Funders Network: Legal Sector Response to Bushfire Crisis
By Rachael Hambleton
A very present and deeply saddening concern for all of us right now are the bushfires. While our thoughts are with those affected by the devastating bushfires across Australia, there are without a doubt many worthy philanthropic activities underway to support the bushfire response efforts. Our friends at the Australian Communities Foundation have put together a helpful guide for funding Australia’s bushfire response more generally which you can view here, as have the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network here.
On the law and justice side of things, there are both immediate and longer term strategies forming across the country in response to the bushfire crisis. It is important to acknowledge that there are many immediate legal issues that people commonly face after a bushfire, including: the rejection of insurance claims; disputes with landlords about the termination of leases for properties impacted or destroyed by fire; replacing destroyed documents such as wills and title documents; financial problems resulting from the loss of employment; and managing other debt and financial hardship issues. While there is state and federal government financial assistance available, this can be confusing and difficult to navigate. The legal assistance sector across Australia is currently working on coordinated responses to the bushfires, including these pressing legal issues that individuals are experiencing. While a coordinated legal response is being settled, some points of contact include:
- Free legal assistance is available through Disaster Legal Help Victoria for anyone affected by the recent Victorian bushfires. Disaster Legal Help Victoria is a collaboration between Victoria Legal Aid, the Federation of Community Legal Centres, the Law Institute of Victoria, the Victorian Bar and Justice Connect. It was originally formed in response to the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. They have opened up expressions of interest for lawyers and legal practices interested in volunteering in Victoria, particularly those in proximity to the impacted areas in East Gippsland and North East Victoria.
- Anyone affected by the NSW bushfires can contact LawAccess NSW or call the Disaster Response Legal Service NSW on 1800 801 529 to get help with a range of issues including insurance claims and tenancy.
- For pro bono help where legal aid is unable to assist, Justice Connect have a dedicated online referral pathway designed for legal aid workers, community workers and legal professionals. Justice Connect have updated their Pro Bono Portal so that all law firms can express interest in accepting referrals of people and small businesses with legal issues resulting from the bushfires. This will enable them to quickly and efficiently make pro bono referrals to firms across the country.