Strategic advocacy and law reform

Strategic advocacy and law reform

We are committed to working on the justice system as well as within it.

As an organisation, we are obliged under the Legal Aid Act 1978 to seek innovative means of providing legal assistance to reduce the need for individual legal services. We are also required to provide the community with improved access to justice and legal remedies. One way of achieving this is by pursuing improvements in law and policy that result in better outcomes for our clients and the community more broadly. Strategic advocacy aims to address the root causes of legal problems and provide holistic remedies, rather than simply addressing them in isolation on an individual basis.

Our advocacy work is informed by our broad practice in family, youth, criminal, civil and administrative law. The breadth of our work means we are well placed to identify opportunities for reform within the justice system.

Our work in this area includes:

  • running test cases to clarify points of law or challenging the way laws are applied in practice
  • making submissions to inquiries and reviews
  • advocating directly to government, the courts and private sectors to improve policies and processes
  • collaborating with other organisations on advocacy campaigns and law reform initiatives.

Examples of our strategic advocacy work

Some recent examples of our strategic advocacy work include:

  • A landmark Federal Court appeal which confirmed that people with disabilities participating in the National Disability Insurance Scheme have the right to full payment of the supports that they require.
  • The launch of our Care not Custody report which explores the link between child protection residential care and criminal charges for children and suggests trauma-informed policies for cooperation between police and residential care providers.
  • Advocating for suspension of Centrelink’s ‘robo-debt’ scheme, including employing rapid and innovative advocacy techniques through a real-time social media first campaign, together with more traditional submissions to, and appearance at, the subsequent Senate Reference Committee.
  • Continued collaborative work implementing the recommendations of the Family Violence Royal Commission to maximise safety and access to timely legal information and advice for family violence survivors.

A snapshot: progress and outcomes over the last six months

VLA made more than fifteen submissions to several state and commonwealth inquiries. Beyond submissions, VLA has continued to undertake a range of advocacy activities aimed at achieving policy and law reform. This has included ongoing engagement with government departments, the Courts and Ministerial offices, participation in working groups and undertaking strategic litigation. VLA engages in policy and law reform activities where we have a distinctive contribution to make, based on our institutional role and expertise.

Key achievements/progress in the last six months include:

  • A better justice system - the Victorian Attorney-General has announced the repeal of the offence of public drunkenness, to be replaced with a health-based response. 
  • Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System (RCVMHS) – Victoria Legal Aid made a submission that took a system-wide view informed by the experience and expertise of our clients and consumers and CEO, Louise Glanville, was invited to give evidence.
  • Care Not Custody – we have continued to advocate for the finalisation and launch of the Agreed Plan to reduce the criminalisation of young people in residential care.
  • Robo-debt – weeks before VLA’s test case on behalf of Deanna Amato was listed for hearing, the Federal Government announced significant changes to the robo-debt program, including that it will no longer raise a debt which relies solely on averaging of Australian Tax Office income data and will undertake a review of debts raised by averaging. The Commonwealth then settled the test case, conceding that key aspects of robo-debt were unlawful, which clarifies the unlawfulness of the robo-debt system for hundreds of thousands of Australians in the same situation, who received or paid off a robo-debt based only on averaging.
  • Family law reform – the Government is yet to formally respond to the recommendations of the ALRC final report on the family law system, released in April 2019. Following the announcement of the parliamentary inquiry into the family law system an op-ed by Associate Director, Family Law, Emma Smallwood, highlighted some of our key priorities for a safe and accessible family law system.

Strategic advocacy priorities

Our current strategic advocacy priorities, based on the issues faced by our clients are:

Access to justice for people with mental illness and disability

We aim to ensure that people with disability or mental health problems aren’t disadvantaged when exercising their legal rights.

Find out more about Access to justice for people with mental illness and disability.

Appropriate interventions for children and young people

We are committed to ensuring that the special needs of vulnerable children and young people are recognised and reflected in the justice system.

Find out more about Appropriate interventions for children and young people.

Consistent access to diversionary and support services state-wide

We are dedicated to ensuring that all people, wherever they live in Victoria, have access to appropriate diversionary and support services impacting on their legal problems.

More effective responses to gender inequality and family violence

We are committed to contributing to system wide change that promotes gender equality and assists in reducing the incidence of sex discrimination and family violence.

Find out more about More effective responses to gender inequality including sex discrimination and family violence.

Safeguarding basic protections, checks and balances to ensure the accountability of government power

We are dedicated to upholding the fundamental protections provided by the rule of law. We aim to ensure that public power is designed to incorporate protections for disadvantaged people and is exercised according to law.

Other activities

To find out what other policy issues we are working on, see our other justice and law reform activities.


If you are interested to find out more about our strategic advocacy work or collaborate on a project, please contact Senior Policy and Projects Manager Eleanor Jenkin on (03) 9269 0566 or Senior Policy Officer Renee Blight-Clark on (03) 9606 5276.

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