29 April 2024

Joining Fitzroy Legal Service in March 2024 as our Manager, Policy, Advocacy and Projects, co-, Amity reflects on the value of working with a diverse team and the ingredients needed to achieve lasting change.

Prior to joining FLS, Amity led law reform campaigns for leading social change organisations including GetUp, Democracy in Colour and the Foundation for Young Australians. An experienced community lawyer with Redfern Legal Centre and Welfare Rights, Amity is passionate about the role of community Law Centres in driving justice reform.   

What does a day in your job looks like?  

It’s super cliché but every day so far really has been different. The scope of our work in SAPIL is so large that no two days look the same. One day you’re supporting participants of our direct employment program that employs women who face systemic barriers to entering the workforce, the next day you’re working on a law reform submission to defend the rights of refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia or meeting a new community-led coalition to advocate for the right to public housing.  

Your team’s work falls under the Social Action and Public Interest Law team, or SAPIL for short. That sounds like a big scope! 

There’s seven of us all up, doing everything from running lived experience projects, to developing resources that equip people to know their rights and support them to self-advocate, through to engaging with politicians and the parliamentary process about law and policy reform. It’s wide spanning because bringing about the deep changes our law and justice systems need, requires this multi-prong approach that lifts the voices of people with lived and living experience, and leverages FLS’s voice and expertise to reach decision makers to further drive this forward.  

What’s the most special thing about SAPIL and what do you get most excited by? 

My corniness continues but honestly working with the team is the best bit. Because we do such a range of work, our team is filled with people from such a vast range of backgrounds, experiences, and skill sets – some with experience in grassroot activism, community radio and direct experience with the justice system, others bringing incredible expertise from years of criminal law. It’s awesome to see that all come together in one space and be able to challenge and support each other to do the best work we can.  

We know the community law sector is in crisis with community legal centres turning 1000 people away a day. How do we justify systemic change when there’s such urgent need for direct legal advice? 

Because unjust systems will continue to perpetuate unjust outcomes. The significant pressure on our sector’s client services is a supply and demand issue, and currently both are drastically out of balance. Client services are under pressure partly because of supply of community legal assistance being down due to funding issues. But it is predominantly because demand is currently so high due to the violence of unjust systems continuing to put an increasing number of people in terrible situations. 

Providing that front line support to help people deal with their immediate legal problems day in day out is so important, but if we do not change the violent systems that created those problems to begin with, we will always be fighting a losing battle. Further to that, it is negligent to know where the issue stems from and not act to prevent it from harming others. 

You have spearheaded some incredible campaigns. In your experience, what is the secret to bringing about these legal and policy reforms?  

It’s hopefully not a secret but working closely with the relevant affected community is always the key. It is the people with lived experience of injustices that have the solutions to the problems they face in their own lives, and it’s their testimonies and accounts that are often most persuasive to both members of the public and political decision makers. It’s our role to support these communities, uplift their voices, and use our technical expertise to advance their solutions. 

What key considerations are there in identifying an advocacy priority at FLS?  
There’s a few things. We look at how bad the issue is and its impact on the relevant communities. Importantly we also consider whether we have the relevant expertise either through our legal and project work or lived experiences, and whether there is a pathway to bring about a meaningful outcome.  

Knowing change is often slow and multipronged, how do you then bring about the change that is then needed? 

This really depends on what the campaign issue is, and of course who the key decision makers we need to influence are. But a campaign will often involve us engaging with the affected community, participating in parliamentary processes with opportunities to influence decisions like inquiries, having one on one meetings with politicians to build support for our asks and brief them on issues affecting our community, and doing some public actions like an open letter or social media posts to put pressure on and mobilise public support.  

What are the core issues you see impacting the communities FLS supports?   
At the moment there is unsurprisingly a lot happening in the housing space particularly with the planned closures of the 44 public housing towers, something that we have joined forces with the Save Public Housing Collective to strongly oppose. There’s as well as in the family/domestic violence space with both the state and federal government likely to introduce new plans or legislation this year.  

Support the work of Amity and her team bring about the systemic change that the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of our community need by donating today.

An independent and fearless voice to hold authority to account relies on the generous support of our community. Donate today.  

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