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Connection Matters Radio (CMR): It seems that wherever, and whenever we turn in life, the legal system is there. Whether it’s there to support us or as can sometimes be the case, to hinder or even be used as a threat against us, it does exist. In times of disaster, whether it’s catastrophic bush fires or global pandemics, the law never sleeps. Existing legal problems don’t disappear, and in fact, new legal challenges and needs often emerge.
Joining us on Connection Matters Radio to talk about this today is Daniel Komessarof, a lawyer working in the not-for-profit law space at Justice Connect. Daniel, thanks for coming onto the program.
Daniel Komessarof: It’s a pleasure. Great to be with you, Charles.
CMR: Daniel, before we talk about specific challenges facing community members and indeed businesses and organisation during times of disaster, share a bit about Justice Connect.
Daniel: Justice Connect is a social justice charity that increases access to legal support for people and community organisations. We do this in the face of huge unmet legal need. Not-for-Profit Law is the team that I’m in, and we’re a program of Justice Connect that provides free legal support to not-for-profits, charities and even social enterprise.
CMR: One of the things I’ve noticed on the Not-for-Profit Law website is that there’s a priority given to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Tell us a bit about that.
Daniel: Supporting and really working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisation is a priority of our Not-for-Profit Law program. We do this so that the organisations can focus on the incredible work that they’re doing in the organisation, whether that’s health services, arts organisations, youth work. We want to support on the legal stuff so they can take care of the most important work, which is what they’re doing in community.
CMR: What are some of the main challenges that the ACCOs are facing given these pretty tough times?
Daniel: Particularly during COVID-19, we’re seeing such a huge regulatory burden on often really small, not-for-profit groups. So increased reporting, increased surface delivery to their clients; and they’re doing this with often not much more funding at all. So I think that’s a huge challenge that we’re seeing COVID-19 have, not to mention the stress in community as well.
CMR: You mentioned regulatory reporting, and I assume there, we’re talking about the reports that are required by funding bodies, often the government, to support the work undertaken by the ACCOs?
Daniel: Absolutely. There might be responsibilities to report back under funding agreements, things like that, but then there’s also regulatory responsibility after, annual general meetings, for example, and providing information back to the regulator about what you’ve been doing for the past year. So a huge responsibility on organisations that can easily take up a lot of time and money.
CMR: How is Not-for-Profit Law able to assist these organisations? Because one would assume that when the government demands, then the government expects.
Daniel: Yeah, so we help not-for-profits on the range of legal issues that they’ve faced over the last cycle of their existence, setting up right at the beginning to managing contracts like funding agreements, dealing with all the procedure around the meetings, right up to working with other organisations and winding up.
So, we assist with these issues in a number of ways. We have hundreds of free legal resources that can be accessed freely, they’re publicly available. We also give direct legal advice to organisations where an inquiry has been made to us. What we can also do is, we can also refer not-for-profit organisations and specifically Aboriginal community controlled organisations to one of our member law firms. We have over 60 member law firms that we refer more substantive matters to using our award-winning portals. Then lastly, we also provide certified social enterprise training on all the same legal topics that we give advice on. So it’s a full wrap around service for Aboriginal and organisations, as well as not-for-profits.
CMR: Now, there are lots of small ACCOs right around Victoria, especially here in Melbourne, and there are certain central places where they exist as well. What are some of the warning signs for those organisations that they might recognise as being, well, pending legal problems, where they’re going to need support?
Daniel: I think there would be a range of sort of red flags depending on what the issue might be. I think it often comes up around reporting and just thinking, are we on top of all of our contractual requirements? So I think that’s a really good time for the organisation to approach us and say, “I think we need a hand, there’s a lot happening right now.” I think that would be the sort of red flag, which for me would be a good time to get the legal help.
CMR: Obviously earlier, rather than later?
Daniel: That’s it. A hundred percent.
CMR: Now, that’s for organisations and ACCOs. What about individuals? Now, I know that that’s not your specific area, but what are some of the particular challenges that may be arising during these times? We’ve just had bush fires. We’ve now got the global pandemic and the stage three and stage four lockdowns right across Melbourne and Victoria. What’s emerging there?
Daniel: Yeah, absolutely. And Justice Connect certainly do support people and individuals with their legal needs. As you say, Charles, COVID-19, and then the bush fires, sorry, the bush fires first, and then COVID-19 are presenting all sorts of legal issues around employment, in relation to accessing some of the government schemes. So there’s no shortage of legal need, and Justice Connect can provide support to individuals on some of these matters. So on many of these sort of new challenges and legal issues, that’s where Justice Connect tries to step in and by supporting individuals as well as the community organisations trying to grapple their way through these complicated times.
CMR: I’ve got to say I’ve been in a legal situation before where I’ve definitely needed assistance. I’m one of those people who do procrastinate, sort of close my eyes, buried my head in the sand and hope like, heck it would go away. But one of the things about the law is that it doesn’t go away.
Daniel: That’s it.
CMR: Fortunately, I did wake up in time and get assistance, but what should people be doing rather than sort of sitting there thinking, “Oh look, I may or may not,” what should the first action be?
Daniel: Yeah, I completely understand what you’re saying is that option to just sort of bury our head in the sand, but I think it’s about getting in touch and trying to get the legal help. We’re there to support organisations through these issues. We’re experts on them so I think it’s just about getting in touch, as you say, as early as possible. I have details. So our website is nfplaw.org.au, or you can call us on 1-800-637-529.
CMR: We’ll have all those details on our post on the Connection Matters Radio website as soon as this interview goes to air. Daniel, I want to thank you for coming onto Connection Matters Radio today, and to all your colleagues and yourself, wishing you all the best through these trying times.
Daniel: Thank you very much, Charles. Great to have joined you.
For more information
Call Not For Profit Law on 1800 637 529