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"People living in rural, regional and remote Australia, experience greater disadvantage."

Improving access to justice for rural and remote Australian communities is a priority for Deakin’s Centre for Rural Regional Law and Justice (CRRLJ).

Driving the vision is a commitment to fostering innovation, which was celebrated at the inaugural National Rural Law and Justice Innovation Awards recently.

First proposed by the Centre for Rural Regional Law and Justice (CRRLJ), the awards scheme was subsequently developed in collaboration with the National Rural Law and Justice Alliance.

CCRLJ Director Richard Coverdale says the most important aspect of these awards is acknowledging the innovative work being undertaken within the legal and community service sectors and to encourage continued innovation in responding to the often uniquely challenging task of delivering justice system services to remote communities.

‘People living in rural, regional and remote Australia, experience greater disadvantage accessing justice than their metropolitan counterparts. Resources, processes and policies often give limited consideration to the particular circumstances of regional Australia.

‘From the provision of court based services and the accessibility of legal information and advice services, to the availability of local services which impact on justice outcomes such as, counselling, support, accommodation, mental health, drug and alcohol services, rural and regional Australia experiences greater disadvantage,’ Coverdale says.

He explains that this situation has a direct impact on outcomes for regional Australians dealing with the justice system, which is particularly evidenced in indigenous incarceration rates.

‘Indigenous Australians represent 3 per cent of the population and 28 per cent of all Australian prisoners – the rates are significantly higher in some states.

‘For others, such as people on low and statutory incomes, people with disabilities, women experiencing family violence and young people, the disadvantage they are experiencing is often further compounded by their remoteness and lack of services and resources,’ he says.

The Rural Law and Justice Innovation awards are expected to be the first of an ongoing award program celebrated every two years at the National Rural Law and Justice Conference.

2015 award details and winners:

Centre for Rural Regional Law and Justice sponsored awards:

Winner: Women’s Legal Service Inc (Queensland)

Winner: Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project (Bourke NSW)

National Rural Law and Justice Alliance sponsored award:

Winner: JobVoice (Social Security Rights Victoria)

‘It is a great pleasure to be associated with these awards’, Coverdale says. ‘Innovation is often a significant part of the culture of rural Australia and the awards provide an opportunity to acknowledge and encourage innovations which put into practice strategies which address the barriers to access to justice for rural communities.’