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Law Report -

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Damien Carrick: Today on the Law Report we're going back to school. We're travelling to The Grange P-12 College. It's a school located in Hoppers Crossing, a suburb on Melbourne's outer western edge. The Grange P-12 College is the first school in Australia to have a full-time lawyer based on campus.

Vincent Shin: [In the classroom] What items are illegal (this one is little bit harder) to carry on public transport or stations? Spray cans, alcohol, weapons, all of the above? What do we think? So, spray cans, alcohol, weapons, all illegal, all right, all illegal.

Damien Carrick: That's lawyer Vincent Shin, teaching a year nine class about the law around public transport.

But Vinny isn't a legal studies teacher. Yes, he does inform kids about their rights and responsibilities, but his primary role is providing actual legal advice to High School students and the families of both primary and secondary students who attend the school.

Vincent Shin: My role is very unique, and it's said to be the first of its kind in Australia. The project itself is called the School Lawyer Project. But I'm here employed by West Justice, a community legal centre, and I'm based at the school four days a week to assist the students and parents with legal issues, looking at about 1,600 students across prep to 12. We've got a very diverse student cohort here, many culturally and linguistically diverse, a lot of refugee students, a huge population of Pacifica families.

Damien Carrick: It is generally speaking a lower socio-economic demographic, yes?

Vincent Shin: Yes, definitely. It's commonly known that outer west is, I guess compared to your south-east or eastern suburbs, a little bit more disadvantaged than those areas, yes.

[In the classroom] Firstly I'm sure you guys have met me before and you've seen me around, I've taken a few classes with you guys before. I am the school lawyer here. So, as I've told you before, I'm here to help you guys with any kind of legal issues, I can help your parents with any legal issues as well. So my office is in C Block, everyone knows where C Block is? The Wellbeing Office, you all know where that is, yes? So you can always come and see me. Your parents can also see me. If they have any kind of legal issues…

[Interview] The biggest thing that we like about this project is that it is about early intervention and prevention, we are educating the students on rights and responsibilities and I think that's really important. For instance, things like these new issues that are arising, like sexting, it can become a criminal offence. There's been lots of stuff in the media were schoolkids are getting involved in this kind of stuff. And what's really fantastic is I deliver these education sessions on sexting, explain to them when it becomes criminal. And we've got some anecdotal evidence to suggest that this education is actually preventing some of our kids being involved with this kind of activity, which is fantastic.

Damien Carrick: The role is kind of a dual one. You deliver legal education sessions on things like family violence or public transport issues or sexting or employment law or consent, but you also provide legal services for students and parents.

Vincent Shin: It's a service that is no different to any other legal service. I go to court for the kids if I need to, often at the Children's Court or the Magistrate's Court, depending on what the issue is, and negotiate for the kids, let's say for instance with employment law matters. A lot of kids are actually working at your local fast food restaurant, and a lot of kids come in and say, look, I've just got a job, can you help me read through my contract, which a lot of adults find really difficult to read legal jargon and understand what they are actually agreeing to. So I think it's a fantastic service, to be able to go through that with a young person, tell them what their rights and responsibilities are at the workplace.

[In the classroom] Do you guys have any idea what you might be able to come and see me for?

Student: Fines.

Vincent Shin: Yes, so Myki fines. What about if you get a job? Do you think you can come and see me if you get a job and there's some bullying at work or you're not getting paid properly, do you think you can come and see for that?

Student: Yes.

Vincent Shin: Please, don't be shy, come and see me. There are also other more serious issues, like if there's family law issues, family violence issues you can come and see me, it's completely confidential and it's completely free. Your parents can also come and see me too. Everyone give us a nod, you understand? Good…

Damien Carrick: There's employment law issues. What other kind of issues do kids approach you with?

Vincent Shin: A lot of Myki fines…

Damien Carrick: Public transport fines, for people outside Victoria.

Vincent Shin: When they get fined, or fines in general, they can definitely come and see me for that.

Damien Carrick: What about crime?

Vincent Shin: A little bit of crime. So there is some instances and it's generally petty crimes where they've made a mistake and they've certainly learnt from it and I would definitely represent them in court if that was the case.

Damien Carrick: What kinds of things?

Vincent Shin: Very minor things, shop theft and those kind of things that young people get involved with, but that's a very small percentage of the work but I'm actually doing. So mainly in employment. Family violence as well is quite a big issue here. As we've all heard before, family violence has no postcode, it affects all social classes, and that's something that affects us just like anybody else here in the west.

Damien Carrick: So what can you do when a kid comes to your office and says, 'Look, Dad's hitting me or hitting Mum'?

Vincent Shin: So there is an option to take out an intervention order, or other states would call them an AVO or an apprehended violence order. But essentially an order or a restraining order as they are commonly known as as well, where we can go to court and take out an intervention order to stop some violence from happening. That has happened on some occasions where the kid's decided to go to court.

Damien Carrick: Really? You act on behalf of the child, not just on behalf of one child who is coming on behalf of the other parent?

Vincent Shin: Often it's the parent that I represent but sometimes it is the child directly, depending on their age, but more often it's mum that comes in or the child comes in and then I act for the mum that is taking it out on behalf of the child. So it just depends on the age as well.

Damien Carrick: This is a low socio-economic area, there would be a lot of financial pressures on people. How does that manifest in terms of legal problems?

Vincent Shin: Yes, we have things like a mortgage wellbeing service. Rent as well, we can definitely assist with tenancy related matters as well. Again, it's this wraparound service that we provide for the students and parents.

[In the classroom] So, today we're talking public transport. Who wants to tell me, what is a PSO?

Student: Police station officers.

Vincent Shin: No, I've been saying it just now, protective service officer. What is it?

Student: Prospective service officer.

Vincent Shin: Almost, 'protective', yeah? Cool. Because they kind of protect as well, they are kind of like police, and I'll show you a photo at the end, what they look like, they look very similar to cops. What are their powers? Who thinks that they are the same as police? Good, they're not. Who wants to give me an example of what kind of powers they have? Anyone? Yes, at the front?

Student: They can arrest someone if someone is abusing another person.

Vincent Shin: Yes, they do have the power to arrest in some circumstances. Anyone else? Any idea? Can they check your ticket? Yes, good. So here are just some the things that they can do…

Damien Carrick: I understand that one of the reasons for having a lawyer at the school pretty much full-time was to actually address issues around school retention, around kids dropping out. What are the sorts of legal problems that can seriously impact on a kid's learning, on a kid's decision to stay at school?

Vincent Shin: Things might be happening at home, whether it be family violence or financial issues, or they've just got a whole bunch of fines that they are really stressed out about. And when I am here to address those issues and help them navigate through those legal issues, we think that that will assist in improving the well-being of the kids in order for them to concentrate on their school work.

[In the classroom] AO…now, I've said this a few times, put your hand up, who wants to take a guess, what's that an acronym for? Yes?

Student: Is it authorised officer?

Vincent Shin: Beautiful, all right. Authorised officer is another word for what? People call them ticket inspectors. Cool. What do they have the power to do? They are not like PSOs, they're not like police, they have a little bit less power to do things. They can ask you for your name and address. For instance, if you don't have a ticket, you have your feet on the seat. Does anyone know what can happen if you get caught with your feet on the seat on the train? Anyone? A warning? You might get a warning but you can also get a fine. Did anyone know that? Who wants to take a guess, how much is a fine for kids normally?

Student: $50?

Vincent Shin: $50? Closer. Anyone higher?

Student: $80?

Vincent Shin: $80? Okay, that's very close.

Student: $100?

Vincent Shin: $100? Okay, it depends on the fine but it's about $78. So try not to do any of the stuff that you can get a fine for: spitting, smoking, swearing. Did you know you can get a fine for swearing on the train and the bus? Did anyone know that? Well, you can actually get fined $78…

Damien Carrick: You're listening to The Law Report on RN. Today we're at The Grange P-12 College, a school in Melbourne's outer western suburbs.

Vincent Shin: If I give a police officer a fake name, I can be charged. If I give them a fake name. 'Yes', 'no', or 'I do what I want'. Please don't pick that one. All right, cool. So yes, if you give a fake name…don't give fake names, you can get charged and plenty of kids do, they'll just say, 'Oh yeah, my name's…' I don't know, something silly, and they write it down and it's just silly. So give them your real name because they will find out. All right, there you go, team B, well done, a round of applause for team B.

Damien Carrick: We've dropped in to meet Vincent Shin. He's Australia's first lawyer to be based full time at a school.

Now, Vinny, you actually have first-hand experience of family violence. Can you describe that as much as you're comfortable?

Vincent Shin: Yeah, so I guess one of the main reasons why I am in this role and why I chose to take up this role was I had to deal with family violence for 17 years. So ever since I can remember until 17 when my dad finally left, it was just a very violent upbringing. That was kind of the main reasons for me wanting to work with young people. I was able to break through and break the cycle and do something with my life. And I feel like I can be a living example of going through some hardship and actually succeeding and prospering, even though I've had a difficult upbringing.

So my very first memory was when I was five years old and it was an incident where my father threw my mum onto the ground when I was playing outside with my sister. That image is something that stuck with me for a very long time, and that was my very first memory and my very first experience with family violence. And then those kind of incidences just continued all throughout my life for 17 years, just things getting broken, holes punched through walls, broken glass. He finally left when I was halfway through year 12, undertaking VCE. And I feel like a lot of what I've gone through has helped me relate to these kids a little bit more, some of the kids here. I can certainly empathise with a lot of these kids on a very personal level.

Damien Carrick: What happened halfway through year 12?

Vincent Shin: Yes, so the very last time my dad did this was when I was 17. I remember just watching TV, he came in and wanted me to stop changing the channel. He just grew more and more angry and eventually came up and hit me in the face again, and for the first time because I was growing up and getting a bit older, I actually stood up to him properly. He didn't like that at all, and that's when it all stopped, when I finally really stood up for myself and face-to-face I said, 'You're never going to do that again.' And at that point that's when I think he realised he can't control me anymore and control the family anymore because I was growing up and was able to stand up for myself and for mum and my sister.

That particular incident, it wasn't a very nice one, but he ripped the TV out of its sockets and just threw the TV on the floor, it just shattered everywhere. The neighbours were all watching, grabbed at that time the VCR, he threw it outside, and I remember him just throwing it down the road, it landed on the road. And then I remember him standing at the doorway and his last words were, 'Don't ever call me your dad because I have no son.' That was pretty much his last words, and then I haven't seen him after that. It's now been 13 years since I've seen him.

Damien Carrick: He left and never returned?

Vincent Shin: Never returned, so I haven't seen him for 13 years, yeah.

Damien Carrick: Do you think that people knew that there was this violence taking place in your family?

Vincent Shin: Definitely. A lot of times he was actually violent in front of other people, so they would see it. Not to the full extent that he would be extremely physically violent in front of the other people, that was left for behind closed doors, but he was very aggressive and violent in front of other people. But it's a really tough one for the people experiencing that, knowing what to do about it.

Damien Carrick: Okay, you're working in a school now. When you were experiencing this violence, you and I think your mum and your sister, did you or your sister or your mum talk about what you were experiencing with other people?

Vincent Shin: Definitely not.

Damien Carrick: Did you even have the words…as a child did you even have the words to talk about it with friends or people at school, the wellbeing councillors or whatever they had back then?

Vincent Shin: Definitely not. I might not have known but when I was younger I felt like it wasn't a thing, it wasn't spoken of, I didn't know it had a title, I wasn't aware that there was help available, I just kept it all to myself.

Damien Carrick: How did the family violence impact on your education?

Vincent Shin: It severely impacted my ability to do anything at home. I was living in constant fear, just constantly looking over my shoulder to expect something happening. I was not able to concentrate at home. It wasn't a very good environment because of what he would do on a daily basis.

Damien Carrick: How did you do in year 12?

Vincent Shin: Look, I didn't do too well. I ultimately finished…out of a possible 99.95 I actually obtained a score of 24.5.

Damien Carrick: But, you're now a lawyer. How did that happen? I should point out, Vinny, we are sitting in your office and I'm looking up at the wall where we have three laminated A4 pieces of paper, one is your admission to the Supreme Court of Victoria, to the role, next to that is your Australian practicing certificate, and then next to that is your ATAR score: Vincent Shin, less than 30.

Vincent Shin: Yes, so I'm actually glad that I kept that. I'm surprised I didn't rip it up and throw it in the bin. I did keep that. I'm not sure why I kept it but I did and I'm glad I did, and I use that as a bit of a tool when I'm working with the kids. It depends on the kids, but I show them and I demonstrate to them that I'm living proof that it doesn't matter where you've come from, what your background is, if you have a dream chase it because if you want to do something, you can do it, there's nothing holding you back.

[In the classroom] Anyone have any questions? Anyone want to be a lawyer? Anyone thought about it? You've thought about it? Cool, okay. You've thought about it?

Student: A lawyer or a doctor.

Vincent Shin: Lawyer or a doctor, okay, there you go, that was my only options when I was a kid. Does anyone know that I'm not like a typical lawyer? Does anyone understand that?

Damien Carrick: Okay, so you didn't do well at school, what happened after that?

Vincent Shin: Look, so obviously with a score of less than 30 no one is going to look at me in terms of tertiary education, but what I did was I did get into TAFE, so I studied for two years at a legal practice course, I actually worked very hard for two years and finished that course with an average of 90%. Throughout that course I applied to law schools all around the state, and rejected every time, eventually got into arts, studied for one semester, and again on my last tether I applied for law schools again, and finally accepted into Victoria University. And I finished my degree there with honours and continued on, and finally became a lawyer. I actually practised in private practice before coming to the community sector, and in private practice I worked in family law, family violence and a bit of criminal law as well. So that really helps and put me in good stead with this particular role, given that that's some of the areas that I touch on.

Damien Carrick: And you're now clearly kind of a role model for people here at this school. When you speak to the students about family violence, do kids come up to you afterwards?

Vincent Shin: Yes, definitely. The kids are realising that this is not okay. I tell them what their legal options are, but whether they enforce their rights or not, and often they don't choose to enforce their rights and go to court, you now know that this is not okay and this is what the law says.

Damien Carrick: And I imagine it's fairly powerful to have somebody who is there in a position of authority and respect in the school who talks very openly about their own experience.

Vincent Shin: Yes, I think when people are traumatised, when young people are traumatised and go through these kind of issues, there is sometimes a 'us versus them' kind of attitude for these kids, 'what would you know', 'how would you know', and at times I would share with, depending on the situation and the client, sometimes share a little bit about me and what I've gone through and explained to them that I do actually know. So that's quite powerful I think for the kids.

Damien Carrick: Coming back to your role here, as a lawyer, are your discussions with the students always confidential?

Vincent Shin: Yes, definitely. The rules for confidentiality don't change if it's a child or an adult, so we have very strict rules as a lawyer and we abide by those rules, so it doesn't change if it's a child or an adult.

Damien Carrick: And do kids ever try and play you? Do they ever try and manipulate you?

Vincent Shin: That's really interesting because initially my thoughts were maybe they would. I've found that they are really respecting what they have. I think they really appreciate what they have here and I feel like they are not abusing the system. I think a lot is to do with the rapport that I've built with these kids, that I'm not this elusive lawyer, this lawyer in a suit that can't relate to kids and they can see me on a daily basis and see that I'm just a normal person. I think having that, it has really helped because I will say, if I say so myself, I'm approachable to these kids. I'm relatively young, I don't come to work in a suit, I always wear as casual as possible, I ride a motorbike to work and the kids can really relate. And I think they respect me enough to not abuse the system. And I think that they respect the system.

Damien Carrick: It's interesting, I did note you had a conversation in one of the classes about motorbikes with one of the students and you clearly shared that common interest. And you're also an amateur boxer.

Vincent Shin: Yes, so I've had about four amateur boxing fights and one kickboxing fight, so that's something that also definitely helps with some of the kids, not everyone, but it's something that the kids are quite interested in. So I do share that with some of the kids.

[In the classroom] All right, does anyone have any questions? At the front mainly. Yes?

Student: If it's your first year of riding a motorbike, what's the maximum cc's?

Vincent Shin: It depends, it depends on the bike. Some of the motorbikes that are really heavy you can have up to 800, 900cc the first year, because it's heavy. It's about power to weight ratio. So a light bike with the same amount of power is going to be a lot faster than a really heavy bike with the same power. So it's about power to weight ratio, but generally around 250, 300 for the normal sports bike.

Student: Are you allowed to ride a motorbike on a pathway?

Vincent Shin: Definitely not. You can't ride a motorbike on a pathway. A motorbike should be on the road. Definitely going to get a fine. A pushbike, if you are under a certain age. And I'm presuming dirt bikes, I see it all the time around here, at least once a week, kids just riding around on dirt bikes on the footpath, definitely illegal, so don't do that. Any other questions?

Damien Carrick: I'm now sitting in…as you can hear, with the birds in the background, I'm now sitting in the playground or the school courtyard at the school, and I'm talking to Evonne. It's Evonne Maric, is it?

Evonne Maric: Yes, that's it.

Damien Carrick: Evonne, you're one of the welfare officers here at the school, school counsellor.

Evonne Maric: Yes, school counsellor for the year 11 and 12 students.

Damien Carrick: And tell me, you work hand-in-hand with Vinny Shin. How does a school counsellor work together with a lawyer?

Evonne Maric: Well, I guess students come over to the Student Wellbeing Centre who are experiencing some difficulties at home or at school, they come to see me to access some individual counselling and support, having any mental health concerns, if they are feeling depressed, a lot of anxiety, stress management, issues with anger. Or there might be difficulties at home, conflict at home, parents separating, relationship concerns. So they would come and talk through that with me and I'd work therapeutically with them to find some solutions.

Damien Carrick: And sometimes those difficulties at home will actually have legal dimensions.

Evonne Maric: Yes, they do, and they know as a school counsellor that with my confidentiality that I would have to report safety concerns, so they would feel more comfortable maybe talking to someone like Vinny, a lawyer who is able to discuss things in a more private manner and is more of an expert in that legal side compared to me.

Damien Carrick: And do you think it's a good idea to have a lawyer here at school?

Evonne Maric: Yes, I think it's an excellent idea. I've seen lots of students access his support and I've felt really comfortable having someone like that there to be able to help those students with those legal issues instead of having to access it outside of school, because most likely when I do refer students to legal services they don't take it upon themselves to go and do that. So to have someone right there next to me in my office is a really great thing for the school community.

Damien Carrick: In the past where you've said, 'You need to go see a lawyer,' they just don't do it really.

Evonne Maric: No, they don't, and it works like that with other services too. I think if it's there-and-then they will access it, otherwise outside of school they just don't have that capacity or that motivation to go and do it. And it could seem a bit scary to go somewhere else, to someone they don't know, whereas Vinny is a very approachable guy and they really enjoy coming to see him and speak to him.

Damien Carrick: He's a bit of a cool dude.

Evonne Maric: He's a very cool dude, he comes up on his motorbike, and yeah, just his presence, he's very approachable, he's very open, yes, the kids really love him.

Vincent Shin: If I give a police officer a fake name, I can be charged. If I give them a fake name. 'Yes', 'no', or 'I do what I want'. Please don't pick that one. Who says that, 'I do what I want'? Put your hands down! So yes, if you give a fake name, don't give fake names, you can get charged, and plenty of kids do, they'll just say, 'Oh yeah, my name's…' I don't know, something silly. And they write it down and it's just silly. So give them your real name because they will find out.

Damien Carrick: David Smiley is the principal of The Grange P-12 College. I dropped into his office to find out why he was keen to have a lawyer based full-time on campus.

David Smiley: So the primary aim of having a school lawyer working with us is really to provide specific advice to families who often haven't access to legal advice. As people know, the law is all around us, so it is critical that people have expert advice, particularly around visas or employment conditions, contracts, purchasing, cars, repossession, those areas, and if they don't have proper advice and support then they will continue to be disadvantaged.

Damien Carrick: Now, you've got an in-house lawyer, but you're actually going to have an in-house doctor, a GP. Tell me about that.

David Smiley: We've been fortunate to have picked up funding through the federal government to have a GP. I think they'll work here two days a week. So we'll have a school lawyer, a GP, we've got a school nurse. So we will become part of a community hub. We can really built strong education and career pathways, as well as supporting the whole student and the whole family in the community.

Damien Carrick: I'm really interested, the GP, they're here to…

David Smiley: To provide general health advice to adolescents…

Damien Carrick: Advice and treatment?

David Smiley: Yes.

Damien Carrick: And what about their families? Is it a way of making sure the families of students have access to medical services?

David Smiley: We haven't rolled the program out yet, but I believe the target group will be students. With the school lawyer we employee the lawyer and we set the preconditions around that, so we can build that into the families and get the lawyer into the community, whereas I think the GP's focus will be much more school-based.

Damien Carrick: So the idea is that the school becomes a bit of a hub for accessing services that the families might not be able to access by themselves or kids and their parents might not be able to access by themselves.

David Smiley: I think one of the key goals about schools is they have to build a partnership with community, and the learning partnership is only part of it. Schools, they might have school fences, but that doesn't really mean that we are separate to the broader community. A school is really a simple microcosm of what happens beyond the fence. So we know through data and through knowing families that there's a whole range of supports that are required. And they get to know us, they build relationships with us really well, and a lot of my work as a principal, while it's strongly focused around teaching and learning, a lot of parents who have previously came to see me, they see Vinny now, are always coming in here seeking broader advice about issues that while I can guide them and advise them I can't provide specific advice. So that has filled a real gap. And I think the doctor in the school will also provide a similar role.

Vincent Shin: Okay, so the thing is with that kind of stuff, sometimes…and this is why we talk about the three Cs. Do you guys remember the three Cs? [Siren sounds] Just very quickly, the three Cs: calm, cooperate, and complain if you need to. So remember those things, because if you are nice and you are calm and you cooperate, they can actually give you just a warning and not charge you. So it's best to be nice. All right, thank you so much for being very quiet and answering questions. Awesome. And don't steal the iPads. See you guys. Thank you, thank you very much. Down the back, do you guys have any questions? No? You just want to go, recess, yep.

Damien Carrick: Good advice there, remember the three Cs: stay calm, cooperate and complain if you need to.

That's lawyer Vinny Shin, Australia's first resident school lawyer

That's it for the Law Report this week. Big thanks to producer Anita Barraud.