Mark Perica - Former Chairman and board member
Coming from Perth in 1990 and moving to North Melbourne in 1992, Mark was living locally in Errol Street and started volunteering at NMLS, before joining the NMLS board. Mark is also this year celebrating 20 years at the Community Public Sector Union, where he is the Senior Legal Officer representing its 180,000 members.
A system to turn to
“It’s very important that those who can’t afford to go to a lawyer or aren’t able to get legal aid, that there is somewhere for them to go, because otherwise it’s a total failure of the system,” explains Mark.
“If you are committed to a society of laws there is no point in having people who can’t action their rights.”
Mark identifies IMCL’s role in having a bird’s eye as to what is happening and picking trends to work out the political, social and legal strategies in order to prevent or ameliorate community issues.
Mark recalls the first wave of Horn of Africa children into North Melbourne public housing, and NMLS’s constant political engagement with Victoria Police in inner city Melbourne.
“From day one they were given specific attention from the police. I remember a cinema in the city with big steps out the front and the police would only move on the African kids. We instigated a one-on-one police liaison group with NMLS, and that was a really good thing to be involved in.”
An uncertain period for CLCs
Mark recalls the 90s being a tough period for CLC’s, due to many successive attorney generals who honed in on a number of CLCs, as well as the confluence of the State Kennett and Federal Howard Governments resulting in funding instability.
“From 1996 onwards, every month we were considering whether or not we were going to be defunded, which was absolutely shocking. My main memory of this period were the inspiring women like Rhonda Gocher and Kate Lawrence – they were totally unflappable. In the face of the NMLS failing, they just kept plugging away and were determined to keep our eyes on the prize, which is a fantastic attribute to have and very inspiring.”
A professional service for the community
Mark has observed the growth of the legal service since the early 90s, and is pleased to see it has now taken on many attributes of a law firm.
“Why should only the rich have access to a professional firm? The more evolution of that for disadvantaged people, the better it’s going to be."
Mark envisages that IMCL will continue to grow and evolve, and hopes it will incorporate more policy work with dedicated policy officers.
“The big end of town has 50 of them, and 40,000 think tanks. The Sudanese people of North Melbourne don’t have a think tank to advocate for them."
Mark is still concerned for CLCs and their funding future, with the number of people needing CLCs increasing but the funding not increasing with it, creating an unhealthy dynamic.
“Access to law is a fundamental rule of law issue. The theory that if you can’t pay then you are forgotten is just horrific. It leaves us with a society that is atavistic, like social Darwinism. Those with power end up enforcing their rights and those without power can’t enforce their rights.”
A true community asset
“I cannot imagine what North Melbourne would be like without Inner Melbourne Community Legal,” reflects Mark.
“There are special characteristics of North Melbourne that are hidden, but if you do a bit of statistical research, you will see that there are people that really need IMCL. I lived in Chapman St, and nearby Melrose St is like another country – there is a lot of public housing and the residents are the prime people for CLC assistance.
“We must have some commitment to social justice. Consider the vanilla world of Kew – the class and racial and gender diversity we have in North Melbourne is something to embrace and people on the margins need to be provided for. It’s a great thing of pride to have such a magnificent social service in the midst of our town.”