New Homes, New Laws pilot program gets ground with Shopfront Arts Co-op and school partnership

New home, new laws: Sierra Leone refugee Brima Turay, 23, of Mortdale, is helping other young migrants understand the Australian legal system. Picture: John Veage
New home, new laws: Sierra Leone refugee Brima Turay, 23, of Mortdale, is helping other young migrants understand the Australian legal system. Picture: John Veage

A new project that aims to teach young migrants about Australian law has reeled into action.

New Home, New Laws is a pilot program that tackles the rights and wrongs of the legal system - targeted at those who have recently called St George and Sutherland Shire home.

Its overall goal is to create a safer community and promote social inclusion by educating high school students about the consequences of breaking the law, and how laws differ from their country of origin.

Shopfront Arts Co-op (formerly Shopfront Theatre) at Carlton received a grant from the Matana Foundation to give the project the green light.

It worked with James Cook Boys and Moorefield Girls high schools to create a series of short films as a teaching resource, for a course to be delivered to Intensive English Centres.

Gymea Bay's Rob Lindsay, an advocate for migrant support, was instrumental in working on the teaching package.

He says a disproportionate representation of people from non-English speaking backgrounds encounter difficulty with the Australian justice system.

"There are many complex reasons for this, although there is little research relating to it," he said.

"It is perhaps even more alarming given that Indigenous Australians, who account for two per cent of the total population, account for 27 per cent of incarcerated Australians."

He says through research, specific areas of law that migrants "trip up on", were identified.

They include laws relating to sexual conduct including issues of age of consent, LGBTI matters, harassment and vilification, gender equality, road laws, offensive language, corruption, carrying weapons, being an accessory to a crime, and separation between church and state.

Project advocate: Championing refugee support is a passion for Rob Lindsay, who has been working on a new project that aims to teach newly arrived migrants about Australian law. Picture: John Veage

Project advocate: Championing refugee support is a passion for Rob Lindsay, who has been working on a new project that aims to teach newly arrived migrants about Australian law. Picture: John Veage

"The consequences of breaking those laws is different here," Mr Lindsay said.

"For example. In Sierra Leone, the worst thing you can say is calling someone a 'dog'. But if you talk about a pet dog, no one gets upset. The word itself is not an offence but it's the way it's used."

Mr Lindsay says a significant number of the people from vulnerable migrant and refugee backgrounds who fall foul of Australian law do so through ignorance, misinterpretation or a lack of cultural understanding relating to the seriousness of some offences in Australia.

Interviews with young migrants revealed some migrants did not realise that showing affection when unwanted could border on sexual harrassment. Others said it was "too hard" to get a licence, so they didn't bother, or they learnt about the law from television shows including RBT.

Mr Lindsay says rolling out the pilot in schools was an appropriate place to begin.

"Teachers, in general, are not trained in and lack real experience in the law," he said. "Similarly, legal practitioners, in general, are not trained in and lack real experience in effectively teaching English second language learners."

Mr Lindsay enlisted the support of founder and chief executive of anti-violence movement, Enough is Enough, Ken Marslew, who will be project manager for the pilot scheme.

Coincidentally, Mr Marslew also nominated Mr Lindsay for his Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) this year.

"Mr Marslew has had extensive experience in the juvenile justice realm and this will be invaluable for this project," Mr Lindsay said.

A pilot course will be conducted at Beverly Hills Intensive English Centre (IEC), and will be independently evaluated.

Education through action: A scene during filming of the project.

Education through action: A scene during filming of the project.

Refugee Brima Turay of Mortdale was involved in the development and filming of the project.

He crossed paths with Mr Lindsay, his former vice principal, during his school days, and was familiar with Shopfront having previously participated in its activities for refugees.

Mr Turay, 23, left Sierra Leone with his uncle in 2011, to start a new life in Sydney. He says he also learnt a lot from the project.

"It's a pretty good life here but at first it's challenging in a new country," he said. "Most laws are different, and it gave me a real understanding of the system.

"We summarised the most common crimes migrants are involved with, and got information from government agencies. We then went through the schools with video presentations. Students were happy because we explained to them through vision, not through books, what the project was all about."

Shopfront creative director Natalie Rose co-ordinated the film and will facilitate visual learning.

She says IEC teachers voiced the need for more visual aid education materials to communicate complicated matters like Australian law with their students.

"These newly arrived young people voiced the encounters themselves or someone they know had experienced when misunderstanding Australian law and therefore potentially committing a crime," she said.

"Through securing funding from Matana Foundation and Multicultural NSW we were able to commence creative development.

"Employing film-makers including Brima Turay collaborated with students and young people from Advance Diversity Services.

"Our hope is for these videos to be shown in 12 IEC programs in NSW high schools."

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