Less than two weeks out from the Criminal Record Discrimination Project (CRDP)’s submission to the 49th Aboriginal Justice Forum (AJF), to be held in Swan Hill, Victoria, on 12 and 13 December, Fairfax Media has given the compelling case for legislative change a considerable boost by publishing a story by The Age’s Social Affairs Editor Miki Perkins in the 3 December print edition of The Sunday Age as well as online nationally across its stable of newspapers.
The article, ‘Criminal records that branded children and babies as criminals to be expunged’, addresses the injustice of ‘criminal records’ gained by children in state care prior to 1989, focusing on Taungurung Elder Uncle Larry Walsh’s story, then turns more broadly to the CRDP’s advocacy work around the introduction of a spent convictions scheme in Victoria – which, together with our push for the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of irrelevant criminal record, is precisely what our submission to the AJF is about.
Criminal records act as a real barrier to employment, kinship care and representational roles (for example on government boards) – opportunities that are fundamental to future self-determination. Criminal records are also a symbolic barrier because they are an enduring reminder to Aboriginal people of the impacts of colonisation and intergenerational trauma and disadvantage, which in turn has ongoing effects for Aboriginal people, families and communities.
Our submission sets out to demonstrate these impacts through a series of case studies – including Uncle Larry’s – and provides a clear set of recommendations to address them. The recommendations have been developed by community through a careful consultation process. They have widespread support from a coalition of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organisations and individuals.
Michael Bell, the Convenor of the CRDP Advisory Committee and CEO of Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation, recently wrote to the Victorian Attorney-General, Martin Pakula, setting out the case for change and calling on the Victorian government to adopt the CRDP’s recommendations to the AJF. In his letter Michael stated:
To demonstrate how serious this issue is for Aboriginal people in Victoria, we will be making a submission to the Aboriginal Justice Forum, calling for:
1. a legislated spent convictions scheme for Victoria; and
2. changes to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) to protect people from discrimination on the grounds of irrelevant criminal records.
We see this as a natural fit for the Aboriginal Justice Agreement framework, which was set up to enable government to work with Aboriginal people to address priority issues for community. These reforms have widespread support as a priority for Aboriginal Victorians, and we’re calling on the government to implement them. These reforms are about justice and fairness, addressing disadvantage, meeting shared goals for the community in terms of outcomes and aspirations for Aboriginal people. They are about achieving access to employment, and certainty for employees and employers alike, and ensuring that Victoria is brought up to speed with every other jurisdiction in Australia through the introduction of a legislated spent convictions scheme.
Read more about the Criminal Record Discrimination Project here.