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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.
Our AGM was not just a celebration of our achievements. It was a testimony to an organisation which is increasingly seen as [a] model for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people walking together.
Marty Gutride, Social and Emotional Wellbeing Coordinator
On 22 November Woor-Dungin held its fourth AGM, generously hosted by pro bono partner Colin Biggers & Paisley.
Our AGM was a celebration of the year’s successes, achieved in partnership with our staff, our members, our Aboriginal partner organisations, our pro bono supporters and our philanthropic partners.
The AGM opened with a beautiful Welcome to Country from Wurundjeri woman Brooke Wandin. This was followed by the Acknowledgement of Traditional Owners, and then formalities got underway, with Chris Clark’s Committee report and Christa Momot’s EO report.
We farewelled retiring Committee members Christa Momot, Shantelle Thompson and Katie Fraser, thanking them for their outstanding contributions to our organisation.
We welcomed new Committee members Sherree Chaudhry and Clare Land. Sherree is HR Manager at Woor-Dungin partner organisation Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation, located in south-western Victoria, while Clare is Program and Operations Manager at the Reichstein Foundation. Sherree and Clare will be wonderful additions to our Committee.
A highlight of the AGM was the presentation of the Aunty Frances Bond and Aunty Glenys Merry Award, named in honour of two of Woor-Dungin’s founders and given for achievement in reconciliation and respectful relationships.
This year, the award was presented to Stan Winford, Bronwyn Naylor, Simone Spencer, Naomi Murphy and Wenzel Carter in recognition of their ongoing work on the Criminal Record Discrimination Project (CRDP), and to Cheryl Asquith and Sherree Chaudhry to mark their roles as mentor and participant respectively in the Maarni Aboriginal Women’s Leadership Program, as well as to recognise Cheryl’s mentoring work with trainee Deanne Hill. The applause for all recipients was warm and heartfelt.
Following his Aunty Frances Bond and Aunty Glenys Merry Award, Stan Winford, Associate Director at RMIT University’s Centre for Innovative Justice, spoke about the importance of the work carried on by the CRDP. In the light of the recent (and very welcome) media spotlight on the ‘criminal records’ of children in state care prior to 1989 – whose number included Uncle Larry Walsh, who was due to speak next – Stan reminded the audience that, as important as it is to expunge such patently unjust ‘criminal records’, the aim of the CRDP is to boost Victorian Aboriginal employment by advocating for the introduction of a spent convictions scheme and for the prohibition of discrimination against prospective employees with an irrelevant criminal record.
And so to the next highlight – and the star turn of the afternoon, as evidenced by the media presence, which included an NITV film crew and an Age journalist – Taungurung Elder Uncle Larry Walsh. Uncle Larry spoke powerfully about being told by police at the age of nine that he had a ‘criminal record’ – for having been in state custody, an absurd and rank injustice.
Uncle Larry’s story, first published on Woor-Dungin’s website and later on NITV’s, helped to catalyse a successful recent motion by the Greens in the Victorian parliament calling for a state apology to all those who had similarly acquired a ‘criminal record’ for being in state care. Uncle Larry’s story touched everyone at the AGM, and he left the stage to thunderous applause.
Later in the afternoon we held a warm and genuine roundtable discussion with representatives from our Aboriginal partner organisations, Philanthropy Australia and philanthropic grantmakers, during which we explored ways to achieve truly interactive, mutually beneficial relationships among all parties.
We would like to extend many thanks to Colin Biggers & Paisley for so generously hosting our AGM – and indeed for all the pro bono support they have provided over the year – in particular, to Cheryl Asquith. Thank you indeed.
Woor-Dungin’s Criminal Record Discrimination Project (CRDP) has released a position statement following the motion successfully moved in the Victorian Parliament by Greens MP Nina Springle MLC on 15 November calling for a formal apology to Victorian care leavers for the historical practice of charging children with neglect (and other ‘offences’) that led to them receiving criminal records.
Recent investigations by the CRDP, in conjunction with Professor Bronwyn Naylor of RMIT University, highlighted the historical issue of criminal records obtained by children on entering the child-protection system. This was due to the overlap between the ways that the Victorian Children’s Court used to make child-protection orders and sentencing orders.
Victoria’s Attorney-General, the Hon Martin Pakula MP, acknowledged the work of the CRDP in bringing this issue to light, and said that he was “extremely concerned about the nature of these historical practices.” In a letter to Michael Bell, CEO of Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation and Convenor of the Advisory Committee of the CRDP, the Attorney-General stated:
I have asked the Department of Justice and Regulation to advise me about actions to address these historical practices, including any legislation that may be required to correct these records, so that care and protection orders for children are recorded appropriately.
The CRDP is pleased that the Attorney-General is taking action and acknowledges the Greens for moving the motion.
While it is very important to correct the historical injustice of these records, they are part of a larger problem and, for the people who have been affected, like Uncle Larry Walsh, it’s equally important to address the ongoing issue of a lack of a spent convictions scheme in Victoria, and the absence of any protection from discrimination on the grounds of old and irrelevant criminal history.
Woor-Dungin’s Criminal Record Discrimination Project will be presenting at the 49th Aboriginal Justice Forum (AJF), now to be held 12-13 December in Swan Hill, Victoria. The AJF was postponed last month due to the passing of a significant community elder.
The AJF is a quarterly meeting for the Victorian government to hear the views of Victoria’s Aboriginal communities on justice matters. It emerged from the Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement, a partnership that was established in 2000 between the Victorian Government and Victorian Aboriginal communities to improve justice outcomes for Victorian Aboriginal people.
Woor-Dungin has assembled a coalition of stakeholders to present our submission, including Simone Spencer from Mallee District Aboriginal Services, Wenzel Carter from Willum Warrain Aboriginal Association, Naomi Murphy from Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) and Stan Winford from RMIT University.
The submission, the result of an extensive consultation process, is intended to make the case for the following reforms in Victoria:
(1) the introduction of a legislated spent convictions scheme in Victoria, and
(2) an amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) to prohibit discrimination against people on the basis of an irrelevant criminal record.
Aboriginal people in Victoria are disproportionately disadvantaged by the lack of a spent convictions scheme and the absence of any protection from discrimination on the ground of irrelevant criminal records.
Our submission will attempt to demonstrate why this is a priority area for reform for Aboriginal people in Victoria and has been endorsed by a broad range of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal stakeholders, such as VALS, Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Association and Law Institute of Victoria, and individuals including Uncle Larry Walsh and Uncle Jack Charles, whose stories underpin the case for reform.