Members of the Stolen Generations and others taken into state care will have their public records updated to remove criminal convictions recorded against their names after they were removed from their family.
Following an NITV News investigation that exposed the systematic practice of attaching criminal convictions to forcibly removed children, the Victorian Labor Government launched an inquiry that involved consulting with police and Indigenous advocates. The Government has tabled a letter in parliament today, outlining a range of actions that will now be taken.
These include a formal apology to the victims of the previous policy, changes in current policy, and if required to make changes to the law, to ensure children taken into care are never again given criminal records.
Taungurung Uncle Larry Walsh was one such victim. He said the criminal record he was given after being stolen from his family while just a toddler had serious consequences for the rest of his life.
“In court, I’d say ‘come on your honour, 1956, I was two and a half years old, how can I have a criminal conviction from then?’” he told NITV News last year. “But nobody would answer that question, and every time I argued with them, it would only make my record worse”.
“Another time, a judge called me a disgrace to my race, because of, again, that thing of having a conviction since 1956.”
Watch: Uncle Larry Walsh is an Urban Warrior. Taken away as a toddler, he's had the numbers against him ever since. He's a fighter for social justice and an admired and respected Elder.
Prior to 1992, there was no clear distinction between welfare and criminal court proceedings. As a result, care and protection applications were recorded alongside charges, convictions and sentences which would resurface during background checks on members of the Stolen Generations and other children taken into care.
Attorney-General Martin Pakula said today that the government was committed to undoing the injustices of the past.
“No one should have a criminal record as a result of being forcibly removed from their home or for needing state care when they were a child,” he said.
“These historical practices effectively created what appears as a criminal record for children when they were in need of care. We will correct the record.”
Minister for Families and Children Jenny Mikakos said the government had worked with a range of stakeholders, including Care Leavers Australasia Network, Berry Street, Open Place and Connecting Home, as well as Aboriginal advocacy groups such as the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency and the Woor-Dungin Criminal Record Discrimination Project.
“The Andrews Labor Government has been consulting closely with stakeholders and we will continue to work with them as we take the steps to right this wrong.”