Indigenous organisation Woor-Dungin and the Australian Communities Foundation have won the Indigenous Philanthropy category at the 2018 Philanthropy Awards for their outstanding Criminal Record Discrimination Project.
The lauded program aims to reduce the ongoing negative impacts faced by Aboriginal Victorians due to the unregulated disclosure of, and inappropriate reliance on, the old and irrelevant criminal records given to those taken under the Children Welfare Act until 1992.
Executive Director of Woor-Dungin, Christa Momot was honoured to receive the accolade.
“It is wonderful to receive this award as it recognises the hard work and hundreds of voluntary hours contributed by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people committed to achieving self-determination for Aboriginal Victorians," she said.
The historic practice of recording child removals through the Victorian criminal system left thousands of survivors with an undeserved criminal record that has haunted their lives.
“This issue has affected and is still affecting Indigenous peoples because it stops us from being a valuable community member and participating in the many jobs required to function as a community,” said Wenzel Carter, Woor-Dungin Aboriginal Cultural Support Worker.
“It is a life sentence after the sentence has been served. With this law, there is no such thing as a second chance or a fair go. Community members, who have offended 20 years ago, will still have these convictions show up on a Criminal Records Check."
In 2017, journalist and Woor-Dungin volunteer Sylvia Rowley approached NITV News to expose the story of Taungurung Elder Uncle Larry Walsh.
"While interviewing Taungurung Elder Uncle Larry Walsh for the project, he said that police and magistrates had repeatedly told him he had a criminal record from 1956, when he was only two years old," Ms Rowley told NITV News.
"That didn’t sound right, so Woor-Dungin helped him apply for his full police record, and sure enough there it was: his removal from his family as a toddler was recorded as though it was an offence that he had committed."
In November 2017, in response to Ms Rowley's and NITV’s investigation, Victorian Greens MP Nina Springle moved a motion in parliament calling on the state government to address the historic practice of wrongfully criminalising state wards.
On March 8, 2018 the Victorian government announced that they would "take action to address a serious historical injustice which saw Victorians effectively given criminal records for needing state care as children.”
"I’m grateful that Uncle Larry trusted me to bring this to light; without his bravery in sharing his story, the Victorian government wouldn’t have pledged to fix the records of the thousands of innocent Indigenous and non-Indigenous kids who were given criminal records through no fault of their own," Ms Rowley said.
"It’s shocking that children of the Stolen Generation, many of whom suffered so much as a result of their removal, were given a criminal record on top of everything else."
A subsequent NITV News investigation in 2018 uncovered that people in other states may also have these unjustified criminal records.