February 27th, 2020
Victoria has joined the rest of the country in committing to a spent convictions scheme to prevent old criminal records impeding employment and rehabilitation.
Representatives from Woor-Dungin receiving Philanthropy Australia's Indigenous Philanthropy Award in 2018
The Andrews government’s decision, announced on Thursday, brings Victoria into line with other states in adopting legislation that ensures historical criminal records are not an impediment for individuals’ rehabilitation, or to secure housing and work.
Last year, the Victorian Legislative Council’s Legal and Social Issues committee chaired by Reason MP Fiona Patten advocated the government adopt a legislated spent convictions scheme.
Central to the committee’s deliberations was Woor-Dungin’s work in revealing how the absence of a spent convictions scheme in Victoria had negatively affected many Aboriginal job seekers.
Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said some convictions – including serious sexual or violent offending – will remain outside the new legislation. Police and courts will still have full access to criminal history, while complete criminal history records will be released to enable some employers and third parties to make some risk assessments.
But the final details of the scheme, including how far back it will go, are yet to be worked out.
“We will undertake a fair thorough review of existing schemes and research to deliver a fair scheme that keeps the community safe,’’ Ms Hennessy said.
“People who have committed eligible offences, who have worked hard to turn their lives around, deserve the opportunity to reach their full potential.’’
Ms Patten said in a statement posted on her Facebook page: “The Victorian spent convictions scheme must build in sufficient discretion to ensure that Aboriginal Victorians are not discriminated against.
“Aboriginal people are increasingly disadvantaged by criminal records. Irrelevant convictions should not be considered in applications to become kinship carers.’’
Woor-Dungin Criminal Record Discrimination Project Advisory Committee (CRDP) found various cases where the law had been used inappropriately. Taungurung elder Uncle Larry Walsh was given a criminal record as a child when he was taken from his mother Melva as an infant. In those days, children removed from their parents and taken by the state were treated as though they had committed a crime, and their removal was listed as an offence on their criminal history.
In August, 2018 the State government apologised for the practice of giving criminal records to children removed from care and supported it with legislation to ensure Victoria Police removed those records from its system.
Ms Patten said of the government’s new announcement: “The Woor-Dungin Criminal Record Discrimination Program provided the inquiry with a benchmark report based on extensive consultation and research. Key peak bodies wholly endorsed this work and the goal of self-determination, which simply cannot be ignored in the development of a Victorian spent convictions scheme.’’
“There must be an application process that considers rehabilitation, not just an automatic mechanism for spending convictions.’’