MEDIA RELEASE 1st July 2021

Uniformed Victoria Police attend Coronial Inquest for ‘security’, compounding the grief and trauma of the Thomas Family

Quotes Attributable to Uncle Ray, Raymond Noel’s father

“It is disgusting and offensive behaviour from the police once again towards us as an Aboriginal family at such a critical time like this, when we are trying to find answers in relation to the death of our son, Raymond Noel. After waiting four years, this is unacceptably immoral and says something about their level of humanity.”

Quotes Attributable to Lee-Anne Carter, Statewide Community Justice Programs Leader

“Victoria Police’s decision to deploy police to the coronial hearing with absolutely no justification shows an utter lack of respect for the Thomas family. Any family or community member who has experienced the loss of a loved one is in pain and grieving. This is often harder when there is no closure and your loved one’s matter is delayed as a result of processes and/or inquiries or coronial investigations. This pain and wait is indescribable.”  

“It is well known that Aboriginal people feel distrust and are fearful of court settings due to their experience of both courts and police. It is inevitable that yesterday’s actions led to distress. Victoria Police showed inexcusable disregard of the feelings of the Thomas family, friends and community present.”  

“Victoria Police’s actions undermine the work that the Coroner’s Court has been doing with Victorian Aboriginal communities in changing their protocols and practices to ensure a safe environment, and ensuring every Aboriginal person is treated with respect and dignity. These practices work towards addressing trauma and institutional distrust, by implementing practices and procedures that ensure cycles of grief and loss are not perpetuated.”

“Aboriginal Communities have worked tirelessly to improve Victoria Police culture and practices, but they cannot do this alone. Yesterday’s behaviour is an example of what we have been fighting against for generations – the criminalisation of our people when they are grieving, when they are respectfully participating in the justice system, when they advocate for change that would benefit everyone, not only Aboriginal people.”


Quotes Attributable to George Selvanera, Acting CEO of the 
Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

“The dignity of the Thomas family, in the face of such unimaginable grief, has repeatedly been acknowledged by the Coroner. In stark contrast, the systemic racism so pervasive in the legal system, in Victoria Police, manifested itself in an utterly disgraceful way yesterday.”

“We expect a public apology from Victoria Police to the family and the Aboriginal community. We call on the Police Commissioner and the Minister to publicly acknowledge that systemic racism exists in Victoria Police, and undertake to immediately establish an independent inquiry led by the Aboriginal Community into systemic racism within Victoria Police.”

“But it is not only up to Victoria Police to drive this change. We also expect the AttorneyGeneral to work with independent experts within the Aboriginal Community to examine the impacts of systemic racism within the justice system and to develop solutions to address this.”

“These demands, following yet another shameful day of policing in Victoria, are not new; they repeat decades-long advocacy calling for genuine police accountability, and a safe and equitable system for all.”
 

Media inquiries: 

Andreea Lachsz,
Head of Policy, Communications and Strategy
alachsz@vals.org.au 

To determine eligibility VALS will:

  • enquire as to the Aboriginality of the client;
  • enquire as to perceived or actual conflict of interest;
  • enquire as to compliance with the Means Test;
  • consider the merit of the client’s matter.

Aboriginality
The first time someone uses VALS they must provide proof of their Aboriginality using the Confirmation of Aboriginality Form. This form must be signed and sealed by the Officer Bearers of a recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation.

Conflict
VALS must not decline to provide assistance to an eligible person, group or body on the grounds that the other party to the matter is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person. In circumstances where the relationship between the parties to a case would result in a conflict of interest, that conflict must be managed in accordance with the Victorian Legal Practice requirements and Policy Direction 9 – “Managing Conflicts of Interest” – of the Attorney-General’s Department Policy Directions for the Delivery of Legal Aid Services to Indigenous Australians (2008).

VALS will not act if a conflict of interest exists. A conflict of interest may be an ‘actual’ conflict of interest or a ‘perceived’ conflict of interest. A conflict of interest can involve:

  • Clients who have different interests, such as VALS may have advised or acted for person “A” (old client) who has an interest that conflicts with person “B” (intended new client).
  • Clients and VALS, such as a VALS staff member or Board Member has an interest that conflicts with an intended new client. Conflicts involving client-provider relationships are:
    •  An owner, director, manager, employee, contractor or agent of VALS and/or;
    • An employee of the Department; and/or
    • A close relative (spouse, de facto, parent, sibling or child) of any of the above.

VALS provides assistance on a first in best dressed basis (i.e. provide direct assistance to the party who approaches VALS first). VALS will refer the other party to another legal service provider or “brief out” the client to a private lawyer (subject to the client meeting the requirements for brief outs). Where appropriate, VALS may act for one client and provide assistance by brief out to the other.

Means Test
Where a person seeks casework assistance, VALS must ensure that applicants satisfy the Means Testing provisions of the Policy Directions.

VALS must ensure that all applicants for legal casework assistance satisfy one or more of the following requirements:

  • Under 18 years of age;
  • Main source of income comes from Community Development Employment Projects; (CDEP) participant wages or Centrelink (or equivalent) benefits; or
  • Gross household income is under $52,000 per annum.

Note: Household income includes the income of your partner, spouse, relative including an adult child who you live with.

The Means Test will be administered in two parts:

Part A: Requires the completion of a small number of questions relating to the applicant’s personal circumstances and income level.

Part B: Is required where applicants do not satisfy the criteria in Part A. It requires more detail about the applicant’s income, assets, employment status and number of dependents.

Merit Test
Discretion will be used to determine if a particular case has merit.