MEDIA RELEASE 3 March 2022
Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS)

Content warning: this document contains discussions of abuse and trauma

VALS acknowledges and pays our respects to the members of the Stolen Generations.

In Victoria, the Stolen Generations started as early as 1837 when the Church Missionary Society set up the Yarra Mission for Aboriginal children. It was not until 1989 that Victoria introduced laws that required Aboriginal people to be involved in case planning and decision-making processes regarding Aboriginal children. Despite these changes, Aboriginal children are still disproportionately removed from them families and disproportionately put in youth prisons.

The Stolen Generations policies of governments across Australia destroyed the cultural connection between children, families, communities, land, culture and language for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It enabled sexual, physical, and psychological abuse. Today, these policies are internationally recognised as genocide. VALS supports individuals who continue to deal with the ongoing consequences of policies of removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, community, and culture every day

The Victorian Government has today announced a $155 million Stolen Generations Redress Scheme for Aboriginal Victorians removed from their families in Victoria before 1977. Individuals will be able to apply for payments of $100,000, as a personal apology and other supports from the government. They will also be able to access healing and reconnection to Country programs.

VALS welcomes the establishment of this scheme as an important acknowledgement of the genocide committed against our people and a step on a journey towards justice. Many members of the Stolen Generations and their families continue to face inequalities caused by governments and organisations that took them from their homes and culture. That trauma can never be erased, but the Stolen Generations Redress Scheme is a necessary step towards addressing the inequality it caused.

Many Aboriginal Victorians eligible for the Stolen Generations Redress Scheme are rightly hesitant to engage in government processes. It will be vital to the success of the scheme that the Victorian Government work closely with community and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to ensure the Scheme is delivered with open ears and hearts and in a culturally safe way.

VALS has continually advocated for important reforms that will bring us closer to ending government practices that take away our children’s right to community, culture, and Country. These next steps on our journey to justice include:

  • Raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14
  • Fixing Victoria’s broken bail laws
  • Realising true Aboriginal Self-Determination in Victoria, particularly in supporting families to stay together and preventing the high out-of-home cares rates of our children
  • Investing in a better future for our children, especially early intervention and crisis support services that keep them out of the justice system.

Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO, Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

“I pay my respects to the members of the Stolen Generations. Supporting them is a huge motivation for the work we do at VALS.”

“The Stolen Generations Redress Scheme is an important step that will go some way to addressing the individual and generational inequality that was caused by governments and organisations that took our children from us.”

“We are looking forward to working with community to help them access the Scheme”

“The UN now describes the forced transferring of children from one group to another as genocide. That is what happened in Australia. The Stolen Generations was an act of genocide against our people.”

“There is still so much left to do before our people have justice. Our children are still more likely to be taken from their families and more likely to be put in prison.”

“The Victorian Government has shown a willingness to address these difficult issues and I hope they continue on this journey by raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14, fixing Victoria’s broken bail laws, and giving Aboriginal organisations and communities the power and resources to reduce out of home care rates and give our children a better future.”

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.