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Aboriginal women need investment and support: Dame Roma lunch

Aboriginal women need investment and support: Dame Roma lunch

By Karin Derkley

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Government investment is needed to keep Aboriginal women out of prison and more funding is required for early intervention to support Aboriginal mothers rather than put their children into child protection, Djirra CEO and chairperson of the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum (NFVPLS) Antoinette Braybrook told an International Women's Day lunch yesterday.

Ms Braybrook also told the 2020 Dame Roma Mitchell Memorial Lunch, presented by Victorian Women Lawyers and Women Barristers' Association at The Windsor Hotel, that the state government's strict bail laws have to be changed to stop Aboriginal women from being incarcerated at rates well beyond their representation in the population.

One Aboriginal woman who had been denied bail recently after being charged with shoplifting, died 24 hours after she was taken to Dame Phyllis Frost prison, she said.

Djirra provides a wraparound legal service that goes beyond triage for Aboriginal women and families affected by family violence, Ms Braybrook told the event. Programs like Sisters Day Out, Dilly Bag and Young Luv have succeeded in reaching out to thousands of Aboriginal women and girls, educating them about respectful relationships and supporting them when they become victims of family violence or other crimes.

"Djirra stands with the legal assistance sector to ensure that our most vulnerable, disadvantaged and marginalised people have a voice, access to culturally safe advice and representation and support, and to justice," she said.

"We refuse to see our women through a deficit lens that is so often given to us to view ourselves with - at school, at work and through the media and by the police, a lens clouded by white privilege."

Legal work at Djirra comprises four key areas of law: child protection, family law, intervention orders and victims of crime, and one file for its lawyers often involves multiple legal issues, Ms Braybrook pointed out.

But too much of the organisation's time is spent chasing funding from different sources, taking away time available to do the real work on the ground, she said. "We've got funding sources from the federal government and from the state government just to stay afloat. We have to keep fighting and applying for additional funding to do the work that we do to keep Aboriginal women safe."

Most recently, as chairperson of the NFVPLS, Ms Braybrook has had to fight to retain its annual federal funding of $244,000 after the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt said the money would be equally distributed to the 13 NFVPLS providers across the country and that it would engage a consultant to co-design a "new voice".

"We've been very clear that co-design is not self-determination," Ms Braybrook said. "So they have essentially defunded us and silenced our voices. And the time that we're spending on trying to fight this is taking us away from making sure that our women's voices are included."

On a state level Ms Braybrook said Djirra wanted the government to stop building new prisons and expanding existing ones, including youth detention centres. "Because it's going to be our people that are filling those beds."

To reduce the out-of-proportion rates at which Aboriginal children are taken from their families into child protection, the organisation was also calling for a child protection notification referral scheme along the lines of the custody notification scheme so that when police are called out to a family violence incident or a woman reports violence, and they think that they might be making a notification on her children, the woman will immediately be referred to Djirra.

Photo: Lui Fedon


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