Media Gallery

About Us

WJN Takeover Decision!

WJN Takeover: Decision

On October 21, 2020, Magistrate Carolyn Huntsman presented her decision in the case of R v Kathlin Armstrong. The defence team for Ms Armstrong comprised Peter O’Brien and Elliot Rowe. 

The case took place under covid circumstances, with Kat only allowed two support people. A large number of people had wanted to attend but sent her messages of support instead.

The Magistrate spent over four hours examining the law on the “legal right of claim” and the evidence before stating her decision.

The Magistrate said that Kat “may well have felt she had the moral right” to transfer money from the WJN account to pay unpaid wages and return money given to WJN to create the organisation. But the magistrate said that the absence of documentation of the terms of the loans or deferred payment of wages, meant that she was not prepared to accept that WJN had those obligations and that Kat had a “legal right of claim”.


Kat contemplating the next move

The Magistrate said that she accepted the evidence of all the witnesses that Kat had been the driving force to create and manage the organisation. She accepted that Kat had been the CEO, mentoring coordinator, fundraiser, Treasurer, bookkeeper, and Chair of the Board and hadn’t been paid, while others doing the same jobs were paid. But she said she found it “implausible” that Kat would not have asked the Board to return the money if they owed it.

She clearly didn’t understand that Kat didn’t trust the Board not to abandon the organisation if they felt the job was too hard or felt it was financially fragile and put them at risk as directors. The Board comprised lawyers, academics and bureaucrats whom Kat had invited to join her, as they were needed to bring support and expertise in behind Kat’s commitment as a woman ex-prisoner, determined to serve her community.

The Board of WJN was entirely happy with Kat carrying financial responsibility, balancing the books for WJN and Breakout, and allowing the organisations to flourish for many years, until some unusual book entries drew attention. She had made the structure work.

The Magistrate misunderstood the trust that had been given to WJN as part of the family, enjoying full support until it was able to stand by itself. It was a project conceptualised and developed by Justice Action supported by the social enterprise Breakout. The obligation was always understood that the support would be returned as a child gives a parent. Family members don’t sign contracts! WJN Board acted as though the funding money that finally arrived was theirs with no strings attached. They enjoyed the power of success without seeing themselves as part of a grassroots based organisation founded by women ex-prisoners. That became most obvious when they called the police on the woman who gave them everything.

Finally the Magistrate declared Kat guilty of all charges!! She said she will decide a penalty on Tuesday December 8.

Kat’s team is preparing for an appeal to the District Court.


Index page: Women's Justice Network Takeover 




Computers in cells at Grafton Prison

The new Grafton prison has computers in cells.

The technology has been developed by the company, Core Systems, and "provides inmates with an opportunity to develop valuable digital skills and prepare for release back into the community."

The hopes of this technology are that it will improve rehabilitation and the societal reintegration of prisoners with the ultimate goal of reducing recidivism.

Urgent action needed to establish Walama Court

"First Nations lawyers call for urgent action on The Walama Court as a 'matter of urgency'"

First Nations lawyers in NSW have urged the state government to act fast in establishing the long-awaited Walama Court, designed to help divert Indigenous offenders from prison and limit reoffenders. This would be achieved by recognising Elders’ cultural authority and the importance of community-centred support for First Nations people.

The proposed court, located in and supported by the NSW District Court, takes its name from the word ‘come back’ in Dharug language and involves Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders in sentencing, discussions, rehabilitation and monitoring.

This new approach would aid the needs of First Nations people who are caught up in the criminal justice system. First Nations people are incarcerated at a 13.5x higher rate than non-Indigenous people and thus, The Walama Court should be considered a matter of urgency.

Read more about the goals and purpose of The Walama Court and its importance, here:


US Establishes Powerful Precedent for Rates of COVID-19 in Prisons

The New York Times has reported that the 13 top COVID-19 hotspots in the United States have been in prisons and jails, with at least 713 deaths reported as a result of the virus. 


The Victorian Government’s failure to take preventative action in prisons has led to mounting concern that this statistic could soon be mirrored in Australia.


There are urgent calls to decrease the number of low-risk people in detention in order to prevent the rapid spread of disease. With four detention facilities in VIC reporting cases of COVID-19, growing concern surrounds the potential of inhumane holding and treatment of inmates, especially those in youth detention. 


“The Victorian Government has an urgent lesson to learn: the health of people in custody is inextricably linked to the health of all Victorians during this pandemic.” 



Rate of Indigenous Death in Custody Continues to Rise

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers please be advised that this article may discuss people who have passed away.

Another tragic Indigenous death in custody has been recorded in WA. This is the third death over the last 2 months in the state.

The man was found unconscious in his dormitory in Roebourne Prison last night. The department has advised there will be an inquest into his death, but local authorities have said there are no suspicious circumstances.

His death follows a 19-year-old taking his own life and a 40-year-old who collapsed and passed away at Acacia Prison within the last two months. The department has said it will “seek cultural advice from community elders” in its response to yet another tragedy.



Deaths in Custody Focus Areas


Duty of Care 

Australian police and correctional services have a duty of care to all prisoners. This duty of care must ensure the safety of all prisoners, by ensuring their physical and mental health needs are met in a swift and effective manner to prevent harm to the individual or others. Tragic and preventable deaths in custody show the continuous failure of these services to effectively realise their duty of care. By highlighting cases where duty of care was not realised, Justice Action is pushing for accountability and change within correctional services. 

Miriam Merten was a mental health patient at Lismore Base Hospital. She died on June 3rd 2014, due to injuries she sustained during her time in seclusion. She suffered a traumatic brain injury after falling more than 20 times whilst in the care of NSW Health Staff. Her death was due to a failure of duty of care, and could have been avoided. 

Tracy Brannigan died of a suspected drug overdose in 2013 at the Dillwynia Correctional Centre. During her sentence, Tracy’s drug use was known to prison authorities, raising questions about why it was possible for her to overdose. She was also placed in segregation, isolating her from her family and support system. Tracy’s death could have been avoided if effective duty of care had been given. 


Safe Restraint 

Safe restraint means forcefully making someone or limiting a prisoner’s movement.  Despite the clear and specific guideline on when to use and which safe restraint method to use, it’s common for police to abuse their authority. Abuse of authority can even lead to death in custody or a conflict. 

David Dungay Jr. died on 25th December in 2015, due to a sudden inability to breathe. He was known to suffer from diabetes, asthma and developed mental health issues. Dungay Jr refused to stop eating a package of crackers before being held down by prison guards. Hospital records showed that he was not sent as soon as possible to a hospital that specialized in treating diabetes, as had been recommended by his medical supervisor.

Wayne Morrison was a 29 year old man who passed away 3 days after being in hospital due to spit hoods and also asphyxia. He was transferred from a prison to another due to overcrowding, four officers who were in the van did not give any explanation when being asked what they were doing. According to the CCTV recording, Morrison was wrestled by 12 guards and his hands and legs were cuffed at the same time. In addition to what the police did, Wayne was carried in the wrong position with his head facing downward, his chest was downward as well. Mr. Morrison had no prior case before this one. This case could be avoided if police officers were trained in positions that could result in breathing difficulty.


Access to services 

Individuals incarcerated within Australian correctional facilities often experience various physical and mental health issues. These issues can be exacerbated by the stress of incarceration. Prisoners must have access to services that will ensure they are able to improve and maintain their physical and mental wellbeing. These services can include, but are not limited to, mental health services, addiction rehabilitation services and Aboriginal support services. 


National Deaths in Custody Database


This is a proposal for a new database system to include coronial findings on deaths in custody and recommendations from all Australian jurisdictions. It should be distributed nationwide with the responses from state and federal authorities who are affected by the recommendations. Justice Action has also created a petition to garner public support for this proposal, achieving over 50,000 signatures to date. See the petition here.

WJN Takeover: Final Day Hearing


On the 24th of July 2020, the 8th and final hearing day in the case of R v Kathlin Armstrong was heard. The matter took place in the Local Court and was presided over by her Honour, Magistrate Carolyn Huntsman. The defence team for Ms Armstrong comprised Peter O’Brien and Elliot Rowe. 


The case took place under covid circumstances, with Ms Armstrong only allowed two support people to sit with her during the proceedings. A number of people had wanted to attend but were not able to, including the CEO for Sisters Inside, Debbie Kilroy who is recovering from COVID in Brisbane. Others sent her messages of support.

The day involved a major exposure of bad faith by the WIPAN Board. They had misled police and provided an edited email chain to support their complaint. Police said they relied "very heavily" upon President Natasha Thompson's material for their decision to prosecute. The Board has refused to talk with Kat's support people since 2017 despite continuous attempts to resolve the matter amicably. They control the organisation. Their CEO Gloria Larman has been present every day of the hearing, sitting and speaking with Detective Thompson who is running the case. 

The hearing commenced at 9:45 am and began with the defence counsel adducing witness testimony from two key individuals. The first witness, Ms Vickie Roach was the Aboriginal activist who took the right to vote for prisoners to the High Court of Australia and won. She was a former colleague of Ms Armstrong and worked on the Board of WIPAN during the period of 2011 - 2012. Ms Roach offered important testimony into the role and responsibilities of Ms Armstrong within the organisation and the understanding of remuneration between Ms Armstrong and the Board of WIPAN. Ms Roach gave testimony about the existence of a common understanding between Ms Armstrong and WIPAN that, given the company’s limited finances during the period, Ms Armstrong would not be paid at the time and would instead be reimbursed at a later date. 

The prosecutor then proceeded to cross-examine her. She asked Ms Roach about the nature of her relationship with Ms Armstrong, and queried her on the lack of physical evidence to support her contention that there was a plan to reimburse Ms Armstrong once the company was in a stronger financial position. Ms Roach responded that she was not surprised that there was no record of such a plan, as it was not in the nature of meetings to record such things as the knowledge of the debt was seen as part of the history of the organisation and the assistance had been done in good faith. 

Ms Roach also provided testimony that outlined the nature of the relationship between Justice Action and WIPAN. She said that Ms Armstrong and the Board had made it clear that WIPAN had been given financial support from Justice Action and Breakout, and that it was intended that both groups be reimbursed at a later date for their assistance. 

The second witness to give evidence was Ms Psillakis. Ms Psillakis had been a mentee at WIPAN who became a Board Member in August 2016. She gave evidence that there were discussions of repaying Ms Armstrong for her work in the organisation during Board meetings that took place while she was present during the years of 2016-2017. The defence team drew Ms Psillakis’ attention to an email written in August 2016 which expressed an intention to repay Ms Armstrong for her work. Ms Psillakis told the court that she had emailed that correspondence to the defence counsel. 

The defence raised the fact that this email evidence was missing from the evidence that was given to Police, when the Board of WIPAN decided to take the matter to police. This is a critical issue given the police witness Detective Thompson said he ‘relied very heavily’ on the President of WIPAN Natasha Thompson, when conducting the investigation into Ms Armstrong. From this evidence the Board of WIPAN appeared to act dishonestly when they gave information to police, as their email evidence was missing critical parts of the email chain. They had edited the complete email chain. Evidence to police omitted statements in the email chain from Ms Psillakis to all the others, who expressed an intention of the Board to repay Ms Armstrong for her past work for the organisation. 

Ms Psillakis informed the court that she and other Board members proposed the reimbursement of Ms Armstrong for her work as CEO at that time. In her cross-examination, the prosecution suggested that Ms Armstrong refused to be reimbursed at this time, and that this indicated her intention to do the work voluntarily. The prosecutor asked Ms Psillakis if the Board had the best interests of Ms Armstrong at heart, but the judge intervened and the question was removed. 

The defence counsel for Ms Armstrong had also planned to call a third witness to give evidence on behalf of Ms Armstrong. The witness was unable to attend the hearing due to illness. 

The court had a brief adjournment in order to return after lunch to hear the final submissions of both parties. Prior to the adjournment, the prosecutor informed the court that their closing remarks were solely in the form of written submissions, which she promptly handed to the Magistrate and the defence team to examine. An adjournment of 40 minutes was granted.

The matter resumed at 2pm for parties to give their final submissions. Mr Peter O’Brien spoke on behalf of Ms Armstrong and outlined his final submissions to the Court. He reiterated the two key parts of the defence. The first, that an unspoken arrangement existed between Ms Armstrong and the Board of WIPAN that the organisation would repay her for her extensive financial and non-financial contributions to the organisation throughout her 10 years of involvement. Thus, Ms Armstrong had acted with a genuine and reasonably held belief that she was authorised to make financial transactions between the organisation and herself and was doing so to repay the debt that WIPAN owed her. 

Secondly, the trust and relationship between Ms Armstrong and the Board of WIPAN began to break down in October 2015, arising out of a disagreement with the nature of participation and involvement of the organisation and people with lived experiences in the criminal justice system. Despite this disagreement, the other co-founder of the organisation, Ms Petrov, also maintained during her evidence that the Board always had the view that Ms Armstrong would be paid for her extensive contribution over the years. This supported the obligation that WIPAN had to Ms Armstrong.

Following the submissions of both parties Magistrate Huntsman apologised to Ms Armstrong for the delay, but said that her decision would be handed down on September 3, but later postponed again to Wednesday 21st October 2020.

Index page: Women's Justice Network Takeover



O'Malley update - An urgent plea against forced injections

Kerry O'Malley has been a victim of unjust Community Treatment Orders (CTO) for 47 years. Currently Kerry faces the violation of monthly forced injections, which cause the debilitating side effects of anxiety and depression. Justice Action has been an advocate for Kerry since 2015 and this month her case is finally brought before the Supreme Court.

Kerry has no criminal record. She is a non-violent, loving mother of five children and she deserves to have autonomy over her body. Her case shows a serious denial of human rights, with no evidence of any 'risk of serious harm' to justify a CTO.

With Kerry's next injection scheduled Monday, we are pleading the NSW Health Authority to guarantee that no forced medication be administered until the matter is resolved in Court.

Her "medication" causes severe physical and mental side effects. This case is not only important for Kerry O’Malley but all mental health patients experiencing forced medication under Community Treatment Order.

This past Monday Justice Action attended a hearing in the Supreme Court. It was an online hearing due to COVID-19, although we had not been informed of the change prior to arriving at court. The hearing was conducted via a dial-up call without video connection, unlike the defendants who were able to present via video. This was apparently due to a Court mix-up. Procedural fairness is an essential requirement to the administration of justice, and in this case, procedural fairness was completely denied.

The Registrar did not think the case was ready to proceed to trial. Instead, she requested more information from both parties. Justice Action are still waiting for the NSW Health Authority to provide us with Ms. O’Malley’s complete medical record. Accessing these documents is essential for appealing the Community Treatment Order which currently authorises the Health Authority to forcibly inject the medication.

Our next online hearing is scheduled for next Monday the 13th of July 2020 where Justice Action and its legal counsel will continue to advocate for Ms. O’Malley and against the forcible administration of medication for all mentally ill persons in NSW.

COVID-19: Prisoner’s plea for release

The Supreme Court has banned images of dead foetuses - Australian ...

Currently incarcerated in a privately-run Victorian prison, Mark Rowson represents many vulnerable prisoners across Australia whose requests to the Government for release due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been unsuccessful. 


In his request to the court for an injunction for release, Rowson provided evidence regarding serious breaches of prisoner duty of care and abuses of human rights. Failure to ensure social distancing is possible, provide adequate personal hygiene and sanitation products, wear protective gear and the contamination of laundry items with bodily fluids are among many breaches of care Rowson experiences in prison. 


Like many prisoners held in correctional centres, Rowson possesses various health conditions that make him susceptible to contracting coronavirus. He and many other vulnerable prisoners are being held in the ‘infection thriving’, unsanitary and overcrowded environments of prisons. As recent outbreaks overseas have shown, prisons are ‘epicentres’ for the virus, devoid of space and operating over capacity.  

Despite Rowson’s injunction for release to the Supreme Court of Victoria being denied, the court ordered Corrections Victoria to undertake a formal risk assessment of Port Phillip Prison according to the CDNA National Guidelines. This is a step in the right direction as prison standards must be increased, but low-risk and vulnerable inmates like Rowson are still threatened by COVID-19. Although the virus has not yet reached prisons, it is not a matter of if, but when that will happen. The urgent need for low-risk and vulnerable prisoners to be released grows as the obligation of governments to their duty of care of those they hold in custody. 


Read more here: Prisoner's COVID-19 Court Challenge

COVID-19 Index Page: Coronavirus must not enter prisons

WJN Takeover Report 7th Day Trial

Report hearing of seventh day of trial Friday February 21, 2020

The Women’s Justice Network case against Kat Armstrong recommenced today at 9:30am presided over by Her Honour, Magistrate Carolyn Huntsman. The defence team is Peter O’Brien and Elliot Rowe.


The whole day was spent with the Police Prosecutor, Ms Rochester, cross examining Kat about the set up and ongoing operations and finances of the Women in Prison Advocacy Network (WIPAN), now known as Women’s Justice Network (WJN).



                                                 Photo of WJN CEO Gloria Larman - attended every day of trial


Evidence was given about an award received by Ms Armstrong from the Vodafone Foundation. Kat applied in 2013 to the Vodafone Foundation for the World of Difference grant, consisting of $85,000. Kat was successful and it was paid directly to the Women’s Justice Network. Magistrate Huntsman stated that this questioning was ‘not relevant to the legal claim of right’ and was therefore inadmissible.



Loan discrepancies

Ms Armstrong did not record loan liabilities on the WIPAN accounts. Due to the informal procedures adopted at the inception of WIPAN between 2007 and 2011, there was no official documentation in relation to the loan funding of the organisation. As shown by Mr O’Brien, Ms Armstrong applied and received two personal loans comprising of fifty-five and thirty-three thousand dollars respectively in 2010 from a bank and invested the majority of these funds to ensure the continued operations of the Women’s Justice Network.


This was in addition to the three hundred and twenty thousand dollar loan received from Breakout Media Communication from 2008 to 2011. In response to these facts, Ms Armstrong insisted that due to the infancy of the WIPAN, the loans were never officially recorded, due to the informal relationship. It was of Ms Armstrong’s opinion that it was a “family relationship” between WIPAN and JA/BO and the contributions by Breakout was common knowledge among the board members at the time, consistently repeating, ‘that’s just the way it was back then’.


Of particular note, this was during a time where Ms Armstrong was continually lobbying to government organisations in order to receive public funding. She admitted that whilst this may have not have been the best way of keeping records but that it was a small, unfunded, ngo, not based on corporate contracts. Her belief was that she would not be successful in securing funding from government and it didn’t need too much formality.


In relation to the loans made by Breakout, her firm understanding was that the sum would be paid back ‘if and when’ the organisation ever could or would get secured funding. This approach from the prosecution was that the money received from Breakout was a gift for the development of WIPAN, and therefore not categorised as a loan liability.


Significantly, it was noted by the prosecution that a one-hundred thousand-dollar grant was received from the Office of Women in 2009. When asked why this sum was not used to pay back the Breakout loan, Ms Armstrong insisted that this grant was applied for and had to be spent for a particular mentoring project and could not be used to pay back the loan to Breakout.


Nevertheless, the sums of money paid by Breakout to WIPAN and paid from Kat personally to WIPAN, were never recorded in written contracts because of the informal environment of their inception and the commitment Kat had to ensuring WIPAN’s continued operations and success.



Position as Unpaid CEO
A major topic of discussion was the array of unpaid roles Ms Armstrong undertook in the first seven years of WIPAN.


The prosecutor attempted to argue that Ms Armstrong’s agreement with the board in relation to the payment was not retrospective. However, it was clear that Kat always maintained the expectation to be paid back for all work, if and when WIPAN secured recurrent funds. She had consistently prioritised the continuance of WIPAN regardless of the personal financial strain to herself.


Ms Armstrong worked full time, up to 70 hours a week and was unpaid between 2011-2017 while other board members had external income from their full-time employment. The multiple roles Kat took during this time included full-time CEO, the admin/accounts coordinator, the treasurer, the secretary, mentoring coordinator and a mentor.


Although she recorded no formal documentation about her workloads, the board members, other staff and networks saw the immense volume of work she completed during her 10 year period of running WIPAN.


After lunch the prosecutor continued her cross-examination of Kat Armstrong. The prosecutor asked why she initially intended to donate a $10k car in 2017 to WJN but did not follow through with this. Kat explained that given her trust of the board had significantly reduced by this time, and that she had already put so much of her personal finances and time into the organisation she believed that it was long overdue for WJN to repay her.


The prosecutor accused Kat of making up her legal right of claim after being reported by the current WJN Board to the NSW Police in December 2018. Kat denied that and said that she had submitted a letter of legal demand for monies that were owed to Kat from WIPAN in September 2018. Also Kat’s mentor had made representations in emails to the current WIPAN board in April 2018, about monies owed to Kat and to Breakout.


The Prosecutor submitted and questioned Kat on an email thread between Kat and other board members in March 2017 where Kat stated that she refused payment for the next few weeks of work. Magistrate looked over the thread and said that she felt that Kat was doing the work voluntarily. However Peter O’Brien raised the final part of the email where the current Vice President, Nicki Petrou, agreed that after informal discussions had been with Kat and other board members, Kat was then open to the proposals put by the board.


The prosecutor stated that the text message between Miss Brennan and Armstrong in December 2017, the language Kat used was very aggressive and profane. She had accused Brennan of being a “putrid dog” with implications that she was gutless for not coming to Kat first when she had made a returned transaction, a donation of $30K made to Kat’s work by her former partner.


The prosecutor stated that this language was harassment. Kat stated that this language was normal between the two and regular language used between women who had lived experience of prison similar to the women clientele of WIPAN.


The Magistrate adjourned the proceedings to Friday 1 May 2020, confirming that there were three more witnesses to give evidence for the defence case.


Peter O’Brien said he would provide written submissions for the defence. what the evidence meant and that the magistrate’s decision was to be made on that last day.


Return to Index Page of Issue 



Checklist of essential resources for access to law

Justification of the contents of the checklist

To adequately represent oneself in court, the individual must have the sufficient degree of comfort to face the intimidating atmosphere of the courtroom; have been given the time and resources to research and familiarise themselves with the case. Moreover, the litigant must maintain the sense of comfort and self-respect to then speak confidently to the magistrate and the jury.The achievement of the sense of comfort might demand the possession of some personal belongings by the litigant; these items might be of religious or symbolic nature. 

Self-representation from a cell checklist:

  •   Access to pen – to write notes, plot drafts, write letters
  • Access to paper – to record drafts, thoughts and letters
  •   Access to a computer – to research, to gain access to databases, legal websites, records, write digitally.
  •   Access to light – to write, read
  •   Internet access – to have a broader, up to date ability to gain relevant information about law case, court proceedings, records.
  • Access to court transcripts – to maintain the sense of clarity of the case; to be aware of any directions of appeal and self-defence that could be used by the litigant in the court.
  •   Copy of the latest version of legislation – to be aware of one’s own rights in court and the country of imprisonment. 
  •   Prisoner’s own legal transcript – to prepare appropriate defence based on previous proceedings in court.
  •   Access to uniform civil procedure rules – to become familiar with the rules of civil court.
  •   Access to court-specific practices and procedures – to familiarise with the way that specific courts run their procedures.
  •   Access to NSW Case law – to find the record of Judgements and Decisions made in court regarding similar cases to that of the litigant.
  •   Access to a Translator* - to conduct their message accurately
  •   Access to a Solicitor – to receive appropriate advice
  •   Personal belongings to sustain comfort: religious, sentimental and symbolic items like pictures of their family.

Factors motivating this Checklist:

This Checklist should be a compilation of checklists developed in the light of Australian laws as well as laws established overseas; specifically, we want to be looking into US and UK developments.

Moreover, the scope of this checklist may encompass your subjecting insight into the matter, specifically what YOU would need to have when placed in a cell and in the position of representing yourself in the court. Consider how you are feeling and what you are thinking of employing to convince the court of innocence when put under such circumstance. 

Lastly, this document should be formatted as a letter; my personal understanding is that justification and reasons for these items should be provided; this document should convince the person receiving to enforce the appropriate measures for the prisoner to receive their items.

Following are the pathways which may serve as a guide:

Argument 1 equality of representation: the prisoner should have similar conditions that the lawyer would representing them

Argument 2, equality of opportunity: the prisoner should be compensated in their disadvantage in the face of court; for example: a person who has trouble speaking English should be provided with a translator not only in the court but in the cell too.

Argument 3: the prisoner should have the self-care available to reinforce the psychological resilience when facing the court

Report hearing sixth day February 20th

Report hearing of sixth day of trial February 20, 2020

Kat Armstrong’s case was recommenced today at 9:30am and presided over by Her Honour, Magistrate Carolyn Huntsman. The defence team is Peter O’Brien and Elliot Rowe.

Coming from Brisbane in support of Kat was Debbie Kilroy OAM of Sisters Inside and others from around the state filled the courtroom.



The day began with Kat Armstrong taking the stand. She described her turbulent childhood. This included domestic abuse, her parents’ divorce and a heroin addiction by the age of seventeen. As a result of turning to crime to fund her addiction, Kat spent an accumulation of 10 years in prison. In the last sentence she sought drug and alcohol counselling and overcame her addiction. She commenced legal studies in prison with the Southern Cross University and then became the second female ex-prisoner to become a lawyer.  

Over the next few hours, Mr O’Brien shed light on some central issues surrounding Kat’s role at WIPAN:

The establishment of WIPAN
Whilst Kat was Accounts Manager at Breakout in 2007, she sought the support and financial assistance of Breakout to help set up WIPAN. This included setting up the organisation, finding office space and paying Kat’s wages. Kat was at pains to stress that the agreement reached between her and the owner of Breakout was informal and communicated the agreement to the board members of WIPAN multiple times in informal settings. In particular board members Suzette Glasby, Nicky Petrou and Marissa Sandler were made aware of the agreement to repay Breakout from 2008 onwards when the WIPAN funds became available.


When asked why the subpoenaed minutes showed no record of these conversations or the debts owed to Breakout, Kat explained the informal nature of WIPAN’s relationship with Breakout. She also alluded to the fact that whilst WIPAN was seeking funding, it would not have been attractive for the WIPAN accounts to reflect debts.

Kat noted that the Board members must have been aware of the funding from Breakout and the hopes to repay the money, due to the very fact that there was office space to begin with.


Kat’s paid and unpaid roles within WIPAN

Kat was the driving force of WIPAN. From its inception in 2007, she worked in an often-unpaid capacity in a variety of roles, ranging from Director, CEO, mentoring coordinator, treasurer, book keeping and administrative roles. The unpaid nature of these duties arose from the lack of money available to WIPAN. For example, from mid 2008 to October 2011, whilst Kat worked as CEO, Breakout was in fact the organisation that paid these wages, which amounted to an estimated $50-70k per annum. Kat repeatedly stated that her priority was the continuation of WIPAN, and thus would work unpaid until WIPAN was secure and had recurrent funding. It was Kat’s expectation that she would be paid for her work with some reimbursement once financially viable.

In 2013, Kat received a Vodafone grant worth $85,000, with Kat receiving $55,000 for her CEO salary that year, whilst the remainder was absorbed into the organisation.

From mid 2015, the organisation began talks to secure its first recurrent funding, which would become available mid 2017. It was around this period that Kat made some ‘minimal and modest’ claims for financial reimbursement of some of the work she had done over the years at WIPAN. When asked why she only claimed partial payment, she reiterated her desire to see WIPAN flourish, and her belief that seeking full reimbursement would be excessive and financially crippling. For example, Mr O’Brien showcased a thread of emails from 2015, where Kat asked to end the receipt of payments for her salary from the Department of Justice grant.

After recess, Kat was then questioned about when issues between her and the Board members became evident.

Conflict with WIPAN board members
Conflict between Kat and the board arose mostly due to the fact that Kat began feeling as though her original visions of WIPAN as an organisation driven ‘by women for women’ including those with the experience of being incarcerated was being eroded. This was due to the fact that Kat was the only woman with a lived experience of being incarcerated on the Board in 2017 despite the fact that the organisation’s constitution required that 50% of the Board be ex-prisoners but had instead become saturated by privileged white middle-class professional women.


The prevailing problems within WIPAN and its staffing meant that Kat sought to avoid confrontation with the board and in turn created an environment of distrust between Kat and the board members. Mr O’Brien then raised the question of why Kat did not seek out reimbursement from the board members in 2016 once the organisation had secured recurrent funding. Kat responded that she “expected a battle” or confrontation between herself and the board members and thus resorted to taking the matter into her own hands by making online transactions from the WIPAN account to her personal bank account.


Online Transactions
Mr O’Brien then brought out transaction records from WIPAN, which showed payments authorised by Kat. Mr Obrien then asked Kat whether it was true that she had falsified the descriptors on transactions.


Kat went on to admit that she had made the payments without the authorisation of the rest of the board because she feared the confrontation that would ensue had she pursued a more conventional path.

After lunch Ms Armstrong remained confident and resolute in her justification and reasoning behind the falsified transactions. This justification was grounded in the fact that she felt unable to have an open and honest discussion with the board of WIPAN – in part due to the conflict between lived experience and privileged professional women, and her years of unpaid work. Furthermore, Kat stated that WIPAN owed Breakout a significant debt due to its financial support in its inception.

The Board failed to honour the debt at the time, and continues to do so at this point in time.

Kat agreed that she had refused payment when the Board of Directors offered it as she felt as though the organisation was not financially equipped or stable enough to accommodate this move. It remained Kat’s primary interest to secure the future and stability of WIPAN. But Kat made it clear that she had expected payment for her continued work once WIPAN had sufficient and steady funding.


When confronted over the phone with these allegations, Kat initially denied them due to her strong sense of fear and shock. Later she made numerous attempts via email, lawyer’s requests and phone calls to explain her actions and facilitate meaningful discussion. However none of those requests were acknowledged, and instead Kat was vilified to both personal and professional connections and then reported to police.


The afternoon session concluded with the beginning of the cross-examination by the prosecution, which will continue into tomorrow.  

Tomorrow the case will end with several witnesses for Kat including former WIPAN Board members giving evidence.

Return to Index Page of Issue 


  • get involved2
  • donate
  • breakout-logo2



Justice Action
Trades Hall, Level 2, Suite 204
4 Goulburn Street
Sydney NSW 2000, Australia

T 02 9283 0123
F 02 9283 0112
E ja@justiceaction.org.au
© 2020 Breakout Media Communications
breakout-logo  womens justice network icon logo-community