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.
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.