Qld government steals back more stolen wages

This afternoon I sat in on a meeting of about 50 Aboriginal people at Musgrave Park in Brisbane. They had come together to talk about the Queensland Government’s decision to take back some of the money the government had put forward six years ago by way of recompense for a small part of what was taken from Aboriginal people over decades through the process that has become known as Stolen Wages. 

If you don’t know much about the Stolen Wages issue, please read this previous post of mine and some of the links contained in it – like this one  and this one.

This is a good example of why people get despairing and exasperated by the political process. Despite it taking over ten years of effort by so many people to finally get the Queensland government to acknowledge the reality of Stolen Wages, and a Senate Committee Inquiry which unanimously recognised the clear injustice which had occurred, there has been (a) a contemptuous decision by the state government to take back some of the small amount money they put forward in 2002 to recompense a small percentage of those who were directly affected, and (b) no action at all from either Liberal or Labor federal governments on this injustice and the unanimous Senate Committee recommendations regarding it.

In this context, it is worth revisiting Recommendation 6 from the Senate Committee report:

The committee recommends that the Queensland Government revise the terms of its reparations offer so that:
a. Indigenous claimants are fully compensated for monies withheld from them;
b. further time is provided for the lodgement of claims;
c. claimants are able to rely on oral and other circumstantial evidence where the records held by the state are incomplete or are allegedly affected by fraud or forgery;
d. new or further payments do not require claimants to indemnify the Queensland Government; and
e. the descendants of claimants who died before 9 May 2002 are included within the terms of the offer.

Instead, the Queensland government “revised” the terms of their offer so that :
– there was no effort at all made at ensure full compensation for anyone;
– no one who had not already received the initial derisory $4000 offer would be able to receive anything
– payments continue to be denied for the descendants of people who had died prior to the initial limited reparations offer;

and to add massive insult to an already very significant injury, the Queensland government also decided to take back a chunk of the money originally offered and put it towards funding educational scholarships.

I doubt many people would find it satisfactory if an employer acknowledged they had defrauded them, or their parents, of a significant part of their wages over a prolonged period of time and then said “it’s OK I’ll put some of the money I’ve taken into a scholarship fund for disadvantaged youth” – yet this is what the Queensland government has done.

One could hardly blame Aboriginal people for asking “why bother”, but instead the meeting of people today are quite elderly and have been fighting for justice for decades – resolved to keep fighting for justice on this issue. One of the people there was Ruth Hegarty, whose has written about some of her own experiences of having to live her life under the total control of government officials.

Amazingly, in announcing they were diverting some of this money, which had been provided to repay people who had never received money they had rightfully earned, into a fund for scholarships for Indigenous children, the state government managed to get media coverage which mostly gave the impression like they were being generous. Not only were they not providing any new money, they were taking back ‘old money’ – money which was meant to be partial payment for people who had what they earned taken away from them by government agents. 

Part of what makes it so much easier for the Labor government in Queensland on this issue is that they have never had any political or public pressure from the Liberal or National parties. It has always been easy for the state government to dismiss requests from Indigenous people as they know there is no political price they will pay.

But it does add to the frustration that a media which often presents itself as a watchdog on government activities allows them to get away so easily with such a blatantly cynical and contemptuous act towards some of their least powerful and most disadvantaged constituents.

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6 Comments

  1. I hope some Queensland Police say something on behalf of these people Senator,out of a real disgust,and not PR.Because if the State Police get angered by this,they then cannot use the Police experience as a buffer against injustice.There are bound to be officers who see themselves and Aboriginals in the same sandwich, no matter what their personal experiences have been.

  2. The same people who deny aboriginal people any right to compensation as part of the Stolen Generation, would remain silent on this disgraceful,unjust and disgusting behaviour of the Queensland State Labor Government.I’m not surprised that indigenous people either die earlier or get worn out from the constant fight for every small step – one forward two backwards!
    I can’t see the Qld police speaking out on their behalf either.After all,their history re indigenous people is pretty horrific.

    I’m disgusted and outraged by this.What to do next is the question? Is there some way the Federal Govt can intervene? After lauding the ‘death of AWA’a’ it seems rather hollow,that aboriginal people are still being denied justice in respect of monies OWED TO THEM!This is not a gift! It’s monies owed!

  3. Some pertinent unasked questions. Why was the money still sitting their after six years? Who was there to return it to? What elswe could be done with it if neitehr of the first two were able to be answered satisfactorily?

    It would appear that it was never intedned to be retunred, or it was known that it never could be returnmed under whatever conditions were set in the first palce.

  4. Some pertinent questions Ken. Perhaps the government hadn’t allocated any money to public servants to distribute it.

    So much for Closing the Gap and all the other rhetoric.

  5. The aboriginal man in SA who was awarded the money as a stolen child,has also been awarded $250,000 in interest. The question needs to be asked, that instead of removing a chunk of these monies, the Qld govt should have to pay 6 yrs interest. In workers compensation court, any delay in monies being paid must include interest. The original amounts offered were only a symbolic gesture anyway, this latest disgrace shows that entrenched racism is still alive & well when it comes to money & aboriginal people! Shame! I can’t imagine this being done to others in the community without there being a great yell from the Opposition. It’s disgusting! Beyond belief! So much for ‘Reconciliation- It’s Up To Us!’ I’ve had that sticker on my camera bag, my wallet,on my frig since 2000; and in my heart for much longer-1967 in fact!

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