Quickhit: Is the WA government going to try to pre-empt Stolen Wages legal action?

Aboriginal people in Western Australia were enslaved and exploited from 1905 to 1972 by the government of this State. They are owed at least 300 million dollars according to Aboriginal activist Howard Riley. A report that yet remains secret is said to be attempting to pre-empt legal claims by allocating a much smaller amount in flat-rate compensation for survivors of the Stolen Wages era, with nothing more than a gravestone for the families of those who have died.

The State government’s Department of Indigenous Affairs has no comment.

The West reports: “State accused of stalling over ‘ripped-off’ Aboriginal workers

A secret government report recommends that Aboriginal workers whose wages were stolen for most of last century be offered $2500 in compensation if they are alive or a headstone if they are dead, an adviser to the stolen wages task force claims.


Mr Riley, who liaised with Aboriginals affected in the Pilbara, said it appeared those swindled were being “ripped off” again.

He said the report was referred to the State Solicitor’s Office “about five times” before going to then-indigenous affairs minister Michelle Roberts just before the election.

“It appears the State is in the process of minimalising the financial impact on revenue by attempting to pre-empt and stall any class action or individual attempts to set legal precedence,” Mr Riley said.

He said about 750 people gave proof their wages and endowments were stolen and if those who died were counted it would be thousands.

Mr Riley said the number still alive dwindled “by the day”, with about 30 per cent of the 750 people identified last year dying in the past six to nine months. “By the time a government does something, about 90 per cent will be gone,” he said.

Aboriginal Legal Service chief executive Dennis Eggington said it would be a disgrace to offer those affected low blanket amounts. Each case should be looked at. Legal action was on hold pending a Government response to the report. A Treasury committee is examining the report before it goes to Cabinet. A spokeswoman for Indigenous Affairs Minister Kim Hames refused to say when the report would be released or a response given.

Read more here and here at ANTaR, and here at Andrew Bartlett’s blog.

Categories: economics, indigenous, Politics, social justice

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6 replies

  1. Wait, a headstone if they’re dead?
    Am I the only one who finds something about that to be incredibly insulting? I mean, I can’t explain it, it just . . . doesn’t sit right. At all.
    I mean, $2,500 is a pretty paltry sum for what was likely stolen, anyway. But, like, might some of them already have headstones? Might some of them have not wanted them? Might they still have family for whom that money could so some good?

  2. 2500 dollars seems like a small sum of money to be owed for forced labour. It should not only be about the value of the labour performed but the loss of human dignity as well.
    Of course they only want to give those that are dead a headstone. What they refuse to consider is why people of colour continue to remain globally. For generations we have been unable to pass down wealth through families. Instead of being able to gain each generation we have remained stagnate. The simple ability to purchase a home and pass that down to heirs means that each generation will have more opportunities.
    Renee’s last blog post..Dear Black People WOC Feminists/Womanists Do Exist

  3. Seriously, a life time of wages plus interest?

  4. Brilliant isn’t it? We’ve got the Helen Hughes’ of the world running about disavowing any potential in the development of the Indigenous economies, demanding instead that Aboriginal Australians should assimilate get with the programme, yet we can’t seem to quite manage to actually give people what was theirs in the first place. It was simply blind theft and the money has to be returned.

  5. Damn – bad html me. Just strike assimilate and read the rest as not.

  6. Cara, Renee: spot on. The government stole their wages from them – I mean, outright _stole_, on paper and everything. “We’ll keep that safe for you”, they said, and they didn’t. The people and their descendants deserve to get it all back with interest, as Emma says.

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