.

  • Written by Thalia Anthony, Associate Professor in Law, University of Technology Sydney

The Queensland government’s in-principle agreement to pay A$190 million in compensation for the wages withheld from more than 10,000 Indigenous workers is a watershed moment for the stolen wages movement.

Indigenous people across Australia have been fighting for their denied and withheld wages for decades, both on the streets and in the courts. There have been some victories along the way and many setbacks.

The significance of the Queensland settlement (to settle a class action) is that it marks the first recognition these claims have legal as well as moral and political merit. Its ramifications are potentially limited, however, given the full injustice of how Indigenous wages were stolen.

A significant contribution

Historically Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women found work in farming, mining, roadbuilding, irrigation, fencing, gardening, pearling, sealing, fishing and domestic duties. But they were most concentrated in the cattle industry of northern Australia, from Western Australia to Queensland.

Tens of thousands worked on cattle stations from the 1880s to 1970s. The beef industry could not have survived without them. In 1913, the federal government’s Chief Protector of Aborigines, Baldwin Spencer, noted that “under present conditions, the majority of cattle stations are largely dependent on the work done by black "boys”. In the 1930s, when the rest of the economy floundered in the Great Depression, Indigenous labour helped keep the industry profitable.

Cattlemen at Victoria River Downs Station, Northern Territory, in 1953. Frank H. Johnston/National Library of Australia

Systemic stealing

Indigenous workers were entitled to be paid two-thirds of other workers, but even then employers often paid them less. Sometimes the low value of their wages was disguised by being paid in food and clothing rations. Sometimes workers were provided “store credit”, which could only be used to buy exorbitantly priced items.


Read more: Friday essay: the untold story behind the 1966 Wave Hill Walk-Off


Station managers may have justified under-payment on the basis they were “caring” for workers through providing scant food, clothing and accommodation.

Governments, meanwhile, “withheld” income – often putting money into trust funds that Indigenous people were unable to access. The Queensland government’s $190 million offer is to settle a class action claim for it misappropriating such trust funds.

The fact Indigenous people were vulnerable to such exploitation for decades was made possible by an intricate legislative regime that gave the state expansive powers over their lives. In all states and territories, Aboriginal Protection Acts gave the government officials the power to control the money earned by Indigenous workers.

In Queensland, historian Rosalind Kidd has estimated that 4,500 to 5,500 Indigenous pastoral workers may have lost wage entitlements worth more than $500 million between 1920 and 1968.

Redress schemes

There have been redress schemes in Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales.

The Queensland government set up the first redress scheme in 2002. It set aside $55.6 million to compensate any individuals who could supply documentary evidence their wages or savings were taken by the Queensland government. If they could do so – and there was a deadline of 2006 on claims – the scheme provided an ex gratia payment of $2,000 to $4,000.

These conditions set a high bar, and $21 million went unclaimed.

Western Australia established its scheme in 2012. It also involved a small ex gratia payment ($2,000) with a limited window to make claims. Claimants called the scheme insulting and mean-spirited. The ABC reported a source that said state treasury officials agreed individuals were owed as much as $78,000, and the government kept the work of its stolen wages taskforce quiet for years, waiting for potential claimants to die.

In distinction to these two schemes, the NSW Trust Funds Repayment Scheme (2006 and 2010) matched the wages withheld in trust funds between 1900 and 1969. It paid $3,521 for every $100 owed, or an $11,000 lump sum where the amount could not be established. This was the closest model to a reparations scheme, though also inhibited by bureaucratic requirements and time limitations.

Due to the limitations of all these state redress schemes, in 2006 a Senate Inquiry into Stolen Wages recommended a national scheme. But no federal government since has acted on this recommendation.

Legal claims

Stolen wages claimants have taken their cases to court in Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland – but it is only in Queensland that they have had some success.


Read more: Australia's stolen wages: one woman's quest for compensation


One of those is the case of James Stanley Baird, who sued the Queensland government for withheld wages on the basis that paying under-award wages to Indigenous workers was in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. The state government compensated Baird and other plaintiffs the difference owed to them in damages and provided an apology.

Implications

The current settlement is based on a legal claim that the Queensland government breached its duty as a trustee and fiduciary in not paying out wages that were held in trust. The outcome is the most significant repayment for stolen wages plaintiffs in Australian history. Yet the benefits may be confined.

First, in Queensland there is a rich archive of documents (substantially unearthed and analysed by historian Rosalind Kidd) to prove the government misappropriated funds. Such a record may not exist elsewhere.

Second, the settlement only applies to wages placed in “trust accounts”. It has no implications for wages denied to Indigenous workers in other ways, such as by private employers who booked down wages or otherwise refused to pay.

For justice for all wronged Indigenous workers, there needs to be broad-based reparations for stolen wages. This requires truth commissions and a commitment by governments and anyone else that profited from that theft to restore what is owed.

Thalia Anthony receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Authors: Thalia Anthony, Associate Professor in Law, University of Technology Sydney

Read more http://theconversation.com/the-new-mabo-190-million-stolen-wages-settlement-is-unprecedented-but-still-limited-120162

The 'ceasefire' in Syria is ending – here's what's likely to happen now

Syrian troops deployed near Aleppo. The likely winner from the latest conflict in Syria is the Assad government. AAP/EPA/SANA handoutThe five-day ceasefire negotiated by US Vice President Mike Pence a...

Mehmet Ozalp, Associate Professor in Islamic Studies, Director of The Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation and Executive Member of Public and Contextual Theology, Charles Sturt University - avatar Mehmet Ozalp, Associate Professor in Islamic Studies, Director of The Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation and Executive Member of Public and Contextual Theology, Charles Sturt University

Australian governments have long been hostile to media freedom. That's unlikely to change any time soon

The unprecedented blackout of front pages by Australia’s newspaper publishers this week is a highly significant event in Australian political and media history. It represents the completion of ...

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne - avatar Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne

Is coconut water good for you? We asked five experts

Nutritionally, coconut water is OK, but it's healthier to stick to plain water. from www.shutterstock.comIn recent years coconut water has left the palm-treed shores of tropical islands where tourist...

Alexandra Hansen, Chief of Staff, The Conversation - avatar Alexandra Hansen, Chief of Staff, The Conversation

Step into Paradise review: from koala jumpers to the Sydney Olympics, Jenny Kee and Linda Jackson defined Australian fashion

You would recognise their designs: bright, bold, colours; clothing filled with fun. Step into Paradise gives us a glance at the women, as well as the fashion. Hugh Stewart/Powerhouse Musuem1973 was a...

Tracey Sernack-Chee Quee, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Design, Architecture & Building, University of Technology Sydney - avatar Tracey Sernack-Chee Quee, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Design, Architecture & Building, University of Technology Sydney

Your brain approaches tricky tasks in a surprisingly simple way

It gets easier with practice. Duntrune Studios/ShutterstockHave you ever sat down to complete your morning crossword or Sudoku and wondered about what’s happening in your brain? Somewhere in the...

James Shine, Robinson Fellow, University of Sydney - avatar James Shine, Robinson Fellow, University of Sydney

Climate explained: how volcanoes influence climate and how their emissions compare to what we produce

Rapid and voluminous volcanic eruptions around 252 million years ago can be linked with a mass extinction event. from www.shutterstock.com, CC BY-ND CC BY-ND Climate Explaine...

Michael Petterson, Professor of Geology, Auckland University of Technology - avatar Michael Petterson, Professor of Geology, Auckland University of Technology

Postcode by postcode: a clever way to include homes in the age pension assets test

Under the Institute of Actuaries proposal, only retirees with more valuable than normal homes would face an assets test, and only on that part of the value that was higher than normal. ShutterstockHer...

Anthony Asher, Associate Professor, UNSW - avatar Anthony Asher, Associate Professor, UNSW

Trackless trams v light rail? It's not a contest – both can improve our cities

Yibin is the latest Chinese city to get the Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit (ART) system, or trackless trams. 来斤小仓鼠吧/Wikimedia, CC BY-SAA Greenpeace video of me...

Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability, Curtin University - avatar Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability, Curtin University

Instagram Tips for Travel Bloggers

Instagram travel accounts are among the most popular ones on this rapidly growing image-sharing platform. Many people have managed to create a brand that allows them to travel for a living. They s...

Diana Smith - avatar Diana Smith

5 Must Know Bathroom Remodeling Secrets

When you are ready to remodel your bathroom, there are a few tips you can use to make the remodel look perfect and remain under budget. You do not need to spend all your money on a bathroom remodel ...

News Company - avatar News Company

Horse racing must change, or the court of public opinion will bury it

In the wake of a shocking ABC report on the dismal end of many racehorses’ lives in slaughterhouses, many Australians are questioning whether the horse racing industry can operate ethically. S...

Phil McManus, Professor of Urban and Environmental Geography:  Head of School of Geosciences, University of Sydney - avatar Phil McManus, Professor of Urban and Environmental Geography: Head of School of Geosciences, University of Sydney

Data lakes: where big businesses dump their excess data, and hackers have a field day

Unlike purpose-built data storage systems, a data lake can be used to dump data in its original form. This data usually remains unsupervised. Shutterstock.comMachines and the internet are woven into t...

Mohiuddin Ahmed, Lecturer of Computing & Security, Edith Cowan University - avatar Mohiuddin Ahmed, Lecturer of Computing & Security, Edith Cowan University

The evidence is clear: the medevac law saves lives. But even this isn't enough to alleviate refugee suffering

Protesters holding a vigil last year for deceased asylum seeker Hamid Khazaei, who died in a Brisbane hospital due to an infection at the Manus Island detention centre in 2014. Darren England/AAPTasma...

Sara Dehm, Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney - avatar Sara Dehm, Lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

Inside the story: the art and genius of metaphor in Anna Spargo-Ryan’s The Paper House

Anna Spargo-Ryan carefully layers metaphors throughout The Paper House to blur the space between reality and imagination. Jean Carlo Emer /Unsplash, CC BYWhy do we tell stories, and how are they craf...

Debra Wain, Academic in Professional and Creaive Writing, Deakin University - avatar Debra Wain, Academic in Professional and Creaive Writing, Deakin University

Australia needs a Media Freedom Act. Here's how it could work

Australians picked up their morning papers yesterday to find heavily blacked-out text instead of front-page headlines. This bold statement was instigated by the “Your Right to Know” campai...

Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, Senior Lecturer, TC Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland - avatar Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, Senior Lecturer, TC Beirne School of Law, The University of Queensland

Australia has plenty of gas, but our bills are ridiculous. The market is broken

Gas burning at Victoria's Longford Gas Conditioning Plant. Australia is the world's largest exporter but intends t import gas to shore up local supplies. Joe Castro/AAPRight now, two projects have be...

Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University - avatar Samantha Hepburn, Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University

We could reduce the slaughter of racehorses if we breed them for longer racing careers

The slaughter of horses bred for racing in Australia, as revealed in the ABC’s investigation, highlights the challenge of what to do with racehorses when their careers are over. The ABC has que...

Paul McGreevy, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare Science, University of Sydney - avatar Paul McGreevy, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare Science, University of Sydney

Don't stress, your ATAR isn't the final call. There are many ways to get into university

More students get into university without having an ATAR than those with one. from shutterstock.comIn a recent nation-wide survey by online tutoring company Cluey Learning, 75% of Australian senior st...

Tim Pitman, Senior Research Fellow, Curtin University - avatar Tim Pitman, Senior Research Fellow, Curtin University

'My mob is telling their story and it makes me feel good': here's what Aboriginal survivors of child sexual abuse told us they need

Coming together with Elders and other community members helped survivors feel connected. It also gave them hope. Author providedIt’s a year since the national apology to victims and survivors of...

Carlina Black, PhD candidate, La Trobe University - avatar Carlina Black, PhD candidate, La Trobe University

Sick and Tired of Your Dead End Job? Try Teaching!

Tired of the same old grind at the office? Want an opportunity to impact lives both in your community and around the world? Do you love to travel and have new experiences? Teaching English is the perfect job for you! All you need is a willingness to ...

News Company - avatar News Company

The Impact of an Aging Population in Australia

There’s an issue on the horizon that Australia needs to prepare for. The portion of elderly citizens that make up the country’s overall population is increasing, and we might not have the infrastructure in place to support this. Australians h...

News Company - avatar News Company

LifeStyle

4 Perfect Locations for your Destination Wedding in France

France is probably one of the few locations in the world that we synonymise with love so what bett...

Questions to ask yourself before buying your watch

There are more and more watches on the market. And more and more brands are trying to seduce consu...

How to Thoroughly Prepare Children for a Professional Photoshoot at a Studio

Children are only young for a moment, which is why, for a lot of parents, it's essential to take a...

What to Expect at the University of Florida Tour

The University of Florida is a dream college for most aspiring students. Not only because of its p...