Duty of Care – Fact Sheet
The purpose of this fact sheet is to provide affected Aboriginal people, concerned members of the general public, and lobby groups with basic data upon which to assess the current Queensland Government offer of $2000 (if now aged between 45-49 years) or $4000 (if now aged 50 or more) as full and final reparation for financial and social disadvantagement during decades of government control. The government has provided no information to enable people to judge how that offer relates to the amount of wages they have lost through non-payment, underpayment, frauds and official negligence (See Stolen Wages fact sheet).
The promise and the price
Premier Peter Beattie has promised his government will make a written apology to all the survivors of this regime, give a parliamentary acknowledgment ‘of past injustices on the basis of race’, hold ‘a major function to commemorate the occasion’ at Parliament House, and introduce protocols acknowledging traditional owners at the ‘commencement of all official Government business’.
The premier says his government will not fulfil these promises unless people accept the non-negotiable reparations offer and sign away all rights to ‘any other common law or other legal actions which may otherwise be available’ under the Acts which so damaged Aboriginal lives.
Effectively, for the cut price of $56 million and a few ceremonial gestures, the government is seeking to shut down any legal redress for a century of official ‘care and protection’, the effects of which are so appallingly evident today. This would prevent legal redress not just for missing wages and savings but also for misused child endowment and non-distribution of deceased estates and workers’ compensation. It would prevent legal redress for government failure of the mandatory Duty of Care owed to all wards of state – failure demonstrated in maintaining a system which tolerated physical and sexual abuse, grossly substandard housing, deficient medical and educational care, rental housing entrapment, and all other contentious matters.
This Duty of Care fact sheet provides information from official files so that people can assess the moral and practical merits of this legal indemnity sought by the government.
Under total control
Between 1897 and 1971 the Queensland government enacted laws so it could declare any Aboriginal a ward of state, confine them to a mission or settlement reserve, control their work, wages and savings, take control of their children. In establishing and maintaining this regime of controls the government became legally accountable for the health and wellbeing of every Aboriginal child and adult in its care; it had a legal duty always to act in their best interests.
Under this system around half the state’s Aboriginal population was detained on government reserves, many for generations. Here they lost all rights and responsibilities over the lives of themselves and their children. People who escaped to search for work or freedom were routinely hunted by police and forcibly returned, often to imprisonment on bread and water.
Hundreds of people who were not sent to reserves were ordered into contracted employment by the government that took control of their wages and savings. These people were constantly watched by police and always at risk of transportation to a reserve.
There are thus two groups of people affected by government controls who must respond to the government’s offer of either $2000 or $4000 – those who were detained on reserve communities, and those who lived off reserves but whose lives were under constant police surveillance and whose employment and savings were under government control.
Life and death on missions and settlements
Government refusal ever to adequately fund missions and settlements made life precarious. The government worsened destitution by holding around 80% of private savings in long-term investments to generate revenue for the state.
(Amounts approximately today’s value)
Palm Island: death rate over 6%, most of the ill and elderly slowly starving to death; hospital rations inadequate so matron takes money from patients’ bank accounts to buy provisions; most babies who were not breast fed died from malnutrition; doctor’s demands that rations be trebled and fruit juice provided to children rejected by superintendent.
Private savings in government control: £268,000 ($16.2 million)
Amount diverted to investment: £ 200,000 ($12 million) (75%)
Yarrabah: elders dying and others too weak to work because of malnutrition and illness; all patients sent to Cairns hospital said to be badly malnourished; drinking water unsafe for human consumption; defective sanitation ‘would lead to prosecution’ in any other circumstances; government refuses to increase funding.
Monamona: insufficient funds to provide adequate food, shelter, sanitation; 90% of dormitory children infected with 30 parasitic worms, suffering anaemia and fatal debility.
Mapoon: 45 huts for over 280 people, TB officers say conditions ‘nauseating’
Presbyterian missions: government funding cuts wipe out federal child endowment payments
Private savings in government control: £321,000 ($13 million)
Amount diverted to investment: £238,000 ($9.6 million) (74%)
Cherbourg: many families in leaking tin shacks with coconut-frond walls; unlined two-room huts held up to 19 people and infant deaths blamed on heat exposure; no water to houses for washing, for food preparation, to wash hands.
Missions: government grant less than $8.50 per person per week; food allocation under 50 cents per day, insufficient to meet official ration quota; requests for funding increases refused.
Missions and settlements: government funding reduced when federal pensions introduced
Private savings in government control: £725,000 ($13 million)
Amount diverted to investment: £622,000 ($11.2 million) (86%)
Missions and settlements: Medical survey reports malnutrition the key factor in deaths of 50% of children under three and 85% of children under four; half of all neonatal deaths and 47% of all deaths under sixteen years were from gastroenteritis or pneumonia, or both.
Private savings in government control: $1.44 million ($11.5 million)
Amount diverted to investment: $1.23 million ($9.8 million) (85%)
Palm Island: 165 homes for 1300 people – few have fridges, cupboards, beds; store routinely without milk and fresh food; massive infection loads from substandard living conditions; malnutrition underlies gastroenteritis and salmonella epidemic; 75% child outpatients severely underweight; parents petition parliament saying they cannot feed families on 58% of basic wage.
Private savings in government control: $1.26 million ($7.7 million)
Amount diverted to investment: $918,000 ($5.6 million) (73%)
Missions and settlements: survey shows 664 houses needed to bring occupancy under 8 people per home – Palm Island average 12, Napranum 14, Hopevale 19; Woorabinda still wood stoves and cold water and in ‘dire need of repair’; families at Pormpurraw and Palm Island in condemned houses because nothing else available; government freezes funding and diverts resources to wages causing massive backlog in maintenance and housing building.
The struggle to survive rural employment
The government knew the pastoral industry was dependent on Aboriginal workers, yet allowed them to be paid as little as 32% the white wage. The government knew employers and protectors defrauded wages, yet refused people permission to check their accounts. People were routinely refused requests to withdraw from their own savings; this entrenched poverty, causing many children to be taken away because of ‘neglect’.
Domestics: despite knowledge of sexual assaults government says it is too expensive to keep girls on the settlements and lose control of their income.
Rural reserves: rural workers banned from hotels or boarding houses yet government fails to provide amenities on its reserves.
Wage shortpaid: 5800 workers each underpaid around $5000 per year relative to award wage
Ravenshoe reserve: 40 people living in hessian & sheet-iron shanties, no water, children banned from school, government refuses to provide amenities.
Cooktown reserve: 60 people living in earthen-floored rusting shacks, not waterproof, children banned from school, government defers improvements
Cloncurry: government part-funds a house taking $80 each from local workers’ accounts; termite-ridden house declared uninhabitable and demolished 3 years later
Charters Towers: $8613 taken from workers’ accounts for toilets and sheds on reserve
Wage shortpaid: 3800 workers each underpaid around $6000 per year relative to award wage
Normanton reserve: described as ‘absolutely destitute’, no trees, no fresh water; industrial sheds built using $47,000 from Normanton workers’ accounts – the protector said they otherwise got ‘little benefit’ from their $1.6 million savings retained by the government
Aitkenvale: almost $225,000 of Palm Island child endowment funds diverted to build hostel for visitors and outpatients Townsville hospital – Palm Islanders denied access from 1969
Cooktown reserve: $8633 taken from workers’ accounts to replace sheds destroyed by cyclone
Wage shortpaid: 4500 workers each underpaid around $5400 per year relative to award wage
Pastoral camps: most pastoral camps never inspected; Strathburn workers in iron shed, no door or windows, no bunks, blankets or light, no eating table, paid only tobacco and matches
Rural reserves: government admits many workers with good finances live in deplorable poverty and children banned from schools, says it has no housing program for reserve dwellers
Wage shortpaid: 5000 workers each underpaid around $3800 per year relative to award wage
Rural reserves: government tries to discourage occupancy by refusing to improve conditions, advises councils to evict families ‘on health grounds’, shacks then demolished, reserves sold
Police trackers: still paid less than half the state minimum wage
Profiting from poverty
The government refused ever to pay award wages on reserve communities. Although it anticipated increased alcoholism and social upheaval, the government implemented a policy of mass unemployment and pitiful wages rather than fund wage increases. Non payment of award wages was illegal after passage of the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act.
Profit to government:
1975 – 2500 workers – $35 million
1980 – 1463 workers – $17 million (estimated underpayment)
1986 – 765 workers – $5.7 million
1975-1986 – $185 million
Family and community poverty and despair can be traced to the illegal withholding of these wages.