Stolen wages: truth and justice
I’ll start with a little of my own background. For my PhD topic in 1990 I decided to investigate something I knew nothing about – namely how the Qld government controlled Aboriginal lives during the 19th and 20th century. I made this decision because I thought the topic was too important to be based on government assertions and media summaries. I am still campaigning today, because I know governments are still lying about what was done in past & what they are doing now
The starting point of my 15-year project was this: since governments in Qld controlled every aspect of Aboriginal lives, then the mess we’re in today can only be understood by analysing what those governments did. History doesn’t just unfold: history is a narrative of the dynamics of power – in this case, how the government used the power it appropriated over Aboriginal Queenslanders.
It is my understanding that Aboriginal people weren’t born into poverty until white settlement denied them the access they had enjoyed for millennia to the fruits of the earth. I’m not assuming some romantic paradise. I’m merely saying there was a choice to move with the seasons and that choice sustained Aboriginal lives and culture for tens of thousands of years. And when the government stepped in the mid-nineteenth century, that choice, those lives, were brutally diminished.
In Qld from 1865 any child of an Aboriginal mother could be put in an institution for training and sent out to menial work. The government admitted, in the early 1900s, that this was virtual slavery. In 1897 the government gave itself the right to take any Aboriginal person from their family and country and either confine them on a mission or settlement, or contract them out to work. There was no due process, no right of appeal, in fact no explanation. By this law, the Aboriginal Protection & Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act, the government took for itself the right to control every aspect of Aboriginal lives. It was thereby totally responsible for their wellbeing. There is no doubt that it failed that responsibility.
From 1901 the government took control of all maritime employment around Cape York where it set a minimum monthly wage of about $46 today; mainland workers got only half that. The government took the right, through its network of police protectors, to retain or sell Aboriginal property. Regulations in 1904 listed wage rates for children under 12 years, amounting to $5.80 a week, although most of it went direct to the protector to be banked in the child’s name.
When John Bleakley took the position of chief protector in 1914 he expanded the compulsorily contracted workforce, increased minimum wages, and demanded every worker’s wage be paid direct to local protectors, thus increasing government holdings of Aboriginal earnings from around $875,000 to almost $4 million in that year alone. But workers could only access their money by asking the protector, and people, even with large savings, were routinely refused. The government knew police fraud was rife from as early as 1904 when it introduced thumb printing to reduce it; and it knew frauds continued. Yet it refused to allow people to see any record of their accounts – until 1969!
In 1919 the government successfully lobbied to exclude Aboriginal workers from the Station Hands Award. It struck a deal with the pastoral industry – their key voter base – to freeze Aboriginal wages at 66% the white rate. This was despite a raft of testimonials over several years confirming that many employers that Aboriginal workers were equally or better skilled than their white colleagues. The government continued to sanction Aboriginal child labour, although head office permission was now needed to employ children under 12. The new pay scale increased government holdings of Aboriginal savings to over $5.6 million while families continued to struggle and die in poverty. Workers were responsible for maintaining their families on this fractional wage; failure to do so triggered removal to a reserve.
Also in 1919, the government imposed a tax on Aboriginal earnings, taking 5% from single workers’ wages and 2.5% from married workers’, although of course it didn’t inform workers of this confiscation. This levy went into a new trust fund, the Aboriginal Provident Fund, which was supposed to provide for sick or unemployed workers.
By 1920 the government had taken sole power over Aboriginal labour, wage rates, savings and trust funds. How well did it exercise this power? A public service inquiry in 1922 produced alarming evidence of negligence and misappropriation. Head office did not supervise the 8000 rural savings accounts and police practices were so unreliable the commissioners insisted workers be allowed to appeal dealings on their accounts. The government rejected this recommendation. The Provident Fund levy had stripped nearly $150,000 from workers’ earnings in 1922 alone, although nearly half the deductions were wrong. Despite an appalling drought less than 10% had been allocated from this Fund to relieve distressed workers. But the government had taken large amounts from the Provident Fund and from a second trust fund of unclaimed wages and deceased estates held for workers’ dependents; it diverted this to construction on the settlements, funding for missions and costs of compulsory deportations.
Initially the government had not exploited its powers to remove individuals and families onto missions and settlements; transportation was costly and financial responsibility for inmates was avoided as a burden on the state. However Bleakley had taken a different tack from 1914. His view was that it was easier to remove Aborigines from the landscape than invoke existing laws to control physical and sexual abuses. He was keen on the idea of separate communities which would be self-sufficient and under full control. By 1920 around 5000 people were confined on reserves, denied the profits of their own labour and the capacity to feed and house their own families, educate their children, secure their own futures. They were fed atrocious rations, lived in derelict shelters, were frequently dependent on contaminated water, and lacked the most basic medical attention. The government knew this, it is recorded on their files.
To qualify for this ‘care’ by the state, every able-bodied worker was expected to help develop and maintain the communities. Into the late 1950s only a very few were paid a token amount. For those who got outside work from time to time, the government took 10% from the wages of those who were married and half that from those who were single, as a ‘contribution’ towards settlement costs. Again, people had no idea this was happening, nor if the deductions were accurate. Often both parents were docked the 10% levy. Documents show the government knew this tax was unauthorised.
Systemic police fraud was again exposed in 1932 when an inquiry found that ‘the opportunity for fraud existed to a greater degree than with any other Governmental accounts’. The chief protector again admitted there were no real controls over official dealings on private accounts, and again rejected the recommendation that workers be allowed to see what was done with their money. The government was again exposed for raiding Aboriginal money: during and after the 1929-32 depression years, it simply transferred around $3.5 million out of the two Trust funds ‘for departmental purposes’, rendering the deceased estates’ fund technically insolvent.
So what did the government do to fix this system? It centralised the bulk of workers’ savings in Brisbane in 1933 to ‘minimise fraud by members of the Police Force who are Protectors.’ And then it sidelined over 80% of these private monies – almost $15 million – into investments to raise revenue for Treasury. This earned interest of $320,500 in 1933 alone, money which legally belonged to account holders. The government continued this manipulation of bulk savings until 1970.
The government ran its contract-labour system for 70 years. It gave employers the right to pay into workers’ hands between 30-80% of wages. Countless times the government was warned workers were not getting this ‘pocket money’, yet it never fixed the system. The 1932 inquiry stated it could be ‘reasonably assumed’ that workers were cheated. In 1943 protectors described the system as a farce and a direct profit to employers, in 1956 they said it was useless, futile and out of control, with workers ‘entirely at the mercy’ of employers who simply doctored the books. In contempt of this knowledge, the government rejected auditors’ calls for external inspectors as ‘too costly’. In the mid-1960s it admitted pocket money was probably not paid ‘in many instances’. And the financial loss to workers? The pastoral workforce numbered between 3000 and 5000 people in the 50 years to 1968. Potentially an average of 50% of their wages may never have been paid; that’s many millions every yearthat the government knew was not paid ‘in many instances’. When an inquiry in 1941 confirmed yet again the ongoing misuse of trust monies and illegal dealings on savings Bleakley was declared incompetent and forced to resign. But the malfunctioning systems remained in place.
I want to stop here for a moment for a reality check. I realise that for most of you the 1930s & 40s seem like the dark ages. But please keep in mind that this is the time when the parents of people like aunty Ruth were trapped in this system. And the opportunities and finances which they were forced to do without impacted not only on the lives of aunty Ruth, but on what she could offer her children as well. Poverty and hardship are generational. Please don’t assume this is ‘old history’. Its effects are played out in the circumstances of people today.
In 1956 a department survey confirmed the pastoral industry was entirely dependent on Aboriginal workers, particularly in remote areas where white stockmen were rare. The inspector said the entrenched mentality was to pay ‘as little as possible for Aboriginal workers’, while ‘white men of markedly less ability and industry receive higher wages and better living conditions than Aboriginals who are better workmen’. Records show the government frequently failed to demand even the 66% wage parity. Rates for the 4500 workers fell to only 31 per cent in 1949 and 59 per cent in 1956 – millions more dollars ‘stolen’ through government negligence. Only after 1972 did Aboriginal pastoral workers get equal wages and control over their own labour. For the first time elderly family members and wives who had been compelled to work for free on the stations could refuse to be exploited.
I want to turn attention now to the missions and settlements, and I want you to keep in mind that ‘care and control’ of reserve inmates was a government responsibility. These communities were built by Aboriginal labour, largely unpaid, and remain assets for the government today. By the 1960s there were over 8500 people confined on reserves struggling to survive on rations. A medical survey of government settlements revealed malnutrition was the key factor in deaths of 50 per cent of children under three. It found 47 per cent of deaths of children under sixteen were from gastroenteritis or pneumonia or both. To deflect national and international condemnation, the government introduced cash economies on its reserves in 1968. But it set the wage for its 2500 employees at only $116 per week, less than half the minimum wage, and most of this was withheld for ‘amenities’. Living costs were dramatically higher on these remote communities. The government knew school absenteeism soared because many lacked food for children’s lunches, it knew people could not afford even the grossly discounted rent for new commonwealth houses, it knew houses were therefore dangerously overcrowded.
In 1972, when it was paying its employees 58% the basic wage, the government knew poverty was so dire many families survived on bread and syrup, most homes lacked cupboards or beds, few could afford refrigerators, and the electricity supply was so inadequate families were routinely refused permission to buy them. A medical survey at that time showed deaths of children under five from gastroenteritis and pneumonia were 34 times that of white children, due to ‘massive infection loads resulting from substandard living conditions’. Sickness and death were quite clearly grounded in deliberate financial deprivation by the authority charged with their ‘care and protection’.
After passage of the Racial Discrimination Act in 1975 it was illegal to under pay workers on the basis of race. In 1978 premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen demanded the federal government cover the costs of bringing community wages to award levels, threatening to retrench 850 workers at the risk of ‘massive social problems’ from unemployment and ‘other factors’. When this demand was refused the Qld government resolved to freeze wages funding. As pay rates rose massive sackings drove workforce numbers from around 2500 in 1976 to under 800 a decade later, frequently jeopardising essential services. And the government sat by and watched the ‘massive social problems’ unfold.
From at least 1979 the Qld government had legal advice that its policy to under pay Aboriginal employees breached State industrial law and the federal RDA. By illegally short changing the very people it was mandated to ‘protect’ the government effectively stole almost $187 million from these workers between 1975 and 1986, in full knowledge that this underpayment was illegal, and in full knowledge of consequential dire poverty. Rightful payment of this money to community workers would have dramatically altered living circumstances and prospects, then and now. After losing a case in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in 1996, the government in 1999 made available $7000 for each worker underpaid in the 1975-1986 period. This deal terminated in January 2003 after payments totalling almost $40 million, a massive profit for the State.
Wages missing through police fraud over the decades, savings lost through incorrect calculations of levies, government misappropriation from trust funds, bank and investment interest seized by the government – these are all part of what is now broadly termed the Stolen Wages. In addition, altho I haven’t had time to speak of it today, is workers compensation not properly claimed or fully distributed, deceased estates not paid to descendants, and child endowment improperly seized and illegally spent. A separate matter, although equally blighted by negligence and misappropriation, is the Aboriginal Welfare Fund, which currently holds around $9 million and which the Beattie government is desperate to distribute before too many questions are asked.
So that gives you a very sketchy picture of government assumption of power over Aboriginal lives during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and how those powers translated into policies and practices. After the break, I want to talk about the current political and legal campaign to retrieve these Stolen Wages.
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In the first section I gave you a very brief outline of the history of government management of Aboriginal lives here in Queensland. This showed how easily – and how comprehensively – the government took control, including over labour and finances. It was quite clear that Aboriginal people had no say in the imposition of these controls which continued until 1970. Of course a range of controls continue today over those who live on the communities, for the simple reason that the government holds title to the land and dictates the terms of local government funding.
I want now to suggest to you that history is a continuing story; it continues in the present, and because of this each one of us has the opportunity to be part of how it unfolds. I think we are at a critical stage for our state and nationally: if enough of us work together to force the government to pay its financial and humanitarian debts, then perhaps we can heal the ragged sore that currently blights our history. So I ask you to keep that in mind, as I talk about our ongoing campaign for justice.
In May 2002 premier Peter Beattie announced an offer of $55.6 million to bring closure to the fight for Stolen Wages. People older than 56 years would get $4000 and those between 50 – 56 would get half that, as full and final payment. Beattie admitted there were 4000 potential litigants waiting in the wings and that the government had already spent over $1.5 million preparing its defence against legal challenges. He said many people expected far more and quoted my estimate of at least $500 million in question, and he admitted it was impossible to know how much people were owed. Yet he claimed his offer of $2000/$4000 would right past wrongs in a fair and balanced way, and was made ‘in the spirit of reconciliation’. He urged people to accept it before more elders died. This offer was conditional on claimants surrendering their right to sue the government, but he promised people would receive a parliamentary apology. He said it was a win for the taxpayers and for indigenous people. He was half right.
Some people felt the payment was better than nothing, perhaps enough to put a headstone on a loved parent’s grave. Others were disgusted, judging it an insult for decades of unremunerated labour. A meeting of elders at Yarrabah rejected the offer outright, declaring that, dying or not, they would not be bought off with such a pittance. (To keep this ‘generous gesture of reconciliation’ in perspective, you’ll be interested to know the government had just offered over $6500 in addition to two weeks’ pay for every year’s service to persuade up to 3000 public servants to take voluntary retirement. This followed payments of $50,000 each to retrain 200 under-performing teachers.)
The government paid consultation teams to fan out across Queensland to gauge community response to its offer. These teams distributed information endorsed by the government warning people thinking of rejecting the offer that the government had the funds to oppose them and legal advice it would win any actions. The information said litigation could take twelve years like the Mabo case and that losers could be personally liable for ‘extremely expensive’ lawsuits. The parliamentary apology was now downgraded to an individual apology and an assurance that traditional owners would henceforth be acknowledged at the beginning of all government business. People were urged to sign a form accepting the offer and many were told if they held back the government might withdraw it altogether.
On the communities the offer was attacked as a ‘lousy pittance’ for a lifetime’s financial deprivation, especially in comparison with the $7000 compensation for short-paid wages, due to those with as little as one week’s work history. In every location, people vented their anger, describing the amount variously as blackmail, sickening, discriminating, a rip off, and equivalent to what some politicians pocketed in a week. People protested they had worked all their lives for a pittance while the government took their money, including child endowment, pensions and inheritances. Others described the shame of accepting something they could not afford to refuse. Effectively, they protested, they were forced to take it. And it was money they were owed, not reconciliation at all. As one Doomadgee resident said, they were being robbed again.
A coalition of indigenous organisations formed to fight the rushed process, the lack of proper consultation and the paltry amount. There was a street march in Brisbane and a petition to parliament urging the government rethink the amount and the process. We circulated two stolen wages fact sheets to potential claimants and the general public, setting out the historical and financial background of government mismanagement during the twentieth century. Despite constant pressure that the offer should be accepted by early August, Beattie and minister Judy Spence were forced to admit, in the last week, that the acceptance form was not a government document, had no legal value, did not guarantee reparations – in fact was just a survey.
Against all the evidence, the consultation teams reported almost 96% in favour of the government’s offer – a figure enthusiastically parroted by Beattie and Spence over succeeding months. But this was a lie. The report clearly shows less than 21% of potential claimants accepted the offer. The mythical 96% was the quantum relative to the less than 22% who bothered to fill in the form.
With the government refusing to budge on the amount or the process, campaigners widened their focus to the demand for indemnity: most people had never seen their wages and savings records; how could anyone possible give informed consent in such a compromised climate of inducement and misinformation. Most people thought they were signing off only on Stolen Wages; they had no idea the wording of the indemnity – designed to cover every aspect of all legislation – would also preclude actions for physical and sexual assaults, and for negligent duty of care.
In January 2003 the government put out a tender for legal practitioners to act as independent legal advisers to oversee the signing of indemnities. But it limited applications to those lawyers who had ‘demonstrated willingness to work cooperatively with departmental staff’. And it still refused to supply all potential claimants with their personal documentation. The promised parliamentary apology was further downgraded: the Deed of Agreement itself now constituted the written apology by the state. More bizarrely: the claimant’s signature was now said to confirm their agreement that the government had made the apology and payment ‘in the spirit of reconciliation’. How could a claimant possibly vouch for the government’s intent?
Eminent justice, Marcus Einfeld QC, former federal court judge and foundation president of HREOC in Australia, said the process effectively blackmailed people to accept the offer or most likely die before seeing the money owed to them. He said lawyers could not provide competent legal advice to clients who lacked financial records. Terry O’Gorman, vice-president of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, also attacked the process, querying the ‘independence’ of advice provided only by government-approved lawyers. He raised the further point that lawyers who followed instructions only to discuss the government offer might themselves be sued if they failed to inform claimants that it was common knowledge, publicly admitted even by Beattie and Spence, that the payout was much lower than likely entitlements. He said the government-appointed lawyers should tell their clients to seek independent legal advice as to whether the advice they were given was in their best interests.
In mid-2003 the coalition launched a postcard campaign which personalised the fight for justice through references to two underpaid workers. Funded through a range of unions and ANTaR, tens of thousands of the postcards have been distributed nationally and internationally, a campaign Beattie later admitted had been politically damaging. A Stolen Wages Working Group was convened of union and coalition members, to devise further campaign strategy. If you want to download the postcard and/or be part of this fight, you can talk to Victor, or contact ANTaR on www.antar.org.au.
In the face of this campaign, the government stuck to its mantra of generosity and reconciliation, insisting it was not under legal pressure to settle the stolen wages, had never been challenged in court, and had top level legal advice it would win. In fact none of these claims are true. Beattie himself told parliament the offer was in part intended to pre-empt the 4000 potential litigants ‘waiting in the wings’, and he had also referred to a previous out of court settlement, which, ironically Spence herself had taken media credit for exactly three years earlier. And records show the government had known since at least 1996 that it might be found legally accountable for all income and expenditure in the Aboriginal savings accounts, which a court might well characterise as a ‘true trust’. As such, the government as trustee would be liable to fully account to all beneficiaries by providing full records of all transactions.
The government now changed tack, with Spence claiming all the savings accounts had been paid out in the early 1970s, and this could be clearly traced because accounts were audited every year. Yet she knew full well the Stolen Wages fight has never been about the residue remaining in accounts in the 1970s. It is about the dimensions of loss preceding that date. Not surprisingly Spence did not mention the decades of constant and trenchant criticisms by auditors which I spoke of earlier. Despite constant attempts to bring the government into new negotiations on the amount and process, it remains unmoved, although we do continue to apply pressure behind the scenes and publicly. The SWWG has been working closely with the unions and last year we succeeded in having a resolution passed at the state Labor party conference. This commits Labor to see the current offer as a first step to full reparations, to consult fully with the community to find a better resolution, to look at including families of deceased workers in reparations, and to rethink the legal rights of workers who accept the $2000/$4000.
To date the Beattie government has simply ignored this party resolution. The $55.4 million offer for stolen wages ends in December this year. So far less than half the number of possible claimants has applied. Of those almost 30% are rejected because the government has no paperwork to confirm their work history. The government now suggests it will divert any residue into the Welfare Fund, arrogantly ignoring the community’s wishes that the total be used as wages compensation, inclusive of descendants of deceased workers. I think you all have a survey form on which you can register your opinions on this.
Our public political campaign continues in the media with radio interviews and articles where we can interest the press in this cause. Unfortunately, most of the press see this as either an ‘Aboriginal’ issue – and they assure me they do many ‘Aboriginal’ stories, or they see it as history, an old story lacking current impact. How they judge the commitment of $100 million of taxpayers money to shut down legal actions as unremarkable and ‘lacking current impact’ I cannot understand.
Over the last 15 years I’ve read thousands of government documents impacting on policy and politics at the highest level. And that has confirmed for me that political integrity is an oxymoron, except as far as it relates to holding the party together and in power. And unfortunately, given the general ‘dumbing down’ of the average member of public, I think Beattie is probably on the right political path playing a dead bat and relying on ultimate disinterest.
So this is why my focus over the last few years has moved into the legal sphere. Here governments don’t control – and will be held to – terms of debate from a higher realm, namely the courts of law. But can we get the government into court? Can we make it accountable under legal definitions of equity, liability, responsibility, duty of care? This has never been done in Australia. The under award case was brought in the HREOC as a breach of the Racial Discrimination Act. Mabo of course tested native title, and cases in the Northern Territory and NSW tested, and failed to prove legal grounds, for breaches of governments duty of care to the stolen generation. As I see it, these big ticket issues are very much concerned with ethics and intent and thereby difficult to slot into cold hard legal categorisations.
Now I should say at this point, that I am not trained in law. But I am certainly a very committed scholar. A key aspect of both these Australian cases, and one which interests me greatly, is the notion of fiduciary duty. This is a duty which arises because a person or entity holds power over another sufficient to affect the interests of the second party. It is because of that power differential that the fiduciary, and in this instance I’m thinking the government, has a legal duty of trust. And a legal duty of trust carries with it several requirements: always to act in the interests of the beneficiary, never to profit from the trust relationship, never to hold a conflict of interest, to keep full and accurate records, and to provide on request a full account for all trust property. Many relationships import a fiduciary duty, but it seems that the courts mainly become interested when that duty relates to finances and property.
In the first part of this lecture I sketched out how the government had taken control of Aboriginal lives from the turn of last century, whittling away people’s rights over their own labour, wages, savings, family and circumstances of living. So I don’t think there’s any doubt that the government stood as a fiduciary to those people it took into control ‘under the Acts’. While I think governments should be held to account for failing their duty of care on the reserves – substandard schooling, rations, health care, shelter etc – I am leaving this to one side for the moment to concentrate on finances and property, because these are areas which legal opinion suggests will present much higher chances of conviction.
There is certainly evidence that the government failed to act in the best interests of the beneficiaries: it knowingly maintained a system under which people’s wages were defrauded not only be their employers but by the government’s own agents, the police protectors. It took levies from wages and arguably did not use that money entirely for the beneficiaries interests. It contracted people out at much less than their skilled entitlement. It intercepted and misused child endowment and pensions. It failed to properly distribute deceased estates. In fact, at almost every point where the government exercised its financial prerogatives, it failed to secure the best interests of the Aboriginal people it had forced into dependency upon it. The government has also failed to keep proper records of its transactions on Aboriginal monies: it is this primary breach of a trustee’s duties which prevents many people from claiming the reparations. And perversely, it is this very fragmentation of records which governments – in both Queensland and New South Wales – invoke to suggest we can never really establish what went on.
I would argue also that the government has profited from its management of Aboriginal monies, by investing private savings and keeping the interest bonus, by using endowment and pensions to offset state funding obligations. I would argue that the government has been negligent in its duty to maintain trust assets – and here I’m particularly interested in the Welfare Fund which we have not really touched on today. Indeed an inquiry in 1991 found that the government could be found guilty of misappropriation and negligence on this Fund which was established ‘for the benefit of Aborigines generally’ and so remains an asset of the Aboriginal community. The government must not dispose of what remains in this fund before there is an independent assessment of its true value, and until there is restitution of lost monies.
So what are our chances in the courts? As I said, no case such as this has ever been brought in Australia. But of course that needn’t stop us. Indeed this is precisely the focus of a book I’m working on, courtesy of a research fellowship from Griffith University. And we do have international precedents. Very briefly, I have been watching with fascination a case in the US brought by 500,000 plaintiffs against the federal government for misappropriation and negligent dealing on their private earnings. This class action includes past and present account holders. It commenced in 1996 and has been through several stages in the court process and the plaintiffs have won every stage against an amazing background of government obstruction and contempt of court process. In September 2003 the judge demanded the government account for every cent it had controlled back to 1887 when the trust commenced. And where proper distribution cannot be documented, that amount will not be deemed to have been paid; the fragmentation of records will not diminish this accountability. The US government’s own assessment of its liability is an astounding $AU50 billion.
So this is what I’d like to see for Queensland. No, not the $50 billion – I’m afraid that derives from over a century of oil, gas, forestry & farming income, whereas what we’re after is partly lost wages, savings, entitlements. But that, even Beattie concedes, could well be at least $500 million. This is money earned or inherited by Aboriginal families, it should have been in their pockets during many decades. Instead it has enriched government coffers while people struggled to survive.
So I am working towards several goals. I want to see a comprehensive court dissection of just how governments handled the powers they assumed and the finances they seized from the very beginning. I’d like to see that played out, over several weeks, in the TV and print media. I’d hope these revelations will re-educate the average member of the public to understand just how Aboriginal poverty and despair was inflicted through deliberate practices of governments which even today refuse to admit their callous abuses of powers and responsibilities. I’d like see courts orders for an independent assessment of all trust fund management back to the turn of last century to chronicle all the sins of omission and commission. I’d like an actuary to determine – just as would happen for any other institution – the levels of loss and the amounts of restitution.
So yes, I’m ambitious. But all my research encourages me to believe it is within the realms of possibility. There are cases already in the pipeline. For many months a range of lawyers have been working pro bono with clients who reject the Beattie offer and want to fight for their full entitlements. The lawyers’ association QPILCH is handling queries on this, and you can contact them directly on 3012 9773 or through ANTaR. If you want to make contact but lose the numbers, you can google my name & send me an email – I’ll pass it on. I guess also, although I haven’t run this by them, that people willing to work or research unpaid, would also be welcome.
So you can see that for me Stolen Wages is about much more than money; its about truth and justice
- the truth about how governments controlled the lives, labour & finances of Aboriginal families
- how knowing that truth gives us a different understanding of Aboriginal experiences and a new understanding of ourselves as the ‘dominant’ culture
- using that truth to get justice for what was done wrong in the past, so we can heal as a nation in the present