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Issue #1562      29 August 2012

WA Stolen wages plea

The deadline for applications under the West Australian government’s controversial Stolen Wages Reparation Scheme is looming, but the state’s peak Aboriginal legal body is calling for an extension.

The Aboriginal Legal Service of WA (ALSWA) says it has already lodged 230 applications for claimants but has more than another 100 under way, and is still being inundated with people seeking more information and assistance with their applications – just a fortnight before the September 6 cut-off.

The scheme was established in March to make ex gratia payments of up to $2,000, as an expression of regret, to Aboriginal people whose wages or income were controlled by previous state governments.

Eligible to apply are people born before 1958 who can prove that they lived at a government Native Welfare Settlement and were subject to income control, where Aboriginal people had up to 75 per cent of their wages taken and kept in trust accounts. Descendants are not eligible to apply.

The Barnett government determined the amount on the basis that a significant lack of reliable record-keeping, lapsed time and the passing of many people impacted by Stolen Wages made it impossible to determine the full impact or the true value of any compensation.

There was massive community outcry over the offer, which was described as “paltry”, “heartless”, “a slap in the face” and not even enough to pay for a funeral.

“When the WA government came out earlier this year and offered up to $2,000 to Aboriginal workers whose wages were stolen by the state, we were astounded,” ALSWA CEO Dennis Eggington told the Koori Mail at the weekend.

“How could any fair-minded government fail to see the injustice of this offer, particularly in a state as prosperous as WA where our people played such a significant role in contributing to the ongoing wealth that is still enjoyed by this state today.”

Deaf ears

Calls for an extension for the deadline for applications have so far fallen on deaf ears, and Mr Eggington said Indigenous Affairs Minister Peter Collier informed ALSWA last month that the figure of up to $2,000 would also not be increased.

“It was widely agreed by people that we spoke with that the amount offered was poor recompense,” Mr Eggington said.

“However, for those affected, as low as it was, the compensation was better than they had, which has been nothing. People have the right to claim for whatever they can get to reclaim those stolen wages and we will do everything we can to support them through that process.

“Our Civil Unit has worked tirelessly assisting people who have come forward to lodge an application in Perth and have also been visiting regional areas of the state to let community members know about the compensation and help out with applications where needed.”

Mr Eggington said ALSWA would still pursue legal options for those who missed out on applying through such a narrow scheme.

Yamatji man Phill Moncrieff has campaigned on Stolen Wages for years and says he supports people applying for the $2,000 but hopes that won’t be the end of the matter.

“There’s also an opportunity for the old people to launch a collective class action against the government to make them own up and pay up what should have been paid,” the musician and “freedom fighter” told the Koori Mail.

Mr Moncrieff’s mother Alice, now 84, worked as a domestic servant in the Gascoyne region for more than two decades without payment.

“My mum never got paid from the age of 11 to when she was 28. That’s child slave labour,” Mr Moncrieff said. “This state cannot hold its head high and say they paid Aboriginal people the wages worthy of them.”

Mr Moncrieff lamented what he saw as a lack of community support for those seeking Stolen Wages justice but said he hoped ALSWA would back any class action that arose.

A NSW reparations scheme, now closed, paid up to $11,000 to people who proved they’d had their wages stolen. Another scheme in Queensland made initial payments of $4,000 or $2,000 to successful claimants.

The Koori Mail contacted the office of Minister Peter Collier but received no response.

Koori Mail  

Next article – Solidarity statement – Standing with CFMEU Melbourne workers

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