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Issue #1703      September 23, 2015

More on Stolen Wages

Payment of outstanding Stolen Wages to claimants around Queensland is closer, following the naming of a Reparations Taskforce to make recommendations to the state government about distribution of money.

Between 1905 and 1972, thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers had up to 75 percent of their earnings quarantined. Much of this money has still never been paid and is known as Stolen Wages.

Chaired by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda, the taskforce members are Pauline Ah Wang (Thursday Island), John Anderson (Brisbane), Gail Barry (Townsville), Rosaline Bourne (Mackay), Morris Cloudy (Townsville), Pamela Hegarty (Rockhampton), Raymond Sambo (Cairns), Marshall Saunders (Brisbane), Vivienne Schwartz (Rockhampton), and Thomas Sebasio and Viola Sheridan (both Brisbane).

They will consult with claimants and communities across the state and make recommendations to the Queensland government in November.

Ms Barry told the Koori Mail that she considered the appointment to the Reparations Taskforce a privilege and an honour. “I will work collaboratively with taskforce members and applicants to expedite Stolen Wages payments,” she said.

The Queensland Council of Unions (QCU) has worked hard to get the government to pay the Stolen Wages. In 2002, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie promised $55 million in Stolen Wages reparations. However, after initial payments of $4,000-$7,000, the government decided not to pay the entire $55 million and put $21 million into an education fund.

Townsville branch president Les Moffitt was thrilled at progress towards a resolution of the Stolen Wages after a long campaign for fairness. “It’s important that representatives of those communities most affected have the opportunity to meet and together plan the best way forward,” he said.

“There are more than 3,000 estimated claimants who were knocked back under the past scheme because previous governments could not find their records. Now these people will be treated fairly with the respect they deserve for their hard work.”

Mr Moffitt commended the prompt actions of the Palaszczuk government to fulfil an election commitment to resolve the Stolen Wages. “The taskforce work offers hope for previously unsuccessful claimants such as Uncle Conrad Yeatman, 74, seeking reparation for wages he said were never paid to him when he worked as a carpenter and labourer in north Queensland in the 1950s,” Mr Moffitt said.

Mr Moffitt also outlined the case of the Ah Wang identical twins, Paul and Arthur, now aged 80. The pair had worked alongside each other on a pearling boat in the late 1940s but only Paul’s work records survived. Paul received reparations in 2003 but Arthur was denied any payments.

“He now has some hope of receiving fair outcome after 60 years; justice from a time when these workers simply had their wages stolen by their white ‘protectors’,” Mr Moffitt said.

The state government has committed to resource the taskforce in addition to the $21 million it will payout in reparations to Stolen Wages claimants.

An initial taskforce meeting will be followed by various community consultations to gather information and input towards final recommendations for the government in November, with payments in late 2015.

Mr Moffitt said the QCU would monitor the progress of taskforce objectives and continue consulting with the Indigenous community on Stolen Wages.

The taskforce recommendations will cover who should be eligible for payments; how the payments should be allocated; and the best method for claims to be assessed.

Many of the claimants are elderly and ill, and fear they may die before payments are received.

Koori Mail

Next article – Coal’s last gasp

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