Aborigines 'determined' after court decision on wages


Bill Mason, Brisbane

Two Aboriginal communities say they are "bitterly disappointed" by the Federal Court's refusal to force the Queensland government to pay for lost wages. Justice John Dowsett ruled on August 19 that the state government didn't discriminate against members of the Hopevale or Wujal Wujal communities in far north Queensland who worked on church-run missions because it did not employ them.

Eight people took the government to court for hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation, claiming they were not paid award rates while working for the Lutheran Church between 1975 and 1986. However, the judge estimated that about 1500 Aboriginal workers could have been under-paid by around $20 million over that decade.

Hopevale Community Council legal officer Frankie Deemal said the people had originally taken the action against both the church and the state. "The church was dropped as a respondent because there was an overwhelming belief that the church was not the employer, rather the state was, and that the church was merely an agent of the state."

Hopevale's mayor, Greg McLean, said the community would appeal the decision. He said it was time that government and church acknowledged they played a part in the defrauding of Aborigines.

McLean said the ruling had left the Hopevale people more determined to seek compensation, not only for lost wages but also for other injustices against Aboriginal people.

From Green Left Weekly, August 31, 2005.
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