Newman government halts Stolen Wages case

Conrad Yeatman speaking outside the court in Brisbane. Photo: Support the Stolen Wages Elders of Queensland/FB.

A Brisbane court has upheld the state government's application for a permanent stay on legal action by Aboriginal elder Uncle Conrad Yeatman for retrieval of stolen wages.

This was a blow to an elders group that has been campaigning for many years for payment of stolen wages, taken under the Aboriginals Preservation and Protection Act 1939. Between 1904 and 1972, the state controlled the wages and savings of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The campaign has been supported by the Queensland Council of Unions. QCU secretary Ron Monaghan said: “These workers, some as young as 10 when they started, were denied the basic elements all workers take for granted.

“Workers were not paid their wages, paid more tax than other Queenslanders and were denied the right to use their savings as they saw fit.”

The previous Labor government made a compensation offer of $55 million in 2002, even though up to $550 million had been withheld in wages. A $7000 limit was placed on the compensation payments, which fell far short of the amount actually owed to claimants.

Yeatman was owed $35,000 and rejected the “compensation” payment. He began legal action in 2009 to retrieve his stolen wages. This was seen as a test case for the Stolen Wages campaign.

The Liberal-National government applied to the court to stop proceedings and end any further progress on the case, saying records were non-existent and alleging that Yeatman's account of events had faded.

The Brisbane District Court ruled in favour of the government and ordered Yeatman to pay costs.

Monaghan said compensation claimants and their supporters had vowed to continue their battle for fair reparation of stolen wages. “The issue is that these workers were denied fair wages and should be repaid properly,” he said.

“To deny them is to endorse racist and inhuman practices that no modern Queenslander would stand for.”

QCU said it would be planning further activities to highlight the injustices suffered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers.

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