The Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia released the statement below on March 6.
* * *
The Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia (ALSWA) has slammed the WA state government’s offer of up to $2000 to Aboriginal workers whose past wages were stolen by the state.
“This is a slap in the face and a cruel and heartless offer which offends the very notion of recompense,” said ALSWA CEO Adjunct Professor Dennis Eggington.
“This is not just about stolen wages or pensions that were withheld, nor is it about coming up with an equitable scheme. This state’s economic power was built upon the backs of hard-working, proud Indigenous men and women who had their hard-earned wages withheld.
“To now offer these people such a paltry amount diminishes the contributions that our people have made. Any offer made must also ensure that monies are repaid in terms of today’s monetary value.”
This offer comes six years after ALSWA’s submission to the Senate Inquiry into Stolen Wages recommending the just return of stolen wages to Aboriginal workers.
Eggington said: “This offer is an affront to all fair-minded Western Australians who believe in common decency and a fair go and it is a vile and disgusting breach of the duty of this state to those whose wages were stolen.
“In a state that is reaping a fortune from the resource sector, to offer nothing more than the crumbs off the table is reminiscent of the mission ration days. In the current economic climate it is hardly any better than flour and tea.”
Many Indigenous workers had their wages withheld in trust accounts by successive state governments and [due to] the early mortality rate of Indigenous adults, many have not survived long enough to see their wages returned.
“This is not just about paying back what was stolen in today’s value, but also rewriting this state’s shameful history to ensure that the contributions made by our people are rightfully acknowledged,” said Eggington.
“ALSWA urges the Indigenous affairs minister, Peter Collier, to retract the offensive offer and begin urgent negotiations to settle upon a fair and equitable amount commensurate with the valuable contributions that Indigenous men and women have made to WA.
“The significant legacy these people left this state was paid for in blood, sweat and tears and to have this measured so meagrely is heart breaking to those who have survived and insulting to the families of those who didn’t.”
ALSWA will be encouraging people to continue down the path of litigation and not settle for anything less than they are entitled to.