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Sunday, 19 August 2007

Indigenous Stolen Wages - Senate committee report

One indigenous issue on which there has not been a noticeably speedy response by the Federal government, is the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Report Unfinished Business: Indigenous Stolen Wages.

For a copy of the Report see:
http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/committee/legcon_ctte/stolen_wages/report/index.htm (Can't get the link to work properly)

The report was tabled in December 2006 and was remarkably enough unanaimious in its conclusions, thoroughly nonpartisan, and in its recommendations sought the establishment of a number of processes by the Commonwealth and state governments to document more completely the pattern and extent of indigenous stolen wages.

The silence, in terms of a response to the report, 8 months later, so far has been deafening, certainly at a national level. The WA Government has set up a Taskforce to look into the issue in their state. The findings on the evidence so far dug out by historians and on the basis of testimony given the indigenous people might not be pretty.

The extent to which a bunch of 'Aussie Battlers" (indigenous) had been ripped off over the past hundred and fifty years by governments, missions, pastoral companies, retailers, police you would think would have the country up in arms. The silence from mainstream media has been remarkable - with the honorable exception of the National Indigenous Times.

The issue of stolen wages is not a matter of "black arm band history". This is a matter of robbery, misappropriation, fraud, failure of trust. True conservatives who believe in private property and the rule of law should be screaming blue murder.

The option for indigenous people to build an economic stake in this country, to do the things that the government wants them to do in engaging with the market economy was denied them by those who forced them to work for totally inadequate ages and then withheld large proportions of that inadequate amount.

State goverment's are right in the firing line on this issue ad they were resonsible for the managing the welfre of indigenous people.

Ros Kidd's account of the history of misappopriation, fraud, cost shifting by the Queensland government in her recent work Trustees on Trial, based on painstaking archival research, should make your hair stand on end. If doctrines and standards of fiduciary duty currently applied in the commercial sphere were applied to the Queensland Government's handling of money held in trust for indigenous people the government would be tied up in court for a very long time and facing some very hefty pay outs.

A submission to the Senate Committee by the Aboriginal Legal Services of WA subsequent to the tabling of the report provided information on investigations undertaken in 1965-66 into the administration of Commonwealth entitlements in the Kimberley. The investigation showed that there were ongoing abuses into the payment of pensions and the amounts withheld by station owners acting under the authority of the state government indigenous affairs department. Much of the money so withheld appears to have been misappropriated.

Essentially the Department of Social Services investigation showed that misappropriation of pension money, overcharging for goods, complete lack of account keeping and in some cases theft by warrantees, those charged with handling the withheld pension money. What happened? Apparently nothing. Not a good look.

A positive and prompt response to the Senate Committee recommendations to investigate the actions by government in their handling of money held in trust for indigenous people would be a good start and a gesture of good will.

The Senate Committee report paints part of the background against which the critical response of indigenous people to recent government policy initiatives in the Northern Territory can be understood.

Government taking control over portions of payments due to be paid to indigenous people? Have we been here before? what happened last time we went down this track? You can understand why people with memories, with stories passed down the family about withholding of wages and payments might be a trifle suspicious.

You could understand if indigenous people were to take the view that "the whitefellas did a pretty good job of doing the blackfellas over last time around, financially speaking and still haven't got the accounts sorted out. Why sould we trust them this time around?"

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