Politics

Queensland Is Finally Paying Back $190 Million In Stolen Wages To Indigenous People

The decision might pave the way for other states to do the same.

aboriginal flag queensland

The Queensland Government has agreed to pay back $190 million in wages stolen from Indigenous Australians between 1939 and 1972, in a landmark decision that might actually see other states follow suit.

If you haven’t heard of the stolen wages in question, that’s not surprising: this country has been in denial about this for a very long time. Basically, over the course of Australian history, most states have at times had “protection” laws which regulated the lives of Indigenous people. In several states, Queensland included, those protection acts meant that Indigenous workers’ wages were given to the state for many years.

When Indigenous Australians went to collect their wages from the state, they often ended up receiving much, much less than they thought they had earned. Hans Pearson, the lead applicant in a class-action lawsuit against the Queensland Government, estimates that he earned around 7,000 pounds working as a stockman in the 1950s and 1960s, but when he went to collect his money he was told he had just 28 pounds.

Pearson and 10,000 other Indigenous Queenslanders lodged the class-action lawsuit against the Queensland government in 2016, and yesterday the Queensland government agreed to settle the lawsuit by repaying $190 million in stolen wages. Former Premier Peter Beattie actually estimated that closer to $500 million was stolen, but a $190 million payment is a significant start.

“It’s fantastic, justice has been done. I’m very happy,” Pearson told the ABC. “I applaud the Queensland Government for doing this. I was mad at them for a time, but things happen.”

This part of Australia’s history is really, really poorly taught — if you’re a non-Indigenous Australian, chances are you haven’t heard about it. If you want to learn more, there’s a documentary called Servant or Slave returning to SBS On Demand tonight, which takes a look at this country’s history of forcing Aboriginal women into domestic servitude.

There’s also a longer report here which lists the different protection acts that existed in other Australian states. Queensland’s decision to settle may set a precedent for similar settlements in other Australian states, too, so it’s worth brushing up on what your state actually owes.