Big wage bill settled
The Queensland Government has agreed to pay a $190 million settlement over unpaid wages.
The long-running stolen wages case involved thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for wages earned over three decades.
The lead applicant in the case was Hans Pearson (uncle of the lawyer, Indigenous activist and advocate Noel Pearson), who sought to recover wages earned but allegedly unpaid for the period between 1939 and 1972.
“It's fantastic, justice has been done. I'm very happy,” Hans Pearson said this week.
“I applaud the Queensland Government for doing this. I was mad at them for a time, but things happen.”
Lawyer Stuart Price said it is a momentous decision.
“It's not a three-year journey, or a 12-year journey, or [an 80-year] journey for these 10,063 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and to reach a settlement is a huge credit to Hans for taking up this fight,” he said.
The court heard the Queensland Government breached the trust of Aboriginal people by failing to protect their money.
Mr Pearson worked as a stockman during the 1950s and 60s and had planned to buy a house in North Queensland for his young family.
He believed he had earned around 7,000 pounds, but when he went to collect his money, he was deeply dismayed.
“When the police called me up to the police station, me and the wife went up and he had a cheque waiting for me for 28 pounds,” Mr Pearson told reporters.
“I said: ‘Is this all I'm getting?’ and he said: ‘Well, that's all you have after 10 years of working’.
“Those days, we weren't treated [well], we ate in the wood heap, they had no mattress to lay on … just laid on hard boards with our swags.
“When I took this on I thought I was bumping my head up against a brick wall.
“I'm 80 years of age now and I first went out to work when I was 14.
“A lot of old people, they're all gone my age, the people who really did work on cattle stations and farms and cane cutting and all that business never got their full pay.”
Aboriginal affairs specialist Dr Ros Kidd, who was a consultant to the class action, says the real cost owed to workers is much more than the agreed amount.
“I did an estimate, which Peter Beattie actually mentioned in parliament, of $500 million,” Dr Kidd told the ABC.