The WA Stolen Wages Taskforce was established on May 2007 to identify the scope and extent of the stolen wages issue and suggest policy and administrative options. The Taskforce was comprised of representatives of the Departments of Premier and Cabinet, Treasury, Culture and the Arts, Child Protection, Communities and Indigenous Affairs. They were joined by Advisors who were appointed to provide cultural and ethical guidance and support to the Taskforce.
The Taskforce examined the practices of government control over the wages, savings, entitlements and other monies of Aboriginal people that applied across WA between 1905 and 1972. It also heard about the consequences of these systems of control for Aboriginal families.
Until 1972, laws in WA allowed employers to hold 75% of the wages of Aboriginal people in a complex network of trust accounts that were administered by government departments.
In 2008, the Taskforce recommended a number of policy initiatives including the following:
1. Recognition of Aboriginal people in our society, including a formal apology and constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people in the State’s Constitution.
2. Reconciliation of past income controls and establishing a scheme for an ex gratia common experience payment and a community experience fund of equal value to the common experience payment scheme to encourage economic development
3. Resolution of past experiences through retelling the stories, training of Aboriginal archivists and establishing a program of community healing and therapeutic services
4. Allocation of resources to a two-year implementation program to establish a stolen wages unit.
The complete report of the WA Stolen Wages Taskforce ‘Reconciling the Past’ Government control of Aboriginal monies in Western Australian, 1905-1972 can be found here.
It should be noted that most of these recommendations have not been acted upon.
The Stolen Wages Reparation Scheme WA was established on 6 March 2012 with an announcement by the State Government that an ex gratia payment of up to $2000 would be made to living Aboriginal people who:
- Were born before 1958
- From the age of 14 years or older were resident at a Government Native Welfare Settlement in WA
- While resident at one or more Government Native Welfare Settlements in WA experienced direct WA Government control over their income and all or part of their income was withheld from them and
- Were never repaid the outstanding monies owed by the WA Government.
The purpose and intent of the scheme was to be an expression of regret on behalf of the WA Government to eligible applicants. Applications for the ex gratia payment opened on 6 March 2012 and closed on 30 November 2012.
Since then, the terms of reference and the very brief window of opportunity during which people were required to apply have been the source of great consternation. My office has received many letters from people, mainly in the Kimberley, who missed out on even this small payment because they heard about it too late or because they didn’t quite meet the terms of reference.
Letters of protest have also come from former Aboriginal station workers whose wages were stolen as a result of the Government policies and laws of the day. This was during the days when people were being forced off their land and they had little option but to work on the cattle or sheep stations for little more than rations and a change of clothes.
Yet the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has thus far refused to re-open and extend the Stolen Wages Reparation Scheme or establish a new scheme for former Aboriginal station workers in a similar predicament. This is in spite of the fact that it was State legislation that provided the frameworks of control over all Aboriginal people’s lives in WA, including the consequential controls over Aboriginal people’s property, including money, as was acknowledged in the 2008 Taskforce report.
I have asked many Parliamentary questions (see the ‘Posts about Stolen Wages’ column on the right side of this page), written many letters and am continuing to work with other advocates for the establishment of a new scheme that would see a fairer and more equitable outcome.
A petition to the WA Parliament to investigate the operation and outcomes of the Stolen Wages Scheme is here, you are welcome to print it out and collect signatures for Kimberley Community Legal Services.
A film by ECU Australia