Tuesday 8 April 2008
Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission has expressed its disappointment at the Queensland Government’s recent decision on the distribution of funds from the Indigenous Wages and Savings Reparations Scheme and the now defunct Aborigine Welfare Fund.
The Scheme was established in 2002 to provide reparations payments to Indigenous workers who had wages placed in trust by the Queensland Government over a significant part of the twentieth century and never returned.
Much of the money set aside for the Scheme was not distributed and the Government undertook a process of consultation with Indigenous people over the course of 2007 to determine what would be done with unclaimed funds.
The Premier, Anna Bligh, and the Minister for Indigenous Partnerships, Lindy Nelson-Carr, recently announced that about $15 million from the Scheme would provide top-up payments of either $1500 or $3000 to claimants who have already received payments of $2000 or $4000. $21.2 million from the scheme and $10.8 million from the Aborigines Welfare Fund would be used to establish the Indigenous Queenslanders Foundation, which will provide education and sporting scholarships of up to $20000 to young Indigenous people.
The Commission’s Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, said that, after consulting with its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advisors, the Commission urged the Government to re-imburse claimants fully for all wages placed in trust and never returned.
It also urged the Government to pay the descendants of deceased workers all wages owed in full.
“We are talking about money earned by Indigenous women and men by the sweat of their brow and taken away from them and used for other purposes,” Mr Arndt said.
“The Queensland Government’s attempts to get away with a token payment which is a small fraction of the actual amount earned by Indigenous workers is unfair,” he said.
“The only just decision would be to pay Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers in full as the New South Wales Government is doing,” he said.
“The Commission is astonished that the State Government has decided to put some of the funds in the Scheme into education scholarships scheme despite the majority of Indigenous people consulted by the Government rejecting such a proposal,” he said.
“This decision continues the same shabby treatment of Aboriginal people which saw their wages taken away from them in the first place,” he said.
“The Government must pay Indigenous workers what is owed to them in full and must pay the families of deceased workers what is owing to them too,” he said.
“It has a responsibility to provide the same standard of education to all Queensland children and should provide educational opportunities to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from the Education Department’s funds and not from money which is owed to Indigenous workers,” he said.
Mr Arndt said that the Commission would talk to its Indigenous advisors about any further action it might take on the issue.
He said it would also keep in touch with Indigenous groups working on the issue and provide support where it could.
For further information, please contact Peter Arndt on (07) 3336 9173 or 0409 265 476.
NB This release is issued with the approval of the Commission or its Executive under the provision of its Charter which enables it to speak in its own right. The views expressed in it do not necessarily represent the views of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.