Stolen wages, missing trust funds — the fight for justice

From 1904 to 1987, the Queensland Government withheld or underpaid wages earned by Aboriginal workers. The State Government has offered a settlement totaling $55million but this is only a fraction of the stolen wages.

ANTaR is currently running a “Stolen Wages” Campaign in support of Indigenous Queensland workers who have not received wages for which they are entitled – which ENIAR is supporting.


Fact sheet – researched by Dr. Rosalind Kidd

  • This fact sheet is to provide affected Aboriginal people, concerned members of the general public, and lobby groups with basic data upon which to assess the current Queensland Government campaign to shut down all litigation on unpaid, missing and misused wages, savings and trust funds during decades of government control.


  • A glance at the underpaid wages in any one year shows clearly that this buy-off is an insult which nowhere near acknowledges the level of financial confiscation endured by Aboriginal families. A glance at the legal data shows clearly the Queensland Government was constantly warned of systemic failures and of active and passive breaches of its duty as a legal Trustee, but failed ever to implement the necessary checks to prevent massive financial loss to its wards over many decades. Aboriginal poverty is largely a construct of this system.


  • Queensland Premier Peter Beattie’s scare tactic that litigation will take many years and millions of dollars is solely determined by the government’s willingness or otherwise to provide promptly all information gathered to date for independent or judicial assessment.
Historical background
  • Since 1897 Protection Act Queensland government could declare any Aboriginalawardd of state & control every aspect of their lives. People were forcibly interned on reserves (1938: 7525; 1968: 8500). From 1904 all employment, wages & savings were controlled by government under compulsory labour contracts. From 1904 workers’ wages went direct to police protector apart from “pocket money” retained by employer for distribution during work period. From 1910 government took levies from wages of people living on reserves.


  • From 1919 government took levies from wages of those not living on reserves. From 1919 government set pastoral wages at 66% of white wage. “Every Aboriginal” on a reserve must work for rations & shelter. In 1943 government set up Aboriginal Welfare Fund to receive wages levies & profits from reserve enterprises, to be used to develop enterprises on reserves. From 1950s government pays few shillings to a few key workers on reserves.


  • In 1968 government starts wage economy on reserves; workers paid 50% state minimum wage. From 1968 equal wages in pastoral industry; forced contracting ceases. From 1971 forced confinement on reserves ceases. From 1972 forced control over wages & savings (bank books) ceases, although people have to request to be free from financial management.


  • From 1979 government knows underpaying reserve workers is illegal; wage 72% of state minimum. In 1986 government paying reserve workers only 75% of award. In 1985 seven Palm Island workers start action in Human Rights Commission for legal wages. From 1987 government hands control of communities to Aboriginal councils; budget insufficient to cover award rates.


  • In 1996 government loses Human Rights Commission case on under award wages; refuses to pay suggested compensation of $7000 to each of six workers. Workers commence federal court action; government capitulates in 1997. In 2000 Beattie government makes $25 million available to pay all workers after losing several more cases on under award wages. Beattie government refuses to include mission workers in above payout.


  • From 2000 Queensland Aboriginal & Islander Legal Service Secretariat (QAILSS) collects testimony from over 2000 people who want to take action against the government for missing, unpaid and underpaid wages, misused trust funds, unpaid child endowment, workers’ compensation, deceased estates.


  • In 2002 Beattie government makes offer of $55.6 million to pay $4000 to some people & $2000 to others as settlement for all claims on any of these matters.