Aboriginal elder sues for stolen wages

Christine Flatley | AAP smh.com.au | 20th August 2009 + RELATED ARTICLES & DATA

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For workers like Sophie Mumming (pictured) not only their wages but also their child endowment and other payments went directly to government. Sophie and other Indigenous workers were impoverished by these policies

An Aboriginal elder has launched a legal battle for the return of wages he claims were stolen by the Queensland government.

Conrad Yeatman lodged a claim in the Brisbane District Court on Thursday seeking the return of money he earned while working as a carpenter and labourer in the north Queensland community of Yarrabah, where he was born in 1940.

During his employment in the 1950s, the Aboriginals Preservation and Protection Act of 1939 required Mr Yeatman to surrender his wages to the Director of Native Affairs.

Under the Act the director was tasked with establishing savings accounts for indigenous workers to hold the wages in trust.

Mr Yeatman says he was given a token amount of pocket money from his wages between 1954 and 1958 as well as incidental payments for clothes and rail fares.

However, he claims the government failed to pay out the balance of his trust account when he was made exempt from the Act in February 1958.

Mr Yeatman alleges the government "wrongfully failed to give effect to the trust", and that by doing so it breached "the fiduciary duty owed" to him.

Court documents reveal Mr Yeatman is seeking an inquiry into whether his trust account exists, and if there is any money left in it.

He is also seeking to explore whether any money was "lost or misappropriated" and how he can recover any of the outstanding cash.

Mr Yeatman is also seeking interest on the outstanding wages.

The Queensland Council of Unions (QCU) has backed the legal battle, offering public support during a meeting of Aboriginal elders in Brisbane on Wednesday.

In 2002, former premier Peter Beattie acknowledged that as much as $500 million may have been stolen as Aborigines' wages were taken and supposedly placed in trust accounts that were later found to be deficient or non-existent.

Mr Beattie offered $55 million in compensation, and a reparation scheme subsequently paid out around $35 million to 7,000 applicants.

Mr Yeatman was offered the maximum $7,000 reparation but knocked it back as inadequate.

No date has been set for the court hearing.

AUDIO:

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Produced by Ryneisha Bollard
Uncle Conrad Yeatman, with the help of Queensland Unions, has lodged a claim for stolen wages in the district court of Queensland. In 2002 the Beattie Government finally apologised to Indigenous people in Queensland who had worked but never got paid and set up a fifty five million dollar reparation fund. But the case is back in the courts now, with claims that the money has not gone directly to the people who earnt it. Featured in this report: General Secretary of the Queensland Council of Unions Ron Monaghan.


Stolen wages stolen again, say indigenous elders

Steve Gray | AAP brisbanetimes.com.au | 19th August 2009

Click to viewUnions have backed a move by indigenous leaders to take their battle for the return of stolen wages to court.

Two dozen Aboriginal elders gathered in Brisbane on Wednesday, with similar meetings in regional cities across the state, to launch the campaign.

The Queensland Council of Unions (QCU) will lodge a writ in the District Court on behalf of Yarrabah man Uncle Conrad Yeatman, seeking recovery of wages withheld by state governments over the decades.

In 2002, former premier Peter Beattie acknowledged that as much as $500 million may have been stolen as Aborigines' wages were taken and supposedly placed in trust accounts which were later found to be deficient or non-existent.

Mr Beattie offered $55 million compensation, and a reparation scheme subsequently paid out around $35 million to 7,000 applicants.

Premier Anna Bligh then placed over $20 million into an indigenous education fund.

Elders and the QCU now allege the wages they are owed have been stolen again.

Mr Yeatman, who worked as a carpenter and labourer in the north Queensland community of Yarrabah from the age of 14, qualified for the maximum $7000 reparation but knocked back the compensation as inadequate.

QCU general secretary Ron Monaghan said the education fund was a welcome initiative, but unions were adamant the stolen wages be compensated.

"The union movement sees that these were wages and if you underpay wages, you steal wages - you must pay it back to the people who earned those wages," Mr Monaghan said.

Vera Cominski said she worked on a sheep station near Tara in southeast Queensland and was not even given the usual pocket money.

"My wages supposedly went to the bank, but I never saw any money," Ms Cominski said.

"When you went to the bank and asked for it there was nothing there, it was all gone."

Artist Charlie Chandler Snr, a former Queensland middleweight boxing champion, produced documents which showed he received four shillings for 10 days' work in Cherbourg's sawmill.

Later his employer, the famous RM Williams, had to remit half of his wages to government officers in Cherbourg, and Mr Chandler never recouped the money.

Hughie Kirk Snr said he was paid two shillings a week for 10 years as a tradesman at Cherbourg.

Mr Kirk said his father spent 37 years on forestry work near Wondai in southeast Queensland, but never saw the six pounds a week he was ostensibly paid.

"When we went to the bank there was nothing there," Mr Kirk said.

Uncle Peter Bird told the meeting the governments of the time, who had almost total control over the lives of Aborigines, were supposed to be a "father figure".

"But the big father was a crook, a thief, a robber, a swindler, a con man," Mr Bird said.


No payments for Australian Stolen Generations

australianetworknews.com/ | 21st August 2009

Australia's government says it will not comply with a United Nations recommendation to compensate indigenous victims of the so-called Stolen Generations.

Involved are thousands of Aborigines, removed as children from their families between 1869 and 1969, allegedly to protect them from neglect and abuse.

The Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement submitted a formal complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee in March, highlighting the lack of funding for Aboriginal legal aid in Australia.

The UN has responded, saying it is concerned about the lack of adequate access to justice for indigenous people.

It recommended the government adopt a mechanism to compensate victims of the Stolen Generations.

But the government says there will be no compensation.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Robert McClelland says the government's focus is on "closing the gap" in opportunity - and initiatives through the new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation.


Stolen Wages Facts

From: ANTaR Queensland

Introduction

The purpose of this fact sheet is to provide affected Aboriginal people, concerned members of the 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 Aboriginal a ward 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 $4,000 to some people & $2,000 to others as settlement for all claims on any of these matters.

Fincial data (all amounts are current values)

Pastoral workers

• 1940: 1,982 workers received 40% of pastoral rate; each worker underpaid $2214 pa relative to regulation or $5109 relative to award.
• 1949: 4,500 workers at 31% of rate: underpaid $3931 (regulation); $7750 (award) pa.
• 1960: 4,600 workers at 65% of rate: underpaid $4136 (award) pa.
• 1967: 5,000 workers at 70% of rate: underpaid $4265 (award) pa.

PLUS Pocket money: of the wages paid, up to 80% was retained by employers & much, possibly most, not paid to workers (see legal evidence below).

PLUS Aboriginal Provident Fund levy: 2.5% from married wage; 5% from single wages those not living on reserves.

Reserves workers

Based on calculation that 50% of inmates worked pre 1968; post 1968 from files.

• 1940: 3,121 workers each underpaid $9,950 (to state minimum wage) pa ·
• 1949: 3,454 workers: each underpaid $10,875 (to minimum) pa.
• 1960: 4,310 workers: each underpaid $8,998 (to minimum) pa.
• 1970: 2,500 workers: each underpaid $8,110 (to minimum) pa.
• 1975: 2,500 workers: each underpaid $13,978 (to award) pa.
• 1980: 1,463 workers: each underpaid $11,490 (to award) pa.
• 1985: 901 workers: each underpaid $5,923 (to award) pa.

PLUS Settlement maintenance levy: by regulation 5% from married wage; 10% from single wage of those working off reserves. (Separate data available only until 1938: shows levy often averages over 13% & Palm Island levy at times over 25% of wage)

Bulk savings trust account - Queensland Aboriginals Account

From 1933 government froze most of savings in investments to earn extra interest:

• 1940 $9.6M invested - interest bonus to government $119,652 pa ·
• 1950 $7.3M invested - interest $127,366 pa to Welfare Fund ·
• 1960 $10.4M invested - interest $286,673 pa to Welfare Fund ·
• 1970 $7.3M invested - interest $143,544 pa to Welfare Fund ·
• 1975 $2.7M invested - interest $97,419 pa to Welfare Fund

Trust funds generally

• Aboriginal Provident Fund & Aboriginal Protection of Property Account
Listed separately only until 1938; after 1943 part of Welfare Fund: (Misused by government & not recouped to 1938 (from data to hand) identifiable amount: $10.33M) ·
• Aboriginal Welfare Fund (AWF)
From data to hand (incomplete); between 1943-1990: (Spendings of doubtful legitimacy or not recouped $93mil)

LEGAL EVIDENCE

Duty of financial trustee

• Financial trustee must keep proper books of account; must not profit from the trust or have conflict of interest.
• Active breaches of trust consist of intentional negligent or dishonest acts.
• Passive breaches of trust consist of failure to act.

Fiduciary duty

• Fiduciary duty occurs when one person is in a position of trust to act for or on behalf of another.
• A fiduciary must act in beneficiaries' interest; must not profit from relationship; must not act for own benefit; must have no conflict of interest or intent to gain.

Evidence of breach

Wages:

• Queensland Government sold Aboriginal labour cheaply and failed to secure even discounted amount.
• Queensland Government always knew & was frequently warned pocket money riddled with fraud but refused to pay for regular audit inspections.
• Queensland Government established gross underpayment on reserves despite warnings insufficient for family maintenance.
• Queensland Government deliberately flouted law to underpay reserve workers after 1975.

Savings:

• Queensland Government always knew & was frequently warned of police fraud.
• Queensland Government often warned thumb print system corrupted.
• Queensland Government warned 1960s & 1970s system still open to fraud.
• Despite this knowledge Queensland Government refused to allow workers to check transactions.
• Over time the Queensland Government has seized bank interest, imposed a levy on savings, frozen vast amounts of desperately needed cash in investments & retained surplus interest.

Trust funds:

• Prior to establishment of Welfare Fund in 1943, Queensland Government often warned about using trust monies for government expenses.
• Often only a fraction of Provident Fund legitimately allocated to providing for rations & relief.
• Often only a fraction of Property Account distributed to next of kin.

Aboriginal Welfare Fund (AWF):

• Removals costs often charged to AWF & only partly repaid, if at all.
• 1940s: Director says cattle wages wrongly charged to AWF; also white salaries ·
• 1960s: Director says settlement wages wrongly charged to AWF.
• 1960s: Director says dept liabilities wrongly charged to AWF.
• 1970s/80s: Settlement wages increasingly charged to AWF.
• 1970s/80s: Auditors complain no effective accounting of cattle ventures.
• 1975/90: Massive trade losses in cattle ventures.
• 1970s: Commonwealth housing funds wrongly streamed through AWF.
• 1970s/80s: Government auditors complain ineffective rent collecting causes massive arrears.
• 1980s: Government auditors complain no proper housing register so can't identify spending.
• 1980s: Rents wrongly charged against AWF as 'administrative costs' instead of accruing to housing pool.