10 July 2019

Queensland has settled a major class action with over 10,000 Aboriginal people — agreeing to pay $190 million in compensation for wages that were systematically stolen by the State between 1939 and 1972. Lead plaintiff Hans Pearson said, “It’s fantastic, justice has been done. I’m very happy. I applaud the Queensland Government for doing this. I was mad at them for a time, but things happen.” The Australian reports the WA, NSW and NT governments (which had similar laws) are now under pressure to follow suit. However, this kind of payment is easy. Recognition of Aboriginal sovereignty is harder. In an excellent report on the threat to the Djab Wurring Birthing Tree [$; more information], Sophie Cunningham notes that even in Victoria, where the government is feeling its way towards a treaty, “[t]here is certainly greater enthusiasm for solutions that are material (involving compensation, for example) rather than solutions that require meaningful engagement with spiritual or environmental concerns.” Compensation is important to address past wrongdoing, but we need to change our relationship with Indigenous peoples for the future.