12 August 2020

Nyunggai Warren Mundine [$]: “What if I was to tell you about stolen wages? No, I’m not talking about some employer underpaying their workers. I’m talking about the wages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians being taken by governments and never paid back. During the ‘Protection era’, the period from about the early 1900s until the 1970s, … wages of Indigenous workers were paid to government-administered accounts, controlled by protectors or superintendents of Indigenous missions and reserves. It was believed Indigenous people wouldn’t be able to handle their money, so governments had to look after it for them. Some people had all wages taken and others were paid only a fraction of their income. Other payments were also taken, such as child endowment and pensions. Most never saw the money again. … This is a dark part of our nation’s history. It’s a basic human right … that a person should be paid for their labour.  … So why are governments finding it so hard to resolve and pay Indigenous people the money they are due? Indigenous people talk about unfinished business. This is a major area of unfinished business in this country: the recovery of wages earned by Indigenous people but never paid to them.” Mundine explains that some jurisdictions have set up ‘reparation’ schemes, but these pay a tiny fraction of what is really owed.