AceBreakingNews – The WA government will pay nearly $200 million to settle a class action brought on behalf of thousands of Aboriginal Australians who had their wages withheld while subject to onerous legislation.
Ace Press News From Cutting Room Floor: Published: Nov.01: 2023: ABC Kimberley News: TELEGRAM Ace Daily News Link https://t.me/+PuI36tlDsM7GpOJe
The class action was brought by Kimberley stockman and acclaimed artist Mervyn Street, 72, who worked on stations for most of his life and was not paid a wage until he reached his 30s.
Mr Street’s complaint was regarding a policy in place between 1936 and 1972 that allowed the state government to withhold up to 75 per cent of an Aboriginal person’s wage.
In a statement released on Wednesday afternoon, Shine Lawyers confirmed the government had agreed to settle.
Subject to Federal Court approval, the government will pay up to $180.4 million to eligible Aboriginal workers, their spouses and children, including $15.4 million in legal costs.
Acknowledging the suffering
Shine Lawyers joint head of class actions Vicky Antzoulatos said the decision was a significant victory.
“Workers and their descendants suffered inter-generational disadvantage because of the legislation in place in Western Australia over many decades,” he said.
“Financial compensation is one way to acknowledge the suffering of First Nations people.
If the settlement is approved, the Federal Court will determine the amount given to each impacted family.
According to Shine Lawyers, Mr Street is looking to ask the court to pay a greater amount to those who worked under the policy the longest.
The state government will also issue a public apology to the workers impacted by the policy, in WA parliament later this month.
The settlement is the culmination of months of work behind the scenes for Shine Lawyers and the Federal Court, which travelled around the state hearing evidence from impacted workers.
‘Basically treated like slaves’
For Miriwoong elder David Newry, the decision is a complicated feeling of relief.
“I’m happy in one way, but in the other way I’m sad to know my people, my parents deserved this [news] more and they’re gone now,” he said.
Mr Newry gave evidence during the class action on behalf of members of his family who lived and worked on Ivanhoe and Newry stations in the east Kimberley, something he said was incredibly difficult.
“ One of the hardest parts for me was talking about my family and how they’ve been treated,” he said.
“One of my father’s brothers got tied to a tree and got whipped for not hopping on a horse that morning because he was really sick in the stomach.
“That sort of information was really hard to tell.”
The news of the settlement ultimately felt to him like recognition.
“It’s a worthwhile thing to really point out that people were the backbone of the cattle industry,” he said.
“It’s all to do with the effort our people have put in, through hardship. Our people were basically treated like slaves.”
Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Tony Buti said in a statement the settlement was a recognition of the past.
“This settlement is also an opportunity to acknowledge the valuable contributions that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have made to our state, both past and present,” he said.