Additional comments by Senator Bartlett
As the initiator of this Senate Committee Inquiry, I would like to make
a few additional comments.
Firstly, I would like to add a personal thanks to all those who provided
evidence to the Inquiry, particularly those who told their personal stories. It
was the continuing expressions of serious dissatisfaction and deep hurt and
anger from Indigenous people in Queensland, combined with the details of
methodical archival research already done which made me believe this issue
deserves further scrutiny and attention.
While I have been and remain critical of the Queensland government's
approach to the Stolen Wages issue up to now, it was not my intention to have
an Inquiry which would serve simply to provide more criticism of the Queensland
government. A growing body of work suggests that very similar injustices and
practices occurred in other states. Controversy over the way the issue has been
handled in Queensland should not obscure the fact that in some other states,
and at federal level (in regards to past practices in the Northern Territory),
there has been no response or action taken at all.
For all the flaws in the Queensland government's response, there has at
least been an acknowledgement, albeit sometimes rather begrudging and
inadequate, that serious injustices occurred. I also appreciated their
preparedness to participate in this Inquiry, something which a number of other
state governments failed to do.
Whilst this Inquiry has been brief and the many competing demands on
Senators' time has meant there was less opportunity than I would have liked to
dig into the details, the evidence provided has still been sufficient to
clearly demonstrate that Stolen Wages is a national issue, not one isolated to
Queensland and New South Wales.
While there are valid arguments for a comprehensive national Inquiry,
such as could be done by HREOC or Royal Commission, the simple fact is that the
time for action is now. Governments at state and federal can, at a relatively
small cost, facilitate the necessary research now, if the political will is
The urgency of the matter is clear, as the age of many of the direct
victims is advanced. This has been brought home in a sad way just during the
course of this brief Inquiry. Pastor Collins gave passionate and compelling
evidence as a member of a delegation of Aboriginal people who travelled from Cherbourg
to appear at the Committee's hearings in Brisbane on 25th October, 2006. He passed on before this report was tabled on 7th December, 2006. I hope the
record of his evidence and his commitment, right to the end, of achieving
recognition and justice for his people, serves as a both reminder of the
urgency for proper action on this issue and a motivation for governments and
society to deliver it,
The extent and depth of injustice inflicted on Indigenous Australians
through the twentieth century is enormous. This Inquiry touched on and
revealed just a small, but important component of it. The concerted
exploitation of thousands of Indigenous people over decades was a building
block of the prosperity which Australia as a nation enjoys today.
The report shows a pattern of behaviour over many years by authorities
in many parts of Australia which had a direct consequence of leaving many Indigenous
people in poverty. The 'consequential' and intergenerational poverty resulting
from this should be acknowledged, as it relates directly to the conditions many
Indigenous people live in today.
While it will not be possible to directly recompense every injustice, it
reinforces the obligation on federal, state and territory governments to
implement properly funded employment and education programs targeted to assist
young Indigenous people overcome the intergenerational poverty that is a legacy
of 'stolen wages'. The details and operation of such programs should be
done in conjunction with Indigenous community representatives in each State and
Senator Andrew Bartlett
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