Black slavery in modern Australia

Canberra, March 15:

Most Australians would choke at the claim that the slavery that ended in America with the Civil War of 1861-65 persisted until 1972 in the ‘sunshine’ Australian state of Queensland.

Yet this is but one of the inescapable conclusions to be drawn from a parliamentary inquiry into Aboriginal ‘stolen wages’ tabled in the Senate last 7 December, only to vanish into obscurity.

It details how state governments used so-called protection laws to force Aboriginals to work for employers chosen by the state, to marry partners chosen by the state and to give all of their savings, earnings, social security entitlements and other monetary benefits, even their children to the control of the state.

Russell Trood, a conservative coalition senator from Queensland says the stolen wages inquiry was eclipsed by a much larger and on-going political story - the replacement of Labor opposition leader Kim Beazley by Kevin Rudd - on 4 December and he is determined to bring it back into daylight.

Senator Trood began his campaign little over a week ago, at a Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission forum that demanded prompt action to compensate indigenous Australians who had their wages and other government entitlements diverted into general state revenues, or so- called ‘trust’ funds or even directly into the bank accounts of the owners of large cattle properties who bought their forced labour off the states.

All of these practices conform to UN and international legal definitions of slavery. The total sums involved are almost incalculable, because Queensland and New South Wales, the states where black wages theft was most widespread, have unaccountably lost almost all of the records of such payments, or claim that many were never recorded.

The facts contained in the freely available senate report and its appendices are shocking.

The Queensland government from 1897 took control of every aspect of Aboriginal lives, forcibly confining them to reserves until 1971, took all of their wages and savings until 1972, and sold their labour to pastoralists at illegal bulk discounts over the minimum white wages even into the late ‘70s and mid ‘80s in some instances.

Those who did not report for work to their ‘masters’ were liable to be jailed. In the case of both Queensland and New South Wales (until 1969) the states diverted the social security and child endowment payments that were for decades paid to all eligible Australia families directly into the bank accounts of their employers.

Senator Trood says, ‘Some Australians complain that Aboriginal people lack self-reliance, and enterprise, or can’t handle money. ‘Yet these systemic injustices were totally corrosive of self-respect, and notions of economic independence.

‘You can’t instill a savings culture in people who aren’t allowed to have savings they can use.’

In fact the Queensland police often administered the savings accounts of indigenous people who actually had accounts opened for them and applications to spend money on medicines, train fares, clothes or any other purpose had to be made at a police station and were mostly refused according to Aboriginal Affairs specialist Dr Ros Kidd.

‘An immense legacy of bitterness and hostility over more than a century has been caused by stealing Aboriginal people’s money,’ Trood says.