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Stolen Wages Case ‘Settled’

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Deputy Premier Jackie Trad

July 9, 2019

The parties involved in a class action seeking payment of “stolen wages” withheld from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers have reportedly agreed in principle to a settlement scheme.

Cairns legal firm, Bottoms English Lawyers (BELAW), last year lodged a claim in the Federal Court on behalf of former North Queensland stockman Hans Pearson, but this action could potentially affect thousands of other Indigenous Queenslanders.

The class action is based on the fact that Queensland “Protection Acts” in force between 1939 and 1972 required the wages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers be paid to the Protector or Superintendent of a Reserve.

The law firm said these monies were paid to the Protector or Superintendent on “trust”, or subject to a fiduciary duty to act with care and control of the money received. 

It claimed the State breached its duties as trustee, or its duties as fiduciary, by failing to repay that money to the workers.

The action also claimed the State Government acted unconscionably when it introduced a Reparations Scheme in 2015 for these workers by demanding that a Deed of Agreement releasing the State from future action had to be signed as a condition to obtaining a payment.

The case was mentioned in the Federal Court in Brisbane in May when Justice Bernard Michael Murphy suggested an eight-week trial could start possibly next February.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Jackie Trad said on Tuesday the parties in Pearson v the State of Queensland have agreed in principle to a settlement scheme, subject to the Federal Court’s approval at a date yet to be determined.

“Today marks an important day in rebuilding the relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Queenslanders,” Ms Trad said.

“This settlement has been reached in the spirit of reconciliation and in recognition of the legacy and impact of the ‘control’ policies on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Queenslanders, including elders past and present.

“On reaching settlement the Queensland Government is also mindful of those who have since passed and those who are aging, and will work with the applicant’s legal representatives to progress the settlement in an expedient manner.

“The Queensland Government is committed to righting historic wrongs and I look forward to continuing to work closely with the community as we move forward together.”

Attorney-General Justice Yvette D’Ath said the parties have agreed in principle on a $190 million settlement, inclusive of the applicant’s legal costs and administrative costs.

“The parties will now apply to the Federal Court to seek to have the settlement approved at a date yet to be determined,” she said.

“Subject to the Federal Court approving the settlement, I know that all parties involved in this matter hope it will provide some measure of closure in relation to this historic issue, and a way for all Queenslanders to move forward in partnership.”

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