Yesterday in the State Parliament, the Premier of NSW, Mr Bob Carr, formally apologised to Aboriginal people who had their wages and other entitlements stolen between 1900 and 1969. The Premier also gave in principle support to develop a scheme to identify and reimburse those who are owed money.
PIAC represents a number of Aboriginal people in NSW who are claiming entitlements to outstanding wages, allowances and pensions from the Aboriginal Welfare Board (AWB), whose responsibilities passed to the Department of Community Services (DoCS) in 1969. Pursuant to legal proceedings, PIAC obtained documents from DoCS under the Freedom of Information Act 1989 (NSW) (FOI) which revealed that as early as 1998, DoCS had considered implementing a comprehensive scheme to repay Aboriginal people their Trust Fund monies. A Cabinet Minute, entitled Aboriginal Trust Funds Payback Scheme Proposal, which further developed the proposed scheme, was drafted by DoCS for Cabinet consideration in April 2001.
PIAC’s Director, Andrea Durbach said:
We were encouraged when we came across documents which clearly outlined procedures to pay back wages, allowances and pensions owed to Aboriginal people. The announcement by the Premier to develop and hopefully implement the payback scheme finally indicates a commitment by the NSW Government to pay outstanding debts.
The procedures devised by DoCS 6 years ago were apparently developed to provide some measure of justice. For some reason, however, despite the Premier’s announcement, the Government is refusing to table and make public the Cabinet Minute which we believe offers a very useful model for expeditious resolution. The Government should be proud of this document, rather than seeking to suppress it.
One of the key features of the NSW Government announcement is that Aboriginal communities will be consulted on the best way to develop and put in place the proposed scheme. While there may be practical difficulties in returning the money, we welcome Premier Carr’s comments that ‘administrative complexities should not over-shadow the need for justice.’
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