A landmark class action has been launched on behalf of Indigenous people who lawyers allege worked as stockmen, farmhands, and domestic labourers across the Northern Territory for little or no pay during the last century.
Melbourne law firm Shine Lawyers announced the action on Friday, saying the federal government owes compensation to Northern Territory workers who had their wages held in trust accounts under so-called protective legislation in place between 1933 and 1972.
Many of the trust accounts were never released in full, or at all, to workers, who were often paid in food rations instead of wages, Shine said in a statement.
The head of class actions at Shine Lawyers, Jan Saddler, said the case was also about acknowledging the pain historic government policies had caused Indigenous Australians. “Under these discriminatory laws, the Commonwealth got away with robbing Indigenous Australians of their hard-earned wages, meaning those who were already separated from their families entered a vicious cycle of poverty that was preventable,” she said. “Rather than sweeping this injustice under the rug, we must address the mistakes of the past if we’re to have any chance of a brighter future.” The action was filed in the Federal Court late on Thursday, the law firm said.