• Aboriginal stockmen were among those whose wages were controlled by the state government. (WA State Library)Source: WA State Library
The Queensland government has settled a legal case by Indigenous workers who had their wages stolen between 1939 and 1972.
Ella Archibald-Binge

9 Jul 2019 - 5:30 PM  UPDATED 9 Jul 2019 - 5:30 PM

A class action on behalf of an estimated 10,000 Indigenous workers who had their wages stolen decades ago has been settled with the Queensland government for $190 million.

Lead applicant Hans Pearson took the Queensland government to the Federal Court to claim wages he earned but did not receive.

The former stockman’s class action covered 1939 to 1972 when he and his fellow Indigenous workers had their pay given to the state under the Protection Act.

The state government has approved the settlement in principle, with the court now needing to sign off on what will be Australia's fifth largest class action settlement.

The claim was funded by Litigation Lending, which is now exploring similar actions in NT, WA and NSW.

Former stockman dies days before stolen wages hearings
Gregory Dunn, 88, passed away just days before he was due to give evidence in a landmark class action to recover the stolen wages of Indigenous workers from the Queensland Government.

"This has been a long 12-year road," Mr Pearson said.

"On behalf of the thousands of people who are now part of this settlement, I want to thank everyone who supported our claim."

Mr Pearson argued the state government breached its duties as a trustee and fiduciary by withholding the wages.

The government made unauthorised withdrawals and welfare fund deductions.

Jackie Trad, Queensland’s minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partnerships, said it would expedite settlements with ageing applicants.

"This settlement has been reached in the spirit of reconciliation and in recognition of the legacy and impact of the 'control' policies," she said.

Before the settlement, the matter was headed for a lengthy trial likely in early 2020.

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For 10 years, stockman Roy Savo worked 17-hour days for no pay, in what is now known as the 'Stolen Wages'. But what happened at Normanton, is what he'll never forget.

John Bottoms, Special Counsel of Mr Pearson's legal representatives BE Law, said he was pleased with the outcome.

"I want to thank the government for coming to the party – better late than never," he told NITV News.

"They’ve been very good in terms of agreeing to the settlement. It saved a lot of old people a lot of heartache."

Mr Bottoms also said it was overdue acknowledgement of the injustice faced by thousands of Indigenous people.

"The settlement is very important because it’s an acknowledgement and the righting of a very real wrong," he said.

With AAP 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who lived on a reserve and worked in Queensland between 1939 and 1972, or their descendants, may still be eligible to join the class action. For more information, contact BE Law on (07) 4051 5388.