A class action against the Western Australian government’s theft of wages from Indigenous workers gained rapid traction, with more than 1600 people signing up in 48 hours.
The action was lodged by Shine Lawyers on behalf of workers whose wages were stolen as part of a labour scheme operated under the Native Administration Act 1936 and the Native Welfare Act 1963. There are 10,000 workers expected to be directly eligible, in addition to a substantial number of their descendants who can be compensated on their behalf.
A spokesperson for the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Ben Wyatt told NITV News that the government will look to achieve a mediated outcome of any claims made and will acknowledge the impact that the historical government policies related to income control have had on Aboriginal people.
“The State is currently considering the grounds of the compensation claims put forward by Shine lawyers on behalf of a number of claimants in the HRC in relation to the stolen wages issue in Western Australia.
“This includes the allocation of the necessary resources and the sourcing of the required materials to allow the State to respond to the issues raised,” said the spokesperson.
The Litigation Lending Services (LLS) have funded the matter and its director and prominent Indigenous leader Warren Mundine has encouraged anyone affected by the policy to sign up for the class action.
The Western Australian government has indicated that they will seek to settle the matter outside of the court.
Mr Wyatt told the AAP on Wednesday that given the government’s pledge to closing the gap efforts, they “ought to be proactive” in paying people back their rightful wages.
"Instead, Indigenous Australians have been forced to mount legal challenges,” said Mr Wyatt.
The class action follows the Queensland government settling a class action related to similar unpaid entitlements of $190 million in 2019, after a three-year battle.
The action follows the Queensland government settlement a class action relating to similar unpaid entitlements for $190 million last year, after a three-year battle.
More than 30,000 claimants came forward, which significantly exceeded the 12,000 people who were initially expected to make claims.
Mr Wyatt, whose grandmother was among those subject to the discriminatory policy, said the government would consider the grounds of the compensation claims and would look to achieve a mediated outcome.