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Government extends deadline for wages

Aboriginal people have been given more time to claim some $68 million of “stolen wages” held by the State Government writes Robert Burton-Bradley in Central of 28 January 2009.

The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Paul Lynch, extended the deadline from December 31, 2008, to May 31 this year.

Indigenous residents of Redfern and Waterloo are being urged to submit their claim for withheld wages before the new deadline expires.

The Government’s decision to extend the deadline followed extensive coverage of the issue in Central last November.

Acting Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Kevin Greene (pictured), said the Government had listened to concerns that many claimants were unaware of the original closing date.

“The NSW Government is determined to ensure justice for Aboriginal people in NSW who had money held in trust for them by the state which was not repaid,” he said.

The CBD-based Public Interest Advocacy Centre, which assists people making claims for stolen wages, is calling on the Government to advertise the repayment scheme further.

Keppie Waters, a solicitor with the Indigenous Justice Program, said it was satisfying that the Government has extended the deadline for applications.

“[We have] found, after speaking with Aboriginal communities from around the state, that many potential claimants were unaware of [the repayment program], or the deadline,” she said.

“This extension gives us a chance to ensure we can contact as many people as possible and let them know that they may have a claim.”

But she criticised the Government for not advertising the scheme better.

“[We] are doing best through [our] networks to tell people what’s going on, but if the Government is serious about ensuring Indigenous people receive justice, then it should help promote its own scheme,” Ms Waters said.

From 1900 to 1969, successive NSW governments had legislative authority to place many Aboriginal workers’ wages and other entitlements directly into trust fund accounts. Many of these workers were part of the Stolen Generation.

According to a 2001 Department of Community Services estimate, there are as many as 11,500 potential claimants in NSW entitled to up to $69 million in stolen wages. This is based on actual wages kept in trust and takes into account interest and inflation. To date, about more than $1 million has been successfully claimed.

According to the NSW Premier’s Department, which oversees the scheme, only 15 per cent of the 660 claims made to date have been successful.

To contact the Aboriginal Trust Fund Repayment Scheme, phone 1800 765 889.