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WA government to apologise for stolen Indigenous wages

Neve Brissenden -

The Western Australian government is set to formally apologise to thousands of Indigenous workers who were paid little or no wages for almost four decades.

Senior Gooniyandi elder Mervyn Street launched legal action in the Federal Court in 2020 on behalf of the surviving workers and their relatives.

Mr Street was challenging a policy in place between 1936 and 1972, allowing the state government to withhold up to 75 per cent of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander worker's wage.

The WA government settled the class action in early-November, with families and survivors set to be financially compensated.

The settlement is yet to be approved by the Federal Court, which will happen after eligible workers and their families are registered.

The court will also decide the exact amount payable to each worker or their family, though the WA government agreed to up to $180.4 million to eligible Aboriginal workers or their surviving spouses and children, with each claimant eligible to receive $16,500.

Many of the workers were in the Kimberley region on pastoral stations and in institutions and missions.

Lawyer Vicky Antzoulatos said the agreement was a victory for the workers and their descendants who suffered intergenerational disadvantage because of the laws.

"It doesn't correct the past but offers a way forward," she said after the settlement in November.

"Hopefully, greater understanding of the experiences of Aboriginal people in WA during this sad earlier time in history is also a lasting legacy of this class action."

Neve Brissenden - AAP

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