Dr Ros Kidd launched her report Hard Labour, Stolen Wages in Brisbane today and called on governments to repay the money withheld from thousands of Aborigines.
"Overall, we are looking at billions of dollars nationally, which has never been accounted for," she said.
Portions of wages, pensions and child endowments were paid into trust accounts but never reached their rightful owners. Instead it was transferred into public revenue or just ‘disappeared’. The misappropriation was widespread and had been brought to the attention of the governments of the day through internal reports and investigations.
"The federal government knew that missions, pastoral stations and indeed state governments were making a fortune out of endowments and pensions," she said. "It happened right across Australia, except perhaps in Tasmania. In the Northern Territory and the north of Western Australia, most of the workers were not even paid."
Dr Kidd attacked the Queensland Government's response to the issue. A $55 million fund established in 2002 to pay reparations to those affected by the practice between 1897 and the 1970s covered about 10% of the money owed to workers.
Only $19.6 million of the fund was paid out. Many had opted not to enter a claim for the fund because the amount paid was insufficient. "One reason for the low take up of the offer was because it was such an insulting amount, to offer $4,000 maximum for a lifetime's missing money is just ludicrous," she said.