Exploitation, including indirect payments, discussed at conference
Prominent Aboriginal activists discussed government policies and the issues of indirect government payments, wage theft and land rights at a conference in Queensland, criticising the government for their treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In December 1962, the Cairns Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Advancement League (CATSIAL) held a conference to discuss policies in Queensland. This article in The Tribune reported on the conference and discussed topics covered during the event.
Conference topics included wage theft, government payments, land rights and other policies affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Prominent Aboriginal activists, Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker) and Joe McGinness, spoke. Other advocates attended, including Gordon Bryant, founder of the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League and future Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.
The Tribune article covered the issue of state departments only passing on part of people’s payments. At the time, the Department of Social Services would make payments through the states instead of to Aboriginal people directly. There were reports of the Queensland Department of Native Affairs interfering with payments and people not getting the full amount owed.
The article also included specific stories of this issue with payments. One was the case of an Aboriginal woman who applied for back payments of Child Endowment. The state government offered her a cheque for 10 shillings and a few pence.
On advice from a member of CATSIAL, she refused the cheque and followed up with the government. They then sent her a cheque for 108 pounds.
The article reported that ‘the demand for direct payment of wages and social service benefits “into our hands” was … made by one Aboriginal speaker after another’.
Other conference topics included polluted water sources at Ravenshoe settlement and the lack of schooling at Cape York Peninsula. It also covered the Department of Native Affairs not letting activists visit missions and settlements.
The article called for the state government to face action for these exploitations. It called for justice for the state’s ‘disgraceful policies in relation to the oppressed national minorities in Queensland and the Torres Islands’.
The article highlights the issues with government payments going through state departments. It shows how unfairly the Queensland Government treated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the type of activism that led to change.
The issue of direct payments wasn’t unique to Queensland, however. It was common in the other states and territories and disagreements about the practice are shown in numerous documents over this time. For example, meeting notes from 1965 included discussions about indirect payments in the Northern Territory.
One result of this conference was the creation of a Yinjilli leaflet, which aimed to tell Aboriginal people about how they could access government payments.
The Tribune was the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Australia from 1939 to 1991. It often reported on left-wing politics that other newspapers didn’t write about.
The full article about the conference is available on the Trove website of the National Library of Australia.
Permission to include this excerpt was granted by Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s grandchildren Petrina Walker and Raymond Walker.
The Tribune (2 January 1963) ‘Aboriginal conference exposes shocking exploitation in Queensland’, The Tribune: 6.