North Queensland elders say stolen wages entitlements unfair, much lower than expected


Families of stolen wages victims in North Queensland have waited decades for their entitlements, but have been left devastated by the payouts and are questioning how they were calculated.

The Queensland Government settled a long-running stolen wages case for $190 million in 2019.

The entitlements are being distributed to more than 10,800 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for wages earned between 1939 and 1972.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains images of people who have died.

Among the recipients is the mother of Francine George, an elder of the Kukatj tribe in Normanton.

Ms George’s mother died in 2017 at the age of 88.

She said her mother only received an entitlement of $12,000 for more than 40 years’ work on cattle stations in various domestic roles.

“They were not given any monies; they were not told how much monies they have made during that time,” Ms George said.

Francine George, second from left, and her siblings shared in her mother’s stolen wages entitlement of $12,000.(Supplied: Francine George)

“They come into Normanton from those cattle properties and they were given, what we would refer to as a purchase order these days, to go to the shop and get supplies.

“During those times, they only ever came to town on special occasions like the Normanton races … and all the other times they worked.”

Entitlement calculations

Ms George said the government had the means to calculate the hours her mother worked, but her entitlement was a lot less than expected.

“There are records within Queensland Government for a lot of people [who] worked during that era. How did they come to that calculation?” she said.

An Indigenous woman in a yellow top hold up a letter about a stolen wages entitlement.
Francine George says the method used to determine people’s stolen wage entitlements does not add up.(Supplied: Francine George)

Townsville resident Hans Pearson led the class action.

Grant Thornton Australia was appointed as the administrator of the Stolen Wages Settlement Distribution Scheme.

The firm’s lawyer, Anthony Beven, said due to the lack of evidence and records of earnings, time passed and the death of many claimants, a methodology relying on anthropological evidence was used to determine the entitlements.

“The court said that the only way to do this in a fair way was to group people based on their age, whether they were Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, male, whether they were still living or deceased,” Mr Beven said.

“It was never intended to be a precise calculation of how many years people worked, how much their savings and wages had not been properly paid to them because that was just too difficult to prove.”

Men compensated more

An elderly man in a checked shirt and broad hat sits in his backyard with grass and a fence in the background
Townsville resident Hans Pearson led the class action.(ABC News: Sally Rafferty)

Ms George said she was concerned that men who were part of the class action received more money than women.

“It just doesn’t add up.”

Mr Beven said men were compensated more than women because they suffered greater deductions and withholdings, according to the evidence put before the court.

“The anthropological evidence, the historical records have indicated that men in particular were more heavily affected by the stolen wages practices,” he said.

“They [men] had more in terms of wages and savings withheld from them.

“It’s the best possible methodology that’s been developed over many years.”

Litigation costs

The $190 million settlement was Australia’s fifth-largest class action settlement and the largest-ever settlement involving Indigenous people outside native title claims.

But Ms George said claimants’ entitlements were chewed up by the $53 million in litigation costs.

“The buckets of money have dropped considerably,” she said.

“It’s not $190 million that the people are sharing in, it’s more like $120 million or even less and that’s going out to 11,000 to 20,000 people.”

The class action was funded by litigation funder Litigation Lending Services, which was entitled to a slice of the settlement under the Federal Court ruling.

Legal fees associated with the Stolen Wages Settlement Distribution Scheme were also deducted from the settlement amount.

Grandchildren were not eligible to register for the scheme because it fell outside of the requirement of a “direct family connection”.

Ms George said it had left many descendants still questioning the whereabouts of their grandparents’ stolen wages.

“I know a lot of people are not happy, around the Gulf and down in Mount Isa and over in Cairns, with how it’s been rolled out.”



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Elders Ltd reports increased profit despite tough trading conditions


Despite drought, fires and COVID-19, Australian agribusiness Elders has reported $123 million statutory profit in the 12 months to September.

Those results were an 80 per cent increase on the previous financial year, and as a result, the South Australia-based company will pay a fully-franked final dividend of 13 cents per share, taking the total dividends paid for the year to 22 cents.

The underlying profit after tax was $109 million.

Managing director and CEO Mark Allison attributed the outcome to the company’s long-term strategy.

“We took a call back in the first eight-point plan that for agriculture we need to have the costs and capital base to allow us to make good money in bad years, and the great money in good years,” Mr Allison said.

“Last year is an example of a bad year where we did quite well under difficult circumstances and this year, once we established agriculture as an essential industry … we were able to do everything we could to support regional and rural Australia.”

That meant the company was able to continue trading during COVID-19: It increased its workforce and did not rely on any Government support through JobKeeper.

There has been some movement within the company with Elders putting on 417 additional staff and purchasing rural supplies wholesaler Australian Independent Rural Retailers (AIRR) and crop protection company Titan.

AIRR added $44 million in wholesale gross margins in the company’s results which Mr Allison said was in excess of projections.

Elders financial year ends on September 30.

Elders Managing Director Mark Allison(Supplied: Elders)

2021 Outlook

With summer plantings expected to increase and the prospect of rain, Mr Allison said demand for crop protection and fertiliser would likely recover.

Mr Allison said from an agricultural, seasonal and commodity viewpoint the outlook was positive with cattle prices expected to remain high, if softer than 2020.

Elders was working on the assumption that reduced consumer demand for clothing and increased levels of unsold textiles and raw fibres would probably suppress wool prices in the short term.

Mr Allison also viewed the recent signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership as a benefit to the agribusiness.

“If you see that as additional market access and opportunity to diversify our product.

He explained that the company already had strong market relationships with Indonesia, South Korea, Japan and China.



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Elders’ profit and dividends up as farms rebound from drought


Elders’ result is in stark contrast to the performance of many other ASX-listed companies throughout 2020, with many forced to withdraw earnings guidance, pause dividends and raise capital as demand for their products slumped due to COVID-19.

Elders chief executive Mark Allison said the company’s performance was an example of the business delivering “great returns in good years”.

He also said it reflected Elders’ nimble response to challenges that arose during the year, the implementation of a sound business strategy, solid business foundations and strict financial discipline.

“Our financial year 2020 results highlight the resilience of our business, the benefits of our diversification across both geographies and products, and our acquisition strategy,” he said.

During the year Elders completed the purchase of another farm supplies business known as AIRR. The purchase added $44 million in wholesale gross margin to the company’s results.

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Revenue rose 29 per cent to $2.09 billion, which was just ahead of Bloomberg consensus at $2.06 billion.

Elders’ share price has surged through 2020, closing at $11.87 on Friday, up 83.5 per cent over the calendar year. The S&P/ASX200 meanwhile is down 4.2 per cent over the same period.

Elders’ financial year ends on September 30.



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Angry teenagers accuse village elders of ‘racism’


Angry teenagers accuse village elders of ‘racism’ after they refuse to let them put up BLM message in disused phone box

  • Teenagers in a Wiltshire village wanted to use a phone box as a BLM message
  • Phone boxes were used in the 20th century as a place to house telephones 
  • With the advent of mobile communications, the use of landlines has declined 
  • ‘Traditional’ phone boxes in many heritage locations have been re purposed  

A row has flared after teenagers demanded a Black Lives Matters message should be posted in a disused phone box.

Urchfont, near Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire has a population of around 1,000 people,  but it has become the setting of an international race row. 

Teenagers have accused ‘village elders’ of ‘racism’ after they prevented the youngsters from posting messages supporting the BLM movement. 

Urchfont Parish Council was asked by a group of young people, upset by the death of George Floyd in America, if they could use the box to create ‘a historical information point’.

Lisa Kinnaird, pictured, is standing beside a phone box in Urchfront Village Wiltshire

Local teenagers wanted to re-purpose the abandoned phone box as an information point about the Black Lives Matter movement

Local teenagers wanted to re-purpose the abandoned phone box as an information point about the Black Lives Matter movement

The local parish council voted against the proposal by five votes to three

The local parish council voted against the proposal by five votes to three 

The teenagers, who wanted to re-purpose the phonebox have been told the plan has been rejected by five votes to three. 

Emily Kinnaird told the meeting: ‘Me and my friends thought it would be beneficial if Urchfont showed its support for the Black community.

‘I think it is important to use education to raise awareness of racism especially in predominantly white Wiltshire.’

However, a majority of the local council claimed: ‘The telephone box should be used only for local community purposes, as such this proposal covering the wider issue of racism should be rejected.’

Parish council chairman Graham Day said: ‘The council discussed a proposal for a possible use of the High Street telephone box which is owned by the council.

‘A lengthy debate on this matter took place in our established virtual meeting format, with substantial public input both from those present at the meeting and others who had submitted comments to our clerk.

‘Urchfont Parish Council is a non-political body comprising 11 volunteer members. It represents the interests of all residents across the Parish.’

One member of the public, who joined the meeting via Zoom, said: ‘While not mentioned in the current proposal Black Lives Matter, a patently political movement is clearly the catalyst, a movement that is demonstrably contentious and of itself offers little, to enhance the lives of the Urchfont community.

‘Both the previous and current request/s clearly indicate that it serves the particular interests of a specific group and therefore, regardless of merit, does not meet the criteria of applying to the broader community.’ 

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NT Larrakia elders lose High Court case against Northern Land Council, vow to fight on


A legal battle over more than 50,000 hectares of Northern Territory land has divided families and taken years to resolve, and now one side is offering an olive branch to try to end it once and for all.

Two Larrakia elders, Eric Fejo and Tibby Quall, yesterday lost a long-running court fight against the Northern Land Council (NLC) over the 2016 Kenbi Land Claim, on the Cox Peninsula near Darwin.

The High Court rejected an earlier Federal Court ruling which found in favour of the elders, who believe the NLC breached the law in how they went about formalising the land agreement.

“My argument was that they had not done their job properly, that they had delegated to the CEO, and that was not permitted by the law,” Mr Fejo said after the court’s judgment yesterday.

“The full court of the Federal Court agreed with me, but the High Court overturned that finding.”

In 2016, the title deeds for Kenbi were handed over to traditional owners with great ceremony, including with an appearance by then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

But some, including Mr Fejo and Mr Quall, were not recognised as traditional owners in the agreement, meaning they were not entitled to any benefits or royalties that could be earned off the land.

The elders now have the option of pursuing the fight against the NLC back in the Federal Court, but the head of the Northern Land Council, Marion Scrymgour, said she would try hard to dissuade them from going down that path.

Northern Land Council CEO Marion Scrymgour says she wants to extend the olive branch to the two elders.(ABC News: Jon Daly)

“I think it would be easy to litigate, it would be easy to churn up those costs in the court on lawyers,” Ms Scrymgour said.

“But if they wanted to get recognition and look at how they can be part of this, they need to reengage with the land council.

“I’ll put the olive branch out to both Tibby and to Eric Fejo.

“I think it’s really important for those families to come back and to sit down with the land council and look at how we can all work together.”

Despite the NLC’s calls for peace, Mr Fejo vowed to continue fighting.

“The NLC may have won this particular battle, but they haven’t won the war,” Mr Fejo said.

“The High Court has set out what the NLC is allowed to do by law, but the question remains: have the NLC actually done their job properly?”

He said the case had divided families and clan groups across the Top End.

“The sooner they can get it over and done with the sooner we can move forward properly,” he said.

The Larrakia man said he was considering his avenues of an appeal in the Federal Court.



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Tam to young people: stop spreading COVID-19, don’t infect parents, elders


OTTAWA —
Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam is doubling down on warnings to young Canadians to stop fuelling the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Tam delivered that pre-weekend warning — one week after her deputy Dr. Howard Njoo did the same — because of the worrying trend of rising infections among people aged 20 to 39.

Tam says that age group accounted for the highest incidence rates for COVID-19 cases in the past two weeks.

Tam outlined how the daily national case count, based on a seven-day average, is rising again across the country after falling earlier this summer.

Tam says the seven-day measure is the best way to assess the trend in the number of infections.

She says it stood at a high of 1,800 per day in early May, then dipped to 273 in early July, but in the last seven days the average daily count rose to 487.



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