Compensation payments from a Victims of Crime Fund in South Australia may soon be used in dispute-free reparation settlements for members of the state’s Stolen Generations without going before the courts.
Liberal Parliamentary Leader Steven Marshall will introduce legislation before the September sitting of State Parliament to establish the scheme.
If proclaimed, the Stolen Generations Reparations Bill would make South Australia the first mainland state to go beyond a symbolic apology and pay reparations without legal dispute.
An estimated 300 Aboriginal people in South Australia would be eligible for ex-gratia payments.
Each person could receive $50,000 – the maximum amount payable from the Victims of Crime Fund which currently contains about $140 million.
An all-party Parliamentary Committee recommended the State Labor Government introduce the proposal in a report to the Parliament last November.
It estimated there would be a $15 million draw on the fund if those eligible were paid the maximum amount.
The Weatherill Labor Government has sat on the Committee’s report.
The Committee’s recommendation was based on its investigation of the Stolen Generations Reparation Tribunal established by the Tasmanian Government in 2006.
It received more than 150 applications for compensation from the $5 million fund established under the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal Children Act 2006.
A total of 151 claims were received and 106 were considered eligible.
A total of 84 were found to be victims of the Stolen Generations; 22 were children of victims whose parents had died before the creation of the Tribunal.
They shared $100,000.
The remaining $4.9 million was divided equally among the 84 surviving victims.
Each received $58,000.
Greens MP, Tammy Franks, who holds the Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation portfolios, has been pushing for years to have the SA Parliament adopt a Stolen Generations Reparation Tribunal Bill.
She introduced a draft bill in July 2010.
A year later it was withdrawn and referred to the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee, which tabled its recommendations on November 13 last year.
Ms Frank said at the time the redress of a Tribunal was long overdue.
“Saying sorry is just a start,” she added.
A system for recompense which forced Aboriginal people into expensive and adversarial court action would only continue to prove “we haven’t learned the lessons of our past but we are destined to prolong the pain.”
State Liberal Leader Marshall echoed her words in his weekend announcement that the Liberals would introduce the Bill next month.
“This is long overdue,” he declared.
“This legislation is an important and significant component of ongoing reconciliation with Aboriginal people in SA,” he added.
“At the moment, on the one hand, we are saying we want healing and to move ahead with reconciliation but on the other we are saying ‘see you in court.’
“The bill will acknowledge the policies of past governments caused emotional, physical and cultural harm to members of the Stolen Generations and their families.
“This is a bi-partisan issue and I am hopeful the Weatherill Labor Government will support this initiative.”
The bill will need the support of the Government and independents to pass through the Parliament.
Attorney General, John Rau was giving nothing away in his public response to Marshall’s initiative.
He said the Government needed to consider the proposed legislation in greater detail before outlining its position but the prospects of the Bill’s passage are promising given the advocacy of Aboriginal leaders, Ms Franks, and others and the all-party Committee’s recommendations.
From a political and taxpayer point of view the proposed scheme would appear to be a no-brainer.
As Marshall says the issue should be bi-partisan. It’s a matter of common justice.
It’s also the cheapest call on taxpayers.
The all party committee found that legal dispute-free ex-gratia payments would cost both the South Australian government and members of the Stolen Generations less overall than the total costs of defending a small number of court cases while reducing the emotional trauma of such a process.
Ms Franks has pointed out the inordinate emotional and financial costs which have flowed from the rejection of reparations by successive governments.
She has noted the only successful civil case for compensation was in the South Australian Supreme Court.
Ngarrindjeri man Bruce Trevorrow, who was removed from his family at 13 months, was awarded more than $750,000 with legal costs soaring to about two million dollars.
Trevorrow’s removal was, in fact, illegal under SA law at the time, a fact which carried considerable weight in his successful case.
A number of lawyers have also pointed of all the Australian states and territories, South Australia was always the most reluctant to remove children from their parents, whether Aboriginal or not.
The Bringing Them Home report described the period from 1910 to 1970 as the decades of genocide, but during that time South Australia had passed a series of laws which made it very difficult to remove children from their families.
The South Australian Commissioner for Aboriginal Engagement, Khatija Thomas, and other Aboriginal elders and leaders have welcomed the proposal.
Ms Thomas said the legislation was long overdue.
No amount of money could ever take away the pain but for the elderly “it may provide for a few comforts in their final years.”
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