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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 973

(Question No. 4116)


Mr Tickner asked the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 27 May 1986:

Has he received complaints of under award payments by the Queensland Government to its Aboriginal and Islander employees on Queensland reserves in each of the years 1983 to 1986.

If so, what is (a) the nature of and (b) the response to each complaint.


Mr Lionel Bowen —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

I have arranged for my Department to carry out a file search on this matter which has not revealed any such written complaints made to me or to my predecessor, Senator Gareth Evans, during the relevant period. Representations relating to the issue were, however, received from the Chairman of the Human Rights Commission and the Chairman of the National Committee on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation.

Records formerly kept by the Human Rights Commission on complaints handled by the Commissioner for Community Relations under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 show that eleven complaints were made to that body up to 9 December 1986, the last day of operation of the Commission, concerning the alleged failure to pay award rates to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees on Queensland reserves, as follows:

1983-Nil

1984-4

1985-4

1986-3

The following information relating to these complaints has been provided by the former Commissioner for Community Relations and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission:

The 1984 complaints alleged:

the continued payment of below award rates to workers at Yarrabah reserve near Cairns;

the payment of under award wages to members of the Aboriginal Police on the Cherbourg reserve;

the non-payment for the Easter period of two Aboriginal teachers' aides in the kindergarten at Woorabinda reserve; and

the under award payment of nurses employed at Bamaga Hospital in far north Queensland.

Since 29 October 1986 Aborigines employed under State awards on Aboriginal reserves in Queensland have been paid award wages. Back payments have not been made in respect of work performed before 29 October 1986.

Although there is no award currently covering Aboriginal Police on the Cherbourg reserve, a claim for an award is currently before the Queensland State Industrial Commission. Aboriginal teachers' aides, then employed at Woorabinda reserve, received back payments for the 1984 Easter period.

In May 1985 all hospital boards in Queensland, including the Board that governs Bamaga Hospital, were instructed by the Queensland Minister for Health to pay Aboriginal and Islander staff in accordance with the relevant awards. Nurses did not, however, receive back payments in respect of past work.

The 1985 and 1986 complaints all concerned alleged under award payment of former employees on the Palm Island reserve. None of the complaints related to current employment. After discussions with conciliators at Palm Island in April 1986, the complainants decided to pursue the matters in the Industrial Court with the help of the local Legal Service.

The new Race Discrimination Commissioner did not receive any complaints on this issue in the period 10 December 1986-31 December 1986.