CLAIMS of victims of institutional abuse were collected on Mornington Island this week.
Seven years ago the state government compensated victims of institutional abuse – except for those in dormitories on Aboriginal Reserve Land and missions.
It meant victims in gulf communities like Doomadgee and Mornington Island missed out on compensation as high as $42,000 in the Redress Scheme, which was finalised in 2010.
The state government has now agreed to pay these Indigenous victims following the results of an Australian Human Rights Commission investigation.
Cairns based Bottoms English Lawyers principal John Bottoms said the action against the state government did not indicate misbehaviour in the church or by organisations that ran the dormitories.
“Rather, it is seeking to rectify an administrative oversight by the state that is in effect, compensating white children who were put in dormitories, but not Aboriginal children who were put in similar dormitories,” Mr Bottoms said.
So why were Indigenous people overlooked in the Redress Scheme?
According to Mr Bottoms, the redress scheme applied to dormitories that were licenced under the Children’s Services Act 1965 or the Juvenile Justice Act 1992.
“That was all well and good, but it so happened that most Aboriginal children were placed in dormitories that were run on government settlements or missions under the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897, and its successors in title,” Mr Bottoms said.
“The nett effect of this was that most Indigenous people missed out on the compensation which was available to all the white children who had been in dormitories.”
The law firm challenged the issue as a result of a large number of Indigenous people whose claims were denied.
The state government agreed those in Indigenous dormitories should be eligible for compensation as well, following the Human Rights Commission finding. “This was achieved as the state wanted to avoid a class action in the Federal Court, with all that entailed,” Mr Bottoms said.
“We have now agreed with the state that we will put in claims for the various children who were put into dormitories from other Indigenous communities around the Cape and in the Gulf.”
A spokesperson from the State Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services said the government formally rejected applications from institutions on Aboriginal Reserve Land because they did not fit under the terms of reference under the 1999 Forde Inquiry.
But Aboriginal dormitories operating as ‘‘industrial schools’’ were addressed in the scheme, the spokesperson said.
“Some institutions in Cape York and the Gulf Country did not come within the terms of reference of the Forde Inquiry as they were not licensed under the Children’s Services legislation.
“Applications relating to institutions or facilities that were outside the scope of the Forde Inquiry were ineligible under the Redress Scheme.”
Doomadgee mayor Fred O’Keefe said solicitors had visited the community.
He said he was unsure how many in the community might be eligible for compensation.
People can make claims by contacting Bottoms English Lawyers and filling forms.
Other locations visited include Thursday Island, Hammond Island, Pormpuraaw, Kowanyama, Aurukun and Lockhard River.