5 August 2013

The Queensland Government misappropriated what would equate to more than $38 million from the Pacific Islanders’ Fund, a leading researcher at The University of Queensland has said.

In a public lecture on the Thursday 15 August, Pacific Islands expert Professor Clive Moore from UQ’s School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics will discuss the government’s misuse of a fund intended to compensate families of 15,000 Melanesian labourers who died in Queensland.

Professor Moore said research showed the Queensland Government seldom compensated the families of the deceased Islanders and profited from their deaths.

“At best the process was immoral and, at worst, lacking fiduciary duty,” he said.

“2013 is the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first Pacific Islander labourers in Queensland, so it’s timely to raise this issue.”

Pacific Island labourers worked in Queensland under 62,475 labour contracts between 1863 and 1904. The movement included 807 voyages involving 80 islands, including Melanesia.

A Pacific Island Labourers Act 1880 Amendment Act 1885 operated between 1885 and the 1900s to safeguard return fares and to ensure that the wages of deceased Islanders were returned to their families.

Despite this, only 15 per cent of the wages of deceased Islanders were used from the Pacific Islanders’ Fund to purchase goods for relatives, resulting in a profit to the government of more than £35,000. The estimated present-day value is $38,221,511.

In 1901 the Commonwealth government ordered the deportation of all Islanders in Australia.

The wages of deceased Islanders became so substantial that they were sometimes used to supplement the administration of the labour trade and then partly to pay for the deportation.

“Compensation to Islander families may now be difficult, but acknowledgement that this travesty occurred is a necessary part of healing for the Australian South Sea Islander community,” Professor Moore said.

“The most appropriate outcome would be for the Queensland and Australian Governments to establish a new trust fund to assist in education for the Australian South Sea Islander community and assist Australian descendants to re-link with their Islander families. This matter also concerns compensation for Vanuatu and Solomon Islands.”

The public lecture will be held on Thursday 15 August at 1pm in room 103 in the Social Sciences Building (24-S402) at the UQ St Lucia campus.

Media: Professor Clive Moore, The University of Queensland: c.moore@uq.edu.au; ph 0419 676 123