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Media Release

Westpac Class Action update

14 March 2021

Class Actions

Thousands of Indigenous Australians are being invited to register for Shine Lawyers’ class action, which is seeking lost wages held by the government in the 19th and 20th centuries. 

The firm’s class action lawyers will be touring Western Australia from 15 March 2021 and hosting information sessions across four days and four locations, to encourage eligible First Australians to register for their action. 

The action was filed in the Federal Court in October 2020, on behalf of Indigenous Australians in Western Australia whose wages were unjustly withheld or not paid as a result of wage control legislation, which was in effect in WA until 1972.  

Shine Lawyers, which represents surviving workers and relatives of those who have since died, alleges wages were held by the state government in trust accounts but were never released in full or at all. 

 “This group of people worked difficult and laborious jobs to provide for their families. They were stockmen, farm hands, laundry assistants, kitchen hands, labourers and domestic workers and at the time, the government controlled their wages by holding them in trust accounts and in some cases, never released the wages of these struggling workers,” said Shine Lawyers’ Class Actions Practice Leader, Tristan Gaven.   

The firm argues that withholding the money is a failure of the Western Australian Government’s fiduciary duties and trusts while withholding a legal remedy for victims is a breach of the Racial Discrimination Act. 

The Native Administration Act 1936 and Native Welfare Act 1963 in WA created discriminatory laws, forcing First Australians to work for little or no money in slave-like conditions. 

“These laws perpetuated a vicious cycle of poverty and disadvantage for many generations,” said Mr Gaven. 

“This action is about ensuring that the cycle of poverty stops for the next generation of Indigenous Australians. 

“No money will compensate the deceased for what they endured, but compensation ensures their descendants can move forward having attempted to correct the undignified treatment that their elders were subjected to.” 

“Our action intends to right wrong and to return lost and unpaid income into the hands of these workers and their families who lost valuable support and protection from a government that psychologically and financially wounded their elders,” said Mr Gaven. 

Representatives from Shine Lawyers’ Class Actions team will be travelling to the following locations to meet clients and to personally explain their legal rights to recover lost income:   

Information session locations:

  • Monday 15 March 2021 Northam Recreation Centre 10am - 3pm 

  • Tuesday 16 March 2021 Bunbury Regional Arts Gallery 10am – 3pm 

  • Wednesday 17 March 2021 Katanning Aboriginal Corporation 10am – 3pm 

  • Thursday 18 March 2021 Wadjak Northside Aboriginal Community Group 9am – 1pm 

Litigation funding

The class action is being funded through Litigation Lending Services Limited (“LLS”). 

LLS funded a similar matter for First Nations people in Queensland where the government eventually took a conciliatory approach to the action which ultimately settled. 

How to register for the class action?

Anyone subject to the relevant legislation who had their wages stolen is eligible to join the class action, including descendants of deceased workers and their estates. 

To learn more about the Stolen Wages Class Action and find out if you are eligible to join, please visit our Stolen Wages webpage

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