15 August 2013
Today the NSW Legislative Assembly supported a motion put forward by Alex Greenwich, Independent Member for Sydney recognising Australia’s past inhumane treatment of Australian South Sea Islanders and requesting action to remove disadvantage for descendants.
“The plight of the Pacific Islanders on indenture contracts is not well known in the community. It is a shameful part of our history that needs to be publicly acknowledged with government action to reduce disadvantage among descendants,” Mr Greenwich said.
“Most people don’t know that Australia has a history of slavery, which began 150 years ago and involved the blackbirding of 50,000 people from Pacific Islands to work on sugar cane fields in Queensland on 62,000 indenture contracts.
“Islanders were kidnapped, coerced and subject to contracts they could not have understood and that were designed to keep them in servitude,” Mr Greenwich said.
“Arriving here their lack of immunity to common diseases meant many died, resulting in massive mortality rates – exceptionally higher than their European counterparts.
“Although 74 out of 1,000 Pacific Islanders died in the prime of their life – compared to 9 to 10 in 1,000 for their European counterparts – Australian governments shamefully continued the program for over 40 years,” Mr Greenwich said.
“When the White Australia Policy was introduced, Pacific Islanders were forced to leave the country despite building families and communities and sometimes not knowing where they came from. The policy legitimised already widespread racism and prejudice against Islanders,” Mr Greenwich said.
“Australian South Sea Islander Recognition Day is on 25 August and Parliament used the opportunity to reflect on the past and talk about moving forward for the 40,000 descendants living in Australia, whose social and economic disadvantage is equivalent to Aboriginal Australians,” Mr Greenwich said.
“While being defined as a distinct disadvantaged ethnic group, there are no specific programs and services for Australian South Sea Islanders nor are there official figures on how many descendants there are in Australia.
“Debate was thoughtful, sensitive and informed and has strong symbolic importance to Australian South Sea Islanders,” Mr Greenwich said.
“In the lead-up to debate, I welcome the Minister’s commitment to work with the national representative body for Australian South Sea Islanders and I hope the motion will help build community esteem and a positive future,” Mr Greenwich concluded.