CANBERRA, Australia ,: February 16, 2008 - Representatives for Australian Aborigines have finally decided on Friday to launch the first compensation lawsuits since a landmark government apology earlier this week for past abuses. It would be the first since Parliament formally apologized Wednesday to tens of thousands of Aborigines who were taken from their families as children under now discredited assimilation policies.
An activist and a lawyer representing some members of the so-called “Stolen Generations” of Aborigines said Friday as many as 40 compensation claims were being prepared in Victoria state.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has ruled out setting up a compensation fund for victims of the policies, which lasted from 1910 until the 1970s, and legal experts say the apology does not strengthen chances of compensation being won through the courts.
Several cases have been filed in the past but most have failed. Lawyers say proving the harm inflicted by the policies in a legal sense is extremely difficult.
“The legal landscape is no different to what it was yesterday or will be tomorrow,” said Hugh Macken, president of the New South Wales state Law Society, said in response to Wednesday’s apology.
Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard reiterated Friday that the government would not offer compensation to head off court action.
“We have said no to compensation,” Gillard told Fairfax Radio Network.
State governments have taken a similar stance, fighting compensation claims that have been lodged in the courts.
Lawyer Jack Rush said he was representing Aborigine Neville Austin, but declined to discuss specifics of the case. Austin also declined to comment.
A newspaper reported Friday that Austin intends to sue the state of Victoria for unspecified damages, alleging he was taken by authorities in 1964 from a hospital where he had been admitted as a 5-month-old baby with a chest infection.
He then lived in foster homes and orphanages until he turned 18, the Herald Sun newspaper reported.