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Last forum - Australian South Sea Islanders
This issue of the Erace forum details the experiences of Pacific Islanders trafficked into Queensland and northern New South Wales to work as indentured labourers in the sugar cane and cotton industries between 1863 and 1904.
The workers came principally from the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu), the Solomon Islands, New Guinea and from smaller island groups in the South Pacific. The treatment they experienced under Queensland law from 1868 and under Australian law from 1901 was racially discriminatory.
This topic raises questions which Australians have previously confronted in the context of Indigenous affairs. What is the impact of a long history of legal, social and economic discrimination? How should such a history influence our responses to disadvantages experienced by current generations? Should the descendants of people directly affected be entitled to an apology for past injustices? What special measures of support and assistance should be put in place?
The Queensland Government long treated its South Sea Islander community the same as Aborigines and applied similar controlling and discriminatory laws to them. The Commonwealth (in 1994) and Queensland Governments (in 2000) formally recognised Australian South Sea Islanders as a distinct group and established some assistance programs. Have these programs been successful? Do they go far enough?
We invited your comments on these questions as well as any information you wished to add about the history of South Sea Islanders and the current circumstances of this community.
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