Key Points:

Most Australians would choke at the claim that the slavery that ended in America with the Civil War of 1861-65 persisted until 1972 in the "sunshine" Australian state of Queensland.

Yet this is but one of the inescapable conclusions to be drawn from a parliamentary inquiry into Aboriginal "stolen wages" tabled in the Senate on December 7, only to vanish into obscurity.

It details how state governments used so-called protection laws to force Aboriginals to work for employers chosen by the state, to marry partners chosen by the state and to give all of their savings, earnings, social security entitlements and other monetary benefits - and even their children - to control of the state.

Russell Trood, a conservative coalition senator from Queensland, says the stolen wages inquiry was eclipsed by a larger and ongoing political story - the replacement of Labor Opposition leader Kim Beazley by Kevin Rudd on December 4 - and he is determined to bring it back into daylight.

Senator Trood began his campaign little over a week ago, at a Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission forum. That forum demanded prompt action to compensate indigenous Australians who had their wages and other government entitlements diverted into general state revenues, or so-called "trust" funds - or even directly into the bank accounts of the owners of large cattle properties who bought their forced labour off the states.

All of these practices conform to United Nations and international legal definitions of slavery.

The total sums involved are almost incalculable, because Queensland and New South Wales, states where black wages theft was most widespread, have unaccountably lost almost all records of such payments, or claim that many were never recorded.

The facts contained in the freely available senate report and its appendices are shocking.

The Queensland government from 1897 took control of every aspect of Aboriginals' lives, forcibly confining them to reserves until 1971.

It took all of their wages and savings until 1972, and sold their labour to pastoralists at illegal bulk discounts, even into the late 1970s and mid-1980s in some instances.

Those who did not report for work to their "masters" were liable to be jailed.

Until 1969, both Queensland and New South Wales diverted the social security and child endowment payments that were for decades paid to all eligible Australian families, directly into the bank accounts of their employers.

Trood says: "Some Australians complain that Aboriginal people lack self-reliance, and enterprise, or can't handle money.

"Yet these systemic injustices were totally corrosive of self-respect, and notions of economic independence.

"You can't instil a savings culture in people who aren't allowed to have savings they can use."

In fact, the Queensland police often administered the savings accounts of indigenous people who had accounts opened for them.

Applications to spend money on medicines, train fares, clothes or any other purpose had to be made at a police station and were mostly refused, according to Aboriginal Affairs specialist Dr Ros Kidd.

"An immense legacy of bitterness and hostility over more than a century has been caused by stealing Aboriginal people's money," Trood says.

Added to the other better known Aboriginal injustices of the "stolen generations" of children forcibly removed from their parents to be assimilated into "respectable" white families or church-run homes and their forcible removal from traditional lands by European settlers, the stolen wages issue is another layer of misery and injustice inflicted on black Australians.

Dr Kidd, whose documentation of deliberate state fraud against Aboriginal peoples played a pivotal role in the inquiry being set up, identifies the financial mechanisms of racial repression that persisted into the 80s.

She says the Queensland government in the 60s and 70s even banned black workers from checking their bank statements to verify balances and transactions.

Over time, the Queensland government seized bank interest, imposed a levy on savings, and froze vast amounts of desperately needed cash in investments that communities could have used.

All of these activities involved malpractice that, in white society, would have probably led to serious criminal charges under banking, trust fund, and fiduciary duty laws.

Several years ago, the Labor Premier of Queensland, Peter Beattie, proposed a A$55 million ($62 million) reparations package for the victims of such frauds, but on the condition of waivers of legal action against the state.

This plan is being scorned by many in the indigenous community.

The say it is a feeble offer and just another example of grinding Aboriginal people into the ground as the sums for each person end up being trivial fractions of the money stolen from them.

Individual suits have now either been lodged or are planned by law firms acting for black clients.

Senator Trood says New South Wales, also a Labor state, has come up with a superior system for promptly assessing and paying damages to victims before they die.

And while this may be a strategic exercise in driving a wedge between Labor states in a Federal election year, there is no room for doubt that arguing the case to pay money back to people who worked for nothing, or at most pocket money, for wealthy farmers, is going to engage the popular Australian notion of "a fair go for all".

- Observer