Australian Motion Regretting Treatment Of South Sea Islanders Advances

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Hopes that Parliament will recognize mistreated population rise

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Sept. 3, 2014) – A motion has been presented in Federal Parliament expressing regret over the treatment of thousands of South Sea Islanders brought to Australia in the 1800s.

The motion said the men were essentially kidnapped or lured onto ships and then transported to Australia to be used as indentured labour.

Queensland Nationals MP Keith Pitt, who seconded the motion, said debating the issue was particularly important for his electorate.

"There are a number of South Sea Islanders who remain in this nation and it should be recognised the very large contribution they've made," he said.

"They're a wonderful part of our local community. They've produced many sporting stars, they work very hard."

About 60,000 South Sea Island people were brought to Australia, mostly from Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

They worked mainly in the sugar, cotton and grazing industries.

Mr Pitt said their efforts need to be better recognised.

"One of the things we are asking for is inclusion [of South Sea Islanders] on the national census as a separate people," he said.

"It is important that we put the spotlight on this issue."

South Sea Islanders welcome motion

Prominent Australian South Sea Islander Lola Forester said the motion was well overdue.

"It is a huge day considering it has taken so long," she said. "It's very exciting for all of us.

"A lot of people don't understand about the South Sea Islanders and how they contributed to the economy, mainly in Queensland.

"The significance is that we have always been the forgotten people."

Ms Forester said this recognition was an important first step but more needs to be done.

"A lot of people still don't understand that there was slavery in this country," she said.

"I think we should get some form of compensation or something like that should happen."

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