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Aboriginal Affairs – Wirksworth Heritage Site

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Tags: Aboriginal Heritage, Planning

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, earlier we heard you talk about the establishment of the Aboriginal Heritage Council. As you know, in the previous Estimates session I raised with you the issue that has been highlighted by the Aboriginal Heritage Council in relation to a very significant 8000 or so year old site at Wirksworth, but there is also the issue of the estimated 80 graves at the site of roadworks at Eaglehawk Neck. There's the Aboriginal heritage at Lake Malbena, which your Government's expressions of interest process places at risk. Then, of course, there's the $300 000 allocated in this year's Budget to progress tracks through priceless archaeological heritage in the Tarkine.

You would have to admit, wouldn't you, minister, that your Government's record on the protection of Aboriginal heritage as has been pointed out by your own Aboriginal Heritage Council is very poor and, at face value, it is disrespectful?

Mr JAENSCH - Is that list of things something you are putting to me - what's your question, please?

Ms O'CONNOR - I'm interested that you would play dumb on this.

Mr JAENSCH - No, I'm not. You have just given me a list of things and your take on it, and then you are asking me to discuss. What's your question, please?

CHAIR - The question was wideranging Ms O'Connor. You need to ask a question of the minister, please.

Ms O'CONNOR - This is potentially the minister's way of depriving me of a second question, so we'll see what happens there.

Mr JAENSCH - No, just ask me a question.

Ms O'CONNOR - The question is, given the destruction, damage or risk to Aboriginal heritage that's been raised by the Aboriginal Heritage Council, on issues such as the site at Wirksworth, Eaglehawk Neck Road, Lake Malbena and the Tarkine, on every one of those issues relating to Aboriginal heritage, your record has been poor, hasn't it?

Mr JAENSCH - We had a discussion about Wirksworth earlier today. I talked there about how the design of the development plan for that site in knowledge of the underlying Aboriginal heritage was modified extensively to ensure that the Aboriginal heritage in the footprint of the development could be concealed to the greatest extent possible, without being destroyed. I am currently taking advice on options to protect Aboriginal heritage over the remainder of that site.

I understand that at Eaglehawk Neck permits have been issued for an exploratory phase of works, and that works are being conducted in accordance with that permit. What happens in terms of discovery of heritage and management of that heritage will be the subject of further decisions.

In terms of the APCA and the allocation of $300 000 in the Budget, as you will know, we are waiting on advice on Aboriginal heritage matters in that area. We want to be able to advance beyond receiving a report. Hence, there is a provision in the Budget for us to be able to take action in accordance with the findings of that work that's being done by an Aboriginal heritage officer with specialist consultants assisting.

Regarding Lake Malbena, there is no development on the ground there. Aboriginal heritage is protected everywhere and that development, like any other, will have to go through a process of ensuring that Aboriginal heritage is respectfully and appropriately managed.

That's our record: we built the Aboriginal Heritage Council; we have strengthened the Aboriginal Heritage Act, and every development -

Ms O'CONNOR - It's called the Relics Act.

Mr JAENSCH - No, it's not. It's called the Aboriginal Heritage Act now, we changed it because 'relics' is a disrespectful term.

Ms O'CONNOR - Sure.

Mr JAENSCH - Well, I believe it is, Ms O'Connor.

Ms O'CONNOR - Well, yes, it is a disrespectful term but the act is fundamentally the same.

CHAIR - Order. You will be able to ask your next question in a minute.

Mr JAENSCH - That's our record on the matters you raised of approaching Aboriginal heritage as something special in Tasmania that we treat with respect and through due process.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, you just stated that Aboriginal heritage is protected everywhere in spite of the fact that your own Aboriginal Heritage Council says it is being potentially destroyed at Wirksworth. You've got conflict with Aboriginal communities over proposals to run tracks through the Tarkine.

What is your response to the statement by your own Aboriginal Heritage Council on letterhead that the Tasmanian Government clearly does not support its First Nations people, and the destruction of our heritage and culture continues?

Mr JAENSCH - They are entitled to express their view, and I understand, because it is written on every piece of correspondence that comes to me from the Aboriginal Heritage Council, that the council and its members do not support the destruction of Aboriginal cultural heritage.

Ms O'CONNOR - Which you said is always protected.

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Mr JAENSCH - I absolutely respect their position. In their role as the Aboriginal Heritage Council they are asked to provide advice on specific proposals from time to time. They do that purely from the view of examining Aboriginal heritage cultural matters and then there is a further process whereby other considerations are also brought into play when it comes to advice and the making of a decision regarding Aboriginal cultural heritage.

In the case of Wirksworth, I understand that the decision has been made in light of, not only the advice from the Aboriginal Heritage Council but also the considerable information gathered and provided and the modification of the design of that development to minimise disruption of Aboriginal cultural heritage and to conceal it rather than destroy it.

Ms O'CONNOR - Your own council has no faith in you.