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Aboriginal Flag - Permanent Presence above Parliament House

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Tags: Tasmanian Aboriginals, Parliament

Aboriginal Flag - Permanent Presence above Parliament House, Cassy O'Connor MP, 11 November 2020


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens - Motion) - Madam Deputy Speaker, I move -

That the House -

(1) Notes the theme for NAIDOC Week 2020 is 'Always was, Always will be.'

(2) Recognises that First Nations people have occupied and cared for this continent for over 65,000 years - the oldest continuing culture in the world.

(3) Further recognises that European invasion saw brutally violent and systematic atrocities inflicted on Aboriginal Tasmanians.

(4) Acknowledges these atrocities have been followed by decades of dispossession and oppression - much of it perpetrated or condoned by governments, both state and federal.

(5) Further acknowledges that, despite this tragic recent history and enduring injustice, the palawa/pakana people and their culture remains strong.

(6) Understands that lutruwita/Tasmania is still, and will always be, Aboriginal land.

(7) Further understands that all people, but particularly elected representatives, have a responsibility to recognise and respect this fact.

(8) Further notes the Tasmanian Parliament does not currently recognise this fact at the most basic level - by flying the Aboriginal flag throughout the year.

(9) Calls for the Aboriginal flag to be flown over Parliament House whenever the Tasmanian State Flag is raised.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER - Is a vote required today?

Ms O'CONNOR - Madam Deputy Speaker, a vote will not be required today but I believe the House will resolve today that the Aboriginal flag will fly permanently over this building.

We have had a number of conversations with the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition, Ms Ogilvie and the Speaker and there is overwhelming consensus that it is well past time that beautiful flag was flown over this building.

A number of members of this House attended the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast this morning, and we had the great privilege and acknowledgement of country from Professor Tim McCormack, the recently retired Dean of the Law School. I cannot do it justice here, but it was deeply moving and respectful. It also was a challenge to us all as elected representatives who attended, and every person who was there, to understand the depth of the injustice that Tasmanian Aboriginal people have endured and still endure.

Professor McCormack talked about a sovereign people and about the warriors. He talked about the terrible injustice of promises that were made and broken. In 1831, Governor George Arthur made an agreement with the Aboriginal leaders of the time that if they would simply gather their people together and go off to Flinders Island, once things had settled down a bit, they would be allowed back onto their country and allowed to resume their way of life.

As is the case for so many agreements between colonial governments and the first people of any race, that agreement, that promise was broken. What happened on Flinders Island was a travesty, where people were decimated by disease and by heartbreak. A remnant population of Tasmania's First People came back to the mainland onto their country, which had been stolen from them, in 1847. We have never made reparation.

We have never properly and deeply acknowledged the wrong that was done to this Island's First People, whose connection to this country dates back around 65 000 years. The Aboriginal people's story on this island is deep in the landscape. The history of this island did not begin 217 years ago, it is 65 000 years old. Thank goodness, at least we have a dual naming policy in place now so that Tasmanians more broadly, can get a sense of that human story on this island that goes back 65 000 years.

One of the nicest things is hearing young people and children refer to the mountain only as kunanyi, an acknowledgement of that mountain's deep, spiritual meaning to the Tasmanian Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal Australians are the oldest continuing culture in the world. This country has the world's oldest oral stories. The First People of Australia engraved the world's first maps and made the earliest paintings of ceremony. Aboriginal people were engineers, navigators, farmers, botanists, fire scientists, astronomers, artists, creators. The deep connection to an understanding of country, of landscape, of the cycle of the seasons is very much a part of Aboriginal identity and culture.

We know that the European invasion of Australia and Tasmania was brutally violent and it was chillingly systematic. Terrible atrocities were inflicted on the palawa/pakana people, and these were very often condoned or perpetrated by governments - state and federal. The Black War which began in 1824 decimated this island's original inhabitants. The black line, which was a movement of troops and civilians in a line across this island to drive the Aboriginal people into a corner, was symbolic of the mentality of governments and many colonisers at that time.

Today is Remembrance Day. It is the day we remember the fallen. We have never properly acknowledged the warriors who fought in the Black War to defend this country and we should. It was good to read the Minister for Veterans Affairs' talking point article in the Mercury today, where he respectfully acknowledged the contribution of First Nation soldiers to Australia's war endeavours.

We have to do more. We have to make sure that in our schools and in our communities there is a deep and respectful understanding of the first Tasmanians, their connection to country, their struggle, their persistence, their endurance, the strength of their culture and their identity and their connection to country.

There are some terrible characters in the history of European settlement on this island. John Batman, after whom the Batman Bridge is named, was responsible for hunting and killing dozens of Aboriginal people - yet perversely we still celebrate him, with his name attached to a bridge. William Crowther mutilated the remains of a Tasmanian Aboriginal man, William Lanne. Crowther's statue remains standing in Franklin Square, despite demands from the Aboriginal community for it to be removed.

How many decades did it take for any gesture to return the preminghana petroglyphs to Aboriginal people, which was just announced by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs today? Far too long.

Injustice and oppression have continued unabated in the decades since invasion. This is the norm. It is not the exception. The thousands of heartbreaking stories that make up the Stolen Generations - and we have not yet properly made any enduring reparation for that crime against the First Nation's people. Four hundred and thirty seven Aboriginal people have died in custody in Australia in the last 30 years.

Dr Woodruff and I are not among them, but many Australians still celebrate Australia Day on 26 January. That is the day that Aboriginal people recognise as the day they lost their country. It is the day they had their country stolen from them and we need to understand the country was never ceded but it was taken. This island was not ceded by the palawa/pakana people; it was taken at the point of a gun. That requires us to have a good, long, hard look at ourselves and do everything we can to make some sort of amends. That means we need to seriously change the date of Australia Day so it is a day we can all celebrate as Australians, connected respectfully but connected to each other.

Today in my question to the Premier I made the point that Aboriginal heritage is often ignored or destroyed. I was talking to a very well-known Aboriginal leader earlier today about this motion. He reminded me of this litany of acts by local and state governments and other developers to obliterate Aboriginal heritage. An example he pointed to is at South Arm at Arm End, which has gone from being public land in the hands of Parks to being converted into a golf course, but the construction works around that Arm End golf course are just smashing up middens left, right and centre.

I know we have made some changes and improvements to Aboriginal heritage legislation but they do not have meaning because they are not given effect and we have not given responsibility for Aboriginal heritage to the people who own it. Again, it is insult on insult.

I do not know how many people are aware of what happened to the Djab Wurrung birthing trees in Victoria, but to make way for a highway the Victorian government smashed down these trees under which Aboriginal women would bury their placentas. Only three weeks ago, under cover of COVID-19, VicRoads contractors went in and chainsawed down the Djab Wurrung trees. Then of course there is Rio Tinto's shameful destruction and blasting of the rock art at Juukan Gorge.

Mr Deputy Speaker, let us do better. Let us commit collectively as this parliament in this time to do a lot better. Let us acknowledge that Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system are disproportionately represented. Let us acknowledge that Aboriginal children are let down by the child safety system. Let us acknowledge it has been far too long since lands were returned. Without being able to connect to country and to have some economic independence as a result of having lands returned to them, progress for Aboriginal Tasmanians will continue to be too slow.

We have had two Labor premiers promise the return of wukalina/Mt William in the north-east of Tasmania. Silence on that. That is Aboriginal land. That is the home of mannalargenna. That is the source country for Tasmanian Aboriginal people today. Surely we can do better than as a parliament stay silent on land returns. I remember bringing legislation into this place to return two pathetically small parcels of land, which was all I could get through cabinet, at larapuna and Rebecca Creek. Unanimously across this parliament, we agreed that those parcels of land should be returned, but the legislation went upstairs and was snuffed. Not even those two tiny parcels of land could this parliament collectively, in both Houses, bring itself to hand back - like we even owned it in the first place.

We need something from Government on the Tarkine tracks, and I say this in the spirit of trying to be constructive. It is a policy that was taken to the 2014 state election. Six years later, thankfully, there are still no tracks through that priceless Aboriginal heritage, one of the richest archaeological sites on the planet. Politics might be getting in the way of Government doing the right thing here and telling the people of Braddon that they are not going to put tracks through the Tarkine, but it is really disrespectful to leave that hanging over the Tasmanian Aboriginal community for six years and not be honest about where it is at. Perhaps in his contribution the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs could touch on that matter of what is happening with the Tarkine tracks.

There was an agreement in 1831 and there is a very strong legal argument that that agreement was a treaty with a sovereign people. It was not honoured. Parliament in the last terms amended the Constitution again collectively in a symbolic gesture to make sure that the Constitution Act of Tasmania recognises there were people here before the arrival of the Europeans.

Let us start working on treaty, because it stalled at the national level. I believe as long as Scott Morrison is Prime Minister it will stay stalled. We can have a state-based treaty with the First People. We could do that collectively with political will by working with our hearts and our heads together and set that framework up. It would require in the first instance for us to be prepared for some truth-telling and they would be hard truths to hear, but we have to hear them if we are really serious about reconciliation being much more than a word.

We definitely need dedicated seats in the Tasmanian parliament for Aboriginal people. The House of Assembly Restoration Bill select committee unanimously agreed that there needs to be dedicated Aboriginal representation in the parliament. It recommended that a select committee be established to report back on how that might be achieved. Let us get on with it. I love looking across this Chamber and seeing the member for Bass, Ms Houston, who is a proud palawa woman. Did I get that wrong? Are you pakana or palawa?

Ms Houston - There is no correct way and no wrong way.

Ms O'CONNOR - No correct way. That is terrific but it is not enough. It is not enough to fly the flag in this Chamber as it has flown here for 11 years. We need dedicated seats in the parliament, we need to move on treaty, we need to return lands, and we need to change the date.

I believe today we are going to agree on a symbolic gesture to make sure that the Tasmanian Aboriginal flag continues to fly over this Parliament House because there is only one week in the year when that flag flies and that is this week, NAIDOC Week. It is just wrong.

I know that there was the contentious debate at Clarence City Council where my excellent local government colleague, Beth Warren, moved to have the Aboriginal flag fly permanently at council chambers and we saw some really unedifying contributions from some of her colleagues and the wrong decision not to vote to fly the flag.

Thankfully, reason arrived and the Aboriginal flag will now fly permanently over Clarence City Council chambers, just as it will fly permanently over the Northern Midlands Council chambers and just as last year when our wonderful Governor, her Excellency the Honourable Professor Kate Warner, worked with the Aboriginal community to make sure that the Aboriginal flag flies permanently at Government House. It is a beautiful sight.

I know it is only symbolic but it has some real meaning because what it is says is that this land is Aboriginal land. This parliament sits on Aboriginal land, the land of the muwinina people of nipaluna who were wiped out. They are no longer here.

It is a good thing to fly that flag over the institutions of this country including local governments and parliaments. There is a very heated debate happening in the federal parliament at this moment and how sad that it becomes something we would even argue about -

Mr Street - Actually, there is not; it was lost.

Ms O'CONNOR - It has gone now?

Mr Street - Yes, 29 to 28.

Ms O'CONNOR - That is so shameful. I think we have a somewhat better cut of elected representative in this place and I believe we will agree today to fly the flag permanently. Personally, I would like to see it not come down at the end of NAIDOC Week. That would be right. More than anything, I hope that when that flag is flying over this building, each of us will come into work here each day and it will challenge our conscience and remind us that we have a solemn duty to be part of reconciliation and reparation and that we have a duty to facilitate truth-telling and treaty and land returns.

On this issue, we have a duty to work together and the less divisive and more respectful these debates can be, the better the signal out into the broader Tasmanian community about why we have resolved collectively to take whatever legislative action we might in order to progress reconciliation or agree to take a symbolic action like fly the Aboriginal flag over the heart of democracy in Tasmania. Yes, it will only be symbolic, but it is a powerful symbol.

I look forward to hearing other members' contributions. I very much look forward to us all agreeing that this is a small but significant symbolic gesture to fly that powerful and beautiful flag over this building. I commend the motion to the House.