You are here

Aboriginal Land Handbacks - Greens MPI

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 16 June 2022

Tags: Aboriginal Heritage, Land Returns, Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area

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

That the House take note of the following matter:  Aboriginal land handbacks.  

We stand on the land of an ancient people who nurtured and shaped this landscape, lutruwita/Tasmania, for 50 000 years or more.  This country was never ceded and was taken from its people at the point of a gun.  The journey towards justice and reconciliation is too long and despite some positive steps towards reconciliation, Aboriginal people in Tasmania continue to get lip service from successive governments.  It is 17 years since the last lands were returned to Tasmanian Aboriginal people.  It is a travesty, it is unjust, it is inexcusable and it is a road block to genuine reconciliation.

It is seven years since the United Nations World Heritage Committee, after the federal and state Liberals failed in their attempt to shrink the 2013 extensions to the World Heritage boundary, called on the Australian and Tasmanian governments to upgrade the tenure of unallocated Crown lands inside the World Heritage extension to national park - seven years.

Fast-forward to the state of the state Address last year from the former premier, Mr Gutwein, who said:

Last week I committed to receive and consider proposals for further land return, and I want to be clear, this Government is committed to taking significant steps on our path to reconciliation and also, importantly, taking significant steps to ensure we improve the lives and circumstances of our First People.

In response to that clear invitation to Aboriginal communities to lodge formal land claims, the chair of the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania, Michael Mansell, wrote to the former premier on 30 March last year and said:

As you would be aware and is explicit in this submission, the future potential production forest land subject to this proposal is legally unallocated Crown land that forms part of Tasmania's reserve state.  The presentation to parliament of a proposal to change the legal tenure of unallocated Crown land in the TWWHA presents a unique opportunity to allocate it to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community by returning it to our ownership through ALCT.  In doing so, you can honour your State of the State commitment to take significant steps with regards to reconciliation and improving Aboriginal lives.

The letter goes on:

The return of Aboriginal land as a national park tenure breaks new ground for Tasmania and presents an opportunity to deliver land justice for Tasmanian Aborigines that remains in line with Tasmania's commitments to UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee.  The request of UNESCO to grant this land's status as national park was unconditionally accepted by your Government in 2016 and since.  Returning it to Aboriginal ownership as a new Tasmanian tenure presents the chance to go further and create a lasting legacy that gives substance to your acknowledgement of our elders and community.  Indeed, such action would honour our elders' past, offer due respect to elders still with us and give hope to the emerging elders you referenced in your address. 

To this day, there has been no formal response to that claim.  There was a follow‑up letter from Rebecca Digney in September last year and again, no response.  In November last year, in the Pathway to Truth-Telling and Treaty report, Professors McCormack and Warner recommended the return in recommendation 12, the creation of the kooparoona niara Aboriginal Protected Area.  The report says:

We believe the proposal for the kooparoona niara Aboriginal Protected Area would have considerable support from the wider community and could serve as a model and would serve as a test of local management and access.  

What we have instead is a mealy-mouthed proclamation under the Nature Conservation Act 2002 to upgrade the tenure of that allocated Crown land mostly to low-grade regional reserves and conservation areas and a complete dismissal of a formal claim made by the Aboriginal Land Council for a kooperoona niara/Great Western Tiers national park. 

We do not buy that this is urgent.  It is seven years since UNESCO asked the state to upgrade the tenure of these lands.  We regard it as disgraceful for the Government not to have responded to the Aboriginal Land Council's claim and we are moving that this House does not approve the proclamation.  We are calling on the Government, in consultation with the Tasmanian Aboriginal people and stakeholders, to develop reserve-class tenures for Aboriginal-owned and managed protected areas, as recommended in the Pathway to Truth-Telling and Treaty report; and respond to the formal land return claim made by the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania in respect of the proposed kooperoona niara national park by returning these lands to Aboriginal ownership and establishing the kooperoona niara national park under the new reserve tenure.

Mr Speaker, we are providing parliament with an opportunity to do the right thing here.  It is very unusual, of course, for the Greens to move against an upgrade to reserve status for any unallocated Crown lands, but we regard this as a higher-order responsibility and obligation on the Tasmanian parliament to get serious about reconciliation and land returns.  The injustice and the lip service must end and that mealy-mouthed proclamation that was laid on the table a week and a half ago is simply not good enough. 

This is business we can deal with in this parliament.  We do not accept the Government's excuses around the proclamation.  This is work that can be done now.  We want parliament to address this.  We want government to face-to-face with the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania representing the Tasmanian Aboriginal people, and commit to returning those lands to Aboriginal ownership.  This is their country, their cultural landscape.  We must return it to them.  It is our obligation.  It is the very, very least we can do. 

I call on the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to take this as seriously as it needs to be taken.  We do not approve the upgrading of the tenures of those areas of land inside the World Heritage Area before there is a conversation with the Tasmanian Aboriginal people.  Either this Government and this parliament is serious about reconciliation and land returns or it is not, and we are encouraging members to do the right thing.


Time expired.