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Anzac Day Trust Winding-Up Bill 2020

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Tags: Veterans, Legislation, Tasmanian Aboriginals

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you for upholding convention in this place in terms of who you gave the call to. We will be supporting the bill. The establishment of this trust is an interesting short story. On the year of its winding up it has reached a half century. I understand that it is now a thoroughly outdated entity, partly because horse races on Anzac Day were not turning a profit but also because of the modest amount of money that was going into the trust and being divvied up principally between two wonderful organisations, Legacy Hobart and Legacy in Launceston. The arrangement that has been put in place for a $40 000 fund, presumably rolling beyond the four-year grant depending on what the response is from the minister, is a very sensible response to the need to make sure that we are still supporting Hobart and Launceston Legacy.

I note we have the Teddy Sheean Memorial Grants Program to provide support to organisations and activities eligible to apply for funding. Is the minister going to change it to the Teddy Sheean VC Memorial Grants Program? I should think so.

Just before I sit down to let Ms Ogilvie speak I want to reflect on a conversation that the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and I had at the Estimates table last year, which is an interesting and important conversation. When I was rereading it again earlier today I was quite impressed with how the minister responded to a series of questions without notice about the need in Tasmania for us to not just acknowledge our Anzac veterans and their families and the veterans of World Wars I, II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Iraq, and Afghanistan but also to acknowledge the warriors who fought for and defended this island, lutruwita Tasmania, on the arrival of the Europeans.

It is a matter of shame on us as a community that we do not know the truth of our history. We do not tell the truth often enough of an attempted genocide. We do not acknowledge the tenacity and the intelligence, the quite remarkable warcraft, if you like, of the First Nations people who were here when the first Europeans arrived.

The minister and I had a conversation that started in part with Professor Henry Reynolds' book, Fate of a Free People. For any person who wants to know more about this island's history I highly recommend that as a foundational read, although a number of magnificent works of historical literature have come since. In many ways, Fate of a Free People is a bedrock book to understand what happened here. Professor Reynolds reflects on Anzac Day in his book. He says in this remarkable and powerful book -

Anzac Day will never be an inclusive national day until the nation also commemorates and mourns black Australians who died defending their homelands from invading Europeans.

Such a development might benefit all Australians by providing an antidote to the national tendency to romanticise warfare, to emphasise dying rather than killing, bravery rather than brutality, sacrifice rather than suffering. With frontier warfare as part of the story, the dawn landing at Gallipoli could be juxtaposed with the many dawn raids faced by sleeping Aborigines.

Heroic bayonet and cavalry charges with such incidents as John Batten's murderous assault on the unsuspecting Aboriginal camp in north east Tasmania and the assassination of true wounded soldiers.

I asked the minister, 'Do you agree that as a society we need to do more, much more, to recognise Aboriginal Tasmanians' contribution to this island, their history as warriors and that we should be prepared to share Anzac Day and other significant military days with Aboriginal Tasmanians as well as commemorate their sacrifices and their warrior skills in the black wars?' Although there was a bit of back and forthing between the minister and I on this issue, to his credit the minister acknowledged. He said -

I recognise the role of indigenous Tasmanians in that service in past wars -

So, he was not talking about the black wars but in past wars.

- conflicts and indeed peace-keeping operations over the past 100-plus years. They have served shoulder to shoulder with their Aussie mates and with their Tasmanian mates as part of this great country and serving as part of and supporting this great country. That should be acknowledged.

Following that conversation, the minister went on to note that the Returned Services League of Tasmania is very open to working with Aboriginal people and I understand the RSL is working with some Aboriginal community leaders at least. Mr Barnett said the RSL's view is that they are prepared to have an open dialogue with the Tasmanian Aboriginal people to discuss and talk about the future of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people and their involvement in the Anzac services, specifically the Anzac Day events. I say congratulations, well done. That is to be commended and I support them in that effort.

When I pointed out there is no tangible acknowledgement of the Black War and the warriors who fought for their country, which we need to remind ourselves was never ceded and we are still on stolen land, there is no point of remembrance for the descendants of those warriors who fought so hard to defend their country. I note that after the Estimates hearing, Mr Barnett went to the Parliamentary Library looking for Henry Reynolds' book and I was quite impressed by that. We really need to deal with this. We cannot continue to deny the history of this island or gloss over it and to diminish the warriors and that story.

In closing, I wanted to note a small but very poignant event which took place on 24 September this year in Murray Street. I will read a little bit from the Mercury report -

About 200 years ago, two Aboriginal men were hung near Murray Street, Hobart, over a crime they did not commit. A Tasmanian Aboriginal leader is calling for change and with the anniversary of a horrific hanging almost 200 years ago Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania chairman Michael Mansell said September marked the anniversary of the hanging of two Aboriginal men. 'When the Black War was on in the 1820s, an Aboriginal group were camped over at Bellerive and they were not a part of the war', he said. 'The governor at the time was under pressure to teach Aboriginal people a lesson so he ordered the guards to go over and grab the two nearest Aborigines because a shepherd had been killed up near Scamander and Swansea'. Mr Mansell continues, 'They grabbed a traditional Aboriginal lawman and the younger Aboriginal man and brought them over here to Murray Street in Hobart, put them through a kangaroo court and hung them'.

On that day Tasmanian Aborigines honoured the memory of these two men. As Mr Mansell said, the two men could not speak English, they had no idea what was happening, were completely innocent of killing anyone, and these blameless people were hanged. Mr Mansell is now calling for the Government to make the truth about Tasmania's history public.

Mr Deputy Speaker, as you well know because I listened very carefully to your inaugural speech, we have to understand our history and we have to respect it. As an island community, we are limiting ourselves in so many ways by denying the history or refusing to really recognise it and refusing in any substantive way to acknowledge that the human story of this island is tens of thousands of years old and that this entire landscape was shaped by Aboriginal people, every corner of it. Those people fought hard for their country and for today's palawa and pakana people. We must be more than prepared to listen to the truth and we need to acknowledge how much was lost. The whole country was lost, and the least we can do is listen to the truth, tell the truth, return lands, engage in treaty discussions, make sure that Aboriginal people have an enduring place in the Tasmanian Parliament, and change the date of our national day.

We also need to make sure that when we rightly honour the soldiers who fought in Gallipoli and the Australians and Tasmanians who have gone off the war before and since, it is the critical, moral and ethical thing to do that we also acknowledge the first Australians, the first warriors on this land, and we do so in a substantive and sincere way.

The Greens will be supporting the bill.