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Housing – Wirksworth Estate and Aboriginal Heritage


Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Tags: Aboriginal Heritage, Planning

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, I would like to ask you about the Wirksworth Estate aged care facility. A statement that was issued by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Heritage Council on 20 November states that the Aboriginal Heritage Council considered the permit application for the development of the Wirksworth Estate aged care facility and unanimously opposed the permit application on the basis of extensive impact such a development would have on a site that is over 800 years old. The council says -

This site shows directly linkage to sustained Aboriginal use of place. Most likely it was a place for living, lithic processing and/or hunting. This significant site and landscape can be tied back to the mid-Holocene period and contributes crucial information to additional understanding of the use of coastal hinterland.

The Aboriginal Heritage Council is very concerned about your conduct on this matter and very critical of you. They say -

The council questions why, given the extensive nature of the property available to the state Government and its agency Housing Tasmania, at the location of the proposed development an opportunity to avoid interference with significant Aboriginal heritage could not be negotiated. Minister Jaensch's statement that the development can proceed in a manner that is sensitive to Aboriginal heritage on the site is completely inaccurate.

What is your response to that very sharp criticism from the Aboriginal Heritage Council?

Mr JAENSCH - An Aboriginal Heritage permit has been issued for the development at the Wirksworth Park site. As I understand it, the proposed development has been designed in knowledge of the Aboriginal heritage existing at the site so that the development will conceal but not disturb or destroy Aboriginal heritage at the site. We also understand that Aboriginal heritage is likely to extend over parts of the site that are outside the footprint of the proposed buildings and I am seeking advice on ways we can respect and protect the undisturbed heritage over the remainder of the site while the development proceeds.

Ms O'CONNOR - Just to confirm, minister, when you say an Aboriginal Heritage permit has been issued, that was not issued by the Aboriginal Heritage Council, was it?

Mr JAENSCH - No. The way that Aboriginal Heritage permits work is that they are applied for by an applicant, are assessed and investigated. The Aboriginal Heritage Council then considers that information and makes its recommendation.

Ms O'CONNOR - Which was ignored in this case.

Mr JAENSCH - I don't believe it was ignored; I think it was very much taken into account. The Aboriginal Heritage Council's consideration is confined appropriately to those matters of Aboriginal heritage only. The director of DPIPWE has a responsibility for preparing advice and information for the minister, who has authority under the act for creating the permit or deciding the permit ultimately, and that process takes into account a range of other facts as well, including the purpose of the development, the nature of the construction and the extent of the disturbance or destruction of heritage and provides advice on balance to the minister.

Ms O'CONNOR - Minister, you have been accused by the Aboriginal Heritage Council of not being truthful over this matter. Chair, Rodney Dillon, said this is a situation which has the potential to replicate the destruction of Aboriginal cultural heritage such as the recent blasting of Juukan Gorge by Rio Tinto. Mr Dillon said -

We had written to minister Jaensch expressing our grave concerns and to urge an alternative scenario to be considered …

When they didn't hear from you, minister, they wrote to the federal minister, Mr Wyatt and they are still waiting for a response.

Mr Dillon says -

Minister Jaensch has since chosen to inform the Council and the community of the outcome of the permit being signed through a media release which clearly is not appropriate or respectful. The Tasmanian Government clearly does not support its First Nations People and the destruction of our heritage and culture continues. This is not the first and clearly not the last time our people, our history, our culture and our ancestors have been abused and their rights ignored.

How do you respond to that, both as Minister for Housing, but also as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and, of course, we will get to that portfolio later. But this is the most damning assessment of the role you have played in allowing Aboriginal heritage to be damaged or destroyed on that site.

Mr JAENSCH - To be clear, I have the utmost respect for Mr Dillon and the Aboriginal Heritage Council -

Ms O'CONNOR - Well, it might not be reciprocated any more.

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, you've asked a question.

Mr JAENSCH - and the Aboriginal people and Aboriginal heritage. I take my responsibilities to them -

Ms O'CONNOR - Lip service.

CHAIR - Order, Ms O'Connor.

Mr JAENSCH - very seriously, Ms O'Connor. I will also confirm for the record that because I am the Minister for Housing as well as the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, a conflict existed in this case. When that arises, my job is alert the Premier so that the Premier may then re-allocate the decision-making responsibility to avoid that conflict. In this case, the Attorney-General, Elise Archer, was the decision-maker for this permit -

Ms O'CONNOR - Groundhog Day.

Mr JAENSCH - to avoid any perception of bias or conflict, given my portfolio responsibilities for Housing and for Aboriginal Affairs.

Ms O'CONNOR - So you didn't speak up for the heritage?

CHAIR - Ms O'Connor, you've asked a question. I ask you to let the minister respond.

Mr JAENSCH - In relation to the other matters, I did speak with Mr Dillon prior to -

Ms O'CONNOR - You haven't responded to his letter.

Mr JAENSCH - the public announcement of the permit having been issued, and my office thus far has been unable to identify the letter written by the Heritage Council to me on these matters. It's possible that there was correspondence from the Heritage Council to the minister responsible for this decision that was referred to in that media release.

I continue to seek advice on the best ways for us, beyond the footprint of the existing development which has been extensively modified, to conceal but not destroy the Aboriginal heritage that's been identified underground. We understand that the heritage items may extend over a larger part of that site. I'm taking advice now on what options we have to prevent further disturbance, or the risk of further disturbance, to those items across the site and our ability to put some controls in place regarding that.

I will continue to do so, so that we are able to recognise the cultural significance of that area and I will be advised by Aboriginal people on the best way of doing that.

Ms O'CONNOR - The ones who are still talking to you.