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Tasmanian Aboriginal People

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 30 March 2023

Tags: Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, the matter of public importance today occurs as we have just received some new and fresh evidence of the extreme harm, the destruction, that is being caused to ancient Aboriginal heritage in the takayna landscape. We have photos here, which the minister might like to see, from Dan Brewen, taken in the last week that show fresh damage of tyre tracks over ancient middens. These are middens that have been built through tens of thousands of years of Tasmanian Aboriginal people, the palawa/pakana people, living their lives, cultivating shellfish, eating shellfish, and creating giant middens. Nowhere else on the planet has these extraordinary examples of the lives of people who lived in that wild landscape.

These photographs were taken just recently near Interview River.

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, I was talking about the photographs of the destruction of the takayna Aboriginal heritage that were taken in the last week at Interview River, which is south of Sandy Cape. This is an area which has long been identified as sacred and which a previous minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Jacquie Petrusma, promised that access to that area would be closed, but clearly it is not. Clearly the Government is doing nothing about the continued destruction of this area.

It grieves me as a non-Aboriginal person who has walked in those places and has personally seen those extraordinary middens, evidence of the lifestyle and the existence of the palawa pakana, the Tasmanian Aboriginal people, and has seen the damage that has been done. I cannot imagine what it would feel like to the palawa community who have spoken with such distress about this ongoing destruction, which is not only a failure to protect it but an active enablement by this Government and this minister through doing nothing to shut off the access to those tracks, an obvious way of solving this problem, and the minister refuses to take it. It is about virtue-signalling to communities that they want to get on-side with and that is what is concerning here.

The minister says one thing out of one side of his face and another thing out of the other. He wrote to Denise Gardner from the Cape Barren Island Aboriginal Association on 9 March and said that the Government is ensuring that all Tasmanian Aboriginal people, including the Cape Barren Aboriginal Association, are informed and involved in the development of the truth-telling and treaty process and he says:

The Tasmanian Government remains committed to our pathway towards truth-telling and treaty in partnership with all Tasmanian Aboriginal people.

He cannot have it both ways. He cannot be talking about truth-telling and treaty with Tasmanian Aboriginal people and yet negotiating and talking about land returns with the Circular Head Aboriginal Corporation and the Brumby Hill Aboriginal Corporation who, through their odious letter to the minister in July last year, have stated the falsehood that there is evidence to show that the construct of Tasmanian Aboriginal people is a fallacy. I note they do not provide the evidence in the letter they have written to the minister and that is because they have none that is credible or could be supported by a person with a scintilla of historical understanding of the process of colonisation and the ongoing colonising of this land because it is writ large.

We have had these conversations. This is taking us back to a very sad space. We have been through decades of fear and hate being whipped up by the previous Liberal Prime Minister, John Howard. We have seen him give space for the sort of historical denialism of people that suited a particular national, white-focused identity that John Howard was keen to present. Australia has been down this path and we have rejected it. The Greens, along with the Liberal and Labor parties, we believe also rejected it.

The tripartite approach of parties in this place to walking towards treaty and truth-telling, justice and land returns to Tasmanian Aboriginal people has been trashed today by the statements of the minister for Tasmanian Aboriginal people. He is not the minister for Australian Aboriginal people, he is the minister responsible for the grave duty of overseeing the manifest improvement in the lives and conditions of the palawa people. We hope the minister will understand the damage he has done because this is going to continue.