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Veterans' Affairs - Eaglehawk Neck Aboriginal Grave Site

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 26 November 2020

Tags: Aboriginal Heritage, Tasmanian Aboriginals, Veterans

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, the proposed land for road widening at Eaglehawk Neck includes what is potentially the site of Tasmanian's largest massacre of lutruwita's First Peoples. It may also be the largest site, some say, of a massacre of Aboriginal people in Australia. The local Aboriginal community must have ownership of any investigations that would occur on that sacred and painful place. Road widening risks desecrating that site and an Aboriginal Heritage management expert warns that it would potentially risk the grave being looted. Do you agree that it is totally inappropriate to disturb the site of a battle in lutruwita/Tasmania in this manner? Will you be lobbying your colleague, minister Ferguson, to protect that important site?

Mr BARNETT - I am obviously not the minister responsible for roads and nor am I the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs but, as Minister for Veterans Affairs, perhaps you have seen my opinion piece acknowledging the important role and service of our indigenous Tasmanians in past wars and particularly World War I and World War II. In those observations I shared I noted that they were discriminated against prior to going to war and then upon returning from their war service, but during wartime probably for the first time were treated as equals at least in part. I acknowledge their service.

I make it very clear that this is primarily a matter for RSL Tasmania in terms of their interaction with the Aboriginal community. I know that they are prepared to have an open dialogue with the Tasmanian Aboriginal groups and community and that dialogue is a matter for them.

Dr WOODRUFF - This is about the specific situation of the road widening at Eaglehawk Neck. Will you make your representation -

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, I have to remind the committee that today we are looking at Budget Paper 2 and the output group for Veterans' Affairs. Your questions need to be relevant to the minister's output. I have to ask how you are drawing it into the Minister for Veterans' Affairs portfolio. It is very clear what comes under the Minister for Veterans' Affairs in the budget papers.

Dr WOODRUFF - Because it is the site of the largest know massacre of lutruwita Tasmanians and I would have thought as Minister for Veterans' Affairs and from the conversations Ms O'Connor had with you extensively at the last Estimates, and your piece in the Mercury, that you understood the importance of commemorating sacred sites like that, and therefore in your capacity as minister with that understanding you would speak to minister Ferguson about the impacts of desecrating that site by the proposed road widening.

Mr BARNETT - The Chair has made a good point about what is in the budget papers in terms of our strong support for our veterans and their families around Tasmania. It is all set out in the Budget. In my role as Minister for Veterans' Affairs I have a very close relationship with RSL Tasmania and their more than 50 sub-branches all around Tasmania, plus the ex service organisations. I have indicated my strong support for all those who fought for Tasmania and Australia in past wars, conflicts and peacekeeping times. I note that many of those were indigenous Tasmanians and I pay respect to them, I pay honour to them today, here and now.

I reflect on the observations and remarks that I shared across the table with your colleague, Ms O'Connor, at the last Estimates. I am aware of that, I am familiar with those remarks, I did note her views and followed up on those remarks and views to learn more about what has been referred to as the Frontier Wars. That is acknowledged. I cannot do much more than acknowledge that and say again that I am not the minister for Infrastructure and roads, nor am I the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, but my views are clear in terms of paying respect and honour to Indigenous Tasmanians in this regard. I am sure that is clear across Government and in the public arena.


Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, if there was a road widening that would resume land which had an Anzac Day Cenotaph on it, or had a returned soldier's grave, would you feel it to be part of your responsibility as minister for Veterans' Affairs to make representations to the minister, Mr Ferguson, to change that road's route to respect the site?

Mr BARNETT - It is a hypothetical question and such a proposition as you have outlined has not occurred. The veteran community knows and is aware of my strong support for them in every respect. In fact, on my morning walk this morning I went to the cenotaph at Hobart, up on the hill, and I had a lovely fresh morning walk. I really enjoyed it. I was reflecting on the days ahead, particularly with the Teddy Sheean VC investiture coming up on 1 December next week. So, yes, of course, I would take into account the interests of our veterans at all times and draw that to the attention of the Government, the relevant ministers. They are all aware of my strong support for our veterans, they know that. I think you know that, Chair, and others know that. I wouldn't ever be backwards at coming forwards in supporting our veterans, wherever possible.

CHAIR - Last question.

Dr WOODRUFF - So why don't you make representation on behalf of the brave Aboriginal warriors who died, who were massacred at that place on Eaglehawk Neck? Why don't you pay your respect to them as Minister for Veterans' Affairs and make a representation to Mr Ferguson about this road widening that would desecrate the site of that massacre, the largest ever in Tasmania? These are people who bravely fought for their families, their communities, and their land - First Tasmania People.

Mr BARNETT - I don't undervalue at all the strength and passion for which you put the question and what's behind your question. I understand where you're coming from. It's clearly a matter for the minister for Infrastructure and roads and a matter, likewise, for the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. As the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, my prime concern is veterans, the 10 500 veterans across Tasmania and their families and to represent them wherever possible. Of course, many of them are Indigenous veterans for which I pay honour and respect and I will continue to do that.

Dr WOODRUFF - You are only interested in colonial veterans who fought in colonial wars.

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, Mr Ellis has the call.