Legislative Council, Tuesday 27 June 2023
Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, I rise on adjournment this evening to speak about and advocate for the Circular Head Aboriginal Corporation (CHAC) on behalf of its chair, Selina Maguire Colgrave, and to bring to the Council's attention the escalating acts of lateral violence the Circular Head Aboriginal community have faced on a daily basis.
I am going to read from Selina's message to me because it is her voice that needs to be heard in this.
What can be best described as a campaign culminating recently with the controversial and frankly painful-to-watch film entitled My Journey, screened at the recent Dark Mofo festival, the Aboriginal community of Circular Head have been the subjects of a long-sustained campaign by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre and its associating members to discredit CHAC as an organisation and its community's claims of Aboriginality.
This claim has frequently been brought into the public eye with the statements such as 'white fraud', 'identity seekers', 'white pretenders', 'tick-a-boxes', et cetera, and given print space in association with Circular Head and CHAC.
Large-print publications and media outlets like The Australian, the Herald Sun, the Mercury, The Advocate and the ABC have been complicit in this lateral violence and fueling the fire, so to speak, but has resulted in the complete breakdown of the souls of the Aboriginal people of Circular Head and their ability to embrace and practice their culture.
Fear has been the ultimate consequence, where many in the community have reported their mental health challenges due to this persistent lateral violence.
What's more, this conflict completely undermines the Aboriginal people of Circular Head's opportunity for self-determination, as their successes are always shadowed by fear and racial hatred.
This lateral violence was evidenced in the film, My Journey, created by two TAC members, who chose to reference Smithton as the location of the film, and drew direct parallels to specific people in the Circular Head community. This hurt, as a result, is inexcusable, and needs to be recognised by the film makers and Dark Mofo.
Selina Maguire Colgrave took to her personal Facebook page to share a glimpse of the devastation such a film can have. She said the direct parallels drawn from the character and herself, down to her job title, were undeniably directed at her', in her opinion.
Nathan Maynard has been quoted in print denying the character is based on a real person, but Selina says:
You cannot draw such associations like the naming of the town Smithton, a person's exact job role, and specific Aboriginal issues a person has been involved in and continue to hide behind this claim of fiction. The hurt is very real.
In Selina's Facebook post she continues to detail the hurt to her community. She called on prominent members of our community, including those of us who sit in parliament, to take action and help her community.
I am attempting to do that today by bringing this issue to the attention of the Chamber and imploring all of us to work together to stop lateral violence and work as a united community with differing views. She goes on in this message to me:
This lateral violence is nothing new to the community of Circular Head and is something we have been subject to for decades. It is no surprise that we are now at breaking point. There are many in the community who still today in the 21st century are ashamed to identify as Aboriginal due to the fear established by this lateral violence. If you can consider the significant trials that occurred in 2002 and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal during this process 140 members from this community and other parts of the Tasmania were prompted to prove 'their Aboriginality'. A unique time in Australian history as those candidates were put through the demeaning and traumatic process of proving their Aboriginality in a very public forum.
Despite the fact that they have been recognised federally:
The intention of proving this was not from any community pressure but rather an attempt to counter the claims to which the attack based lateral violence yet this is not enough to modify their hostility. In fact, it only fueled the lateral violence to where we are today where we had to bear witness to such hate fueled films like My Journey. This film is one of plenty examples of lateral violence, discrimination and racial hatred that this community is subject to.
Circular Head has the largest population of Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people in the state, yet who is helping them? Has the Government been part of this problem that has undermined this community's right to self-determination and ability to operate as an Aboriginal community that services their community? Take our Government funding for example, the unproportionate funding that goes to TAC vs CHAC can be explained by nothing other than discrimination.
This is Selina's view, Mr President:
You can see the amounts that vary significantly in both organisations' annual reports. As elected representatives for these people - and I am an elected representative of this particular group of Aboriginal people - I and we have an obligation to stand up for the Circular Head community to try to do our best to put a stop to the relentless lateral violence and put a stop to decisions that facilitate this divide and inequality among Aboriginal groups.
There are about 20 other Aboriginal organisations outside of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation who may have similar stories, Selina suggests. She finishes off this message to me with:
The mental burden of identity in the Circular Head region is having a detrimental effect on the lives of the people there. I shudder to think what additional pressures like The Voice campaign will be doing to their mental health and wellbeing. If we truly want to affect change for Aboriginal people in our community, this is a way we can do it now and put a stop to lateral violence by safeguarding them in public forums but also empowering them to embrace their culture and their identity and achieve true self determination.
Something that will be significantly more powerful and beneficial than any voice can be.
They are Selina's comments. I know how hard this has hit this community. Whilst the claim remains in the media - there was an article in The Advocate; there have been articles in other places where the people who prepared this documentary have claimed it was not based on anyone. But when you name Smithton with all the history that goes with this, when you have the lead character as someone who basically can be identified by the people in that community, it is hurtful and it is not okay.
I am calling that out. I know that I will probably be getting a phone call from some people in that Aboriginal community telling me I am a racist and accusing me of defending people who are not Aboriginal. I will stand by my community. I will accept those slurs if they come my way, which they have in the past and I am sure they will again. For me, it is really important that all people in Tasmania, regardless of their race, their gender, any other attribute that they bring to our state, should be respected and not have to be vilified in a way that is deeply hurtful to them.
I know the claim will be made this was not focused on Selina Maguire-Colgrave or the CHAC community per se, but Smithton was named in it. Smithton is the home to the local Aboriginal community, people I represent.
I put that on the record. I am not asking the government to do anything about it, except to be really aware of it. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs represents this community alongside me, and I ask him to start making some public statements too. To date, unless I have missed it, he has been silent.