Published: 29 June 2017

Legislative Council Thursday 13 April 2017

Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, once again in this place, I commend the Government for its leadership in our relationship with Aboriginal people.  It has taken far too long.  I commend the Government for actually getting on with that, although I acknowledge, as we were told in the briefing, that more work needs to be done.

I will not go through all the specific changes to legislation brought about by this bill. They have been widely consulted on.  I want to speak about a couple of areas, but I will do that in the Committee stage.

 As members know from my previous contributions in this place, I am surprised Clyde Mansell has not been in touch with me to tell me whether I am right or wrong.  Usually he has no trouble telling me I am wrong, so maybe I am right at the moment.  It has been a long time since the Aboriginal community in my electorate has felt included.  I am pleased this is not the case with this legislation.  However, Aboriginal community members did raised some concerns with me about the process with the Aboriginal Heritage Council.  I have proposed an amendment but I will wait on proceeding with that until I have heard the Acting Leader's second reading response.  I will speak briefly about that now because it obviously has come context and has been a significant issue.

I had another discussion with some of the Acting Leader's advisers after the briefing, and they pointed me to something I commend the Government for - Eligibility for Tasmanian Government Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs and services.  This relates to services, not necessarily to the people themselves, and how a person can identify as Aboriginal in Tasmania.  It basically changed the three-part test to reflect the federal government's approach.  People in my electorate who identify as Aboriginal have been recognised by the federal government as Aboriginal but have been denied recognition in Tasmania, which I think members would agree is fundamentally wrong.

The Government changed its approach to determining eligibility from 1 July 2016, not quite a year ago -

The Tasmanian Government has changed its approach for determining eligibility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs and services to be more consistent with the Australian Government's approach.  Like the Australian Government, the Tasmanian Government uses a three-part test to determine eligibility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs and services.  The three-part test requires a person to -

1.         Have Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander ancestry.

It can be difficult for some people to demonstrate their ancestry clearly because records have been lost or burned or whatever.  One piece of evidence might be missing and people were denied the right to be recognised as Aboriginal in Tasmania.

2.         Self-identify as an Aboriginal person and/or Torres Strait Islander.

That was the sticking point.  Aboriginal people had to be accepted by an organisation rather than by self-identification.

3.         Be recognised as an Aboriginal person and/or Torres Strait Islander by the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander community in which they live or have lived.

It goes on to say -

Under the changed approach to determining eligibility, Tasmanian Government Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs and services which only require self-identification will continue to only require self-identification.  Other Tasmanian Government Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs and services will require applicants to complete an eligibility form.  The form includes a statutory declaration that the applicant meets the three-part test and a statement of communal recommendation from an Aboriginal organisation.

I know this has not been in place for a long time, but I would like the Acting Leader's feedback on how it is working in terms of people being recognised.  We had CHAC, the Circular Head Aboriginal Corporation, receiving significant amounts of federal government funding for its services as an Aboriginal organisation, but it was not recognised by the state.  That appears to have changed, which is good news.  Some of those members are still anxious about the changes made through this legislation.  In terms of how the Aboriginal Heritage Council makes decisions regarding establishment of Aboriginal heritage, people have requested a recognition that this should be done in consultation with all Aboriginal communities.

I accept that some Aboriginal communities come and go.  They are not there all the time.  Some fold for whatever reason - the people in that organisation may die and the community no longer exists in Tasmania.  I do not think it is unreasonable for us to include all Aboriginal communities in consultations.

The Acting Leader's advisors said they can narrow it.  I am not sure how that would work.  I will rely on the Acting Leader to advise how it could be narrowed.  Has the onus of proof changed?  Has the three-part test for eligibility changed?  This would give greater opportunity for people to be recognised as Aboriginal within Tasmania.

That is the key point I raise.  I know not everyone in the Aboriginal community supports changes of any sort to this bill, but there are people in the Aboriginal community who see that as important.  I will be pursuing that and listening to what the Acting Leader has to say.

Overall I do not take issue with the other changes.  I do not have any issue with the removal of the date after which heritage relics are no longer recognised.  That is so stuck in the past. Culture goes on and significant culture continues.  That is what the Aboriginal community is saying.  Aboriginal culture is not something of the past or something dead; it is current.  I think we all agree with that in our own lives.

Another point the Acting Leader spoke about is one I want to flag now and also deal with in the Committee stage - the matter of the guidelines.  The people who briefed us kindly provided a copy of the guidelines, which are still in draft form and have not yet been finalised.

When I read section 16 of the bill, which includes the section about guidelines, it seems that they still have to lay on the Table here and be approved.  They are not simply here for us to amend or change.  Although we have this nice, glossy little document, it is only a draft, and it will have to go through a period of disallowance.  I see some nods from the Acting Leader's advisory team, so that is fine.  There will be an opportunity for members to comment. 

We received some information from the Aboriginal community.  The signatory, Rocky Sainty, the chair of the Aboriginal Heritage Council, said that they support the guidelines and the amendments to the act.  We also have letters of support from three key bodies - the Tasmanian Farmers & Graziers Association - the TFGA - the farmers using their land; the Forestry Industries Association of Tasmania; and the Tasmanian Minerals and Energy Council.  Members of these groups need to have some certainty about this.  The TFGA is going with the guidelines that will be presented.  The Forestry Industries Association of Tasmania and the Minerals and Energy Council are creating their own guidelines.  The Minerals and Energy Council is very good at writing guidelines and codes of practice, so no doubt it will have its guidelines organised.

Regarding their guidelines: will they also become disallowable?  Do guidelines produced by the Tasmanian Minerals and Energy Council and Forest Industries Association of Tasmania go through the same process, or are we taking this on faith?  I do not doubt they will do a fairly good job.  I am sure these organisations consult with the Aboriginal community when they write their guidelines.  There needs to be an inclusive approach in support of them all, otherwise members can only imagine what would happen.  I would like the Acting Leader to comment on this when she sums up.

I commend the Government for making this change.  More needs to be done, but this has made a difference to people in my electorate who identify as Aboriginal.  Other Aboriginal people around the state, not only in my electorate, have also been in touch with me over the years, and often they have felt completely disempowered and rejected.

I commend the Government for resetting that relationship, and for recognising and including these people in decision-making that affects them.  I support the bill and commend the Government for its work. 

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