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Wednesday, 2 March 2016
Page: 1589


Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (13:04): The Takayna/Tarkine region in north-western Tasmania is a rugged, beautiful, windswept coastline and hinterland. It has outstanding natural values, spectacular scenic and ecological values and it is of extraordinary cultural heritage value, particularly Aboriginal cultural heritage value. It has been found by the Australian Heritage Council to have outstanding national heritage significance and parts of it have been included on the National Heritage List as the Western Tasmania Aboriginal Cultural Landscape. It deserves to be included in an extended Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area for its outstanding universal values and listed on the World Heritage List so that all of its values, natural and cultural heritage, are protected on behalf of all of humanity.

One threat to the natural values and, particularly, to the Aboriginal cultural heritage values, is damage done over a long period of time by four-wheel-drive vehicles. I have had the honour to spend time on the Takayna/Tarkine coast with members of the Tasmanian Aboriginal communities and also to visit there with the late Geoff King, who was from a pastoral family of many generations whose land in that area dates back to the 1880s. I spent a couple of days there with Geoff, who fought so hard and so passionately to protect the cultural heritage values of those areas. I have had Geoff interpret the hut depressions that are so hard to see unless you know what you are looking for, and I saw the absolute fragility of both the natural and cultural heritage values of that area.

During the term of the last Tasmanian government, which I had the honour to be a minister in, 15 of the four-wheel-drive tracks in that region were closed and restrictions were placed on a number of others. Unfortunately, in an electorally populist decision, the Tasmanian Liberals campaigned during the election in 2014 on a promise to reopen those tracks. Equally unfortunately, they held to that position when they won the election and, thankfully, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre took legal action in the Federal Court. I would like to congratulate the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre on having the courage to take that action in the Federal Court and, particularly, to mention Adam Thompson, Heather Sculthorpe, Jarrod and Crystal Edwards and others of the Pakana Rangers and the Premingana Mob. I also give a shout-out to my friend and colleague Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, who visited that area and whose photos of the destruction caused by four-wheel drive vehicles in that area were of immense assistance in the campaign, which is still ongoing, to protect the natural and cultural heritage values of that area.

I understand that both Jarrod Edwards and Adam Thompson were recently out camping at Sandy Cape, when the news came through that Justice Mortimer, on 1 March—very recently indeed—had handed down a decision in the Federal Court of Australia, after His Honour Justice Kerr put in place an interim order on 23 December, that, effectively, ensured that those tracks stayed closed. The order from Justice Mortimer on 1 March was that the proposal by the Tasmanian government to reopen those tracks would be likely to have a significant impact on the Indigenous natural heritage values of the area which would be contrary to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Senator Whish-Wilson has informed me that he understands that, when Jarrod and Adam, camping at Sandy Cape, heard the fantastic news about Justice Mortimer's judgement, they were moved to tears and have informed Senator Whish-Wilson that they were able to share that great news with their ancestors as they spent time in that place that is so precious to them. The cultural heritage values of this area are just so important to Aboriginal people in Tasmania, and it is such a relief that we now have a judgement from the Federal Court that will significantly assist in the ongoing protection of those Aboriginal cultural heritage values.

But, unfortunately, the fight is not over. The Tasmanian government have refused to rule out an appeal against the Federal Court judgement, determined, it seems, to press ahead with something that they believe is electorally popular when they know, in their heart of hearts, it is not the right thing to do. This is particularly a valid comment considering the commitment last year by the Premier of Tasmania, Mr Will Hodgman, to 'reset his relationship' with the Tasmanian Aboriginal people. A gratuitous piece of advice from this senator and, I know, all my Greens colleagues in this place to Premier Hodgman: if you are genuine about wanting to reset your relationship with the Aboriginal community, come out tomorrow—even better, come out today—and announce that you will not be appealing the Federal Court decision.

I wanted to spend the few minutes left to me talking about the beauty and the value of this unique place on our planet, but then I read the Mercury editorial today and it says it so much better than I could, so I will quote a few sections of that editorial:

A lack of understanding about the ancient human history on the spectacular, windblown coastline is shamefully widespread. Unfortunately, many attempts to enlighten the community to the global significance and awe-inspiring cultural importance of the Aboriginal heritage in this landscape have been thwarted by a concerted campaign to undermine any sense of empathy or shared understanding.

It goes on to say:

… the heritage being actively protected by the Federal Court is many, many thousands of years old, representing innumerable generations and countless families. It drills down into Deep Time, potentially more than 40,000 years.

The treatment by European invaders of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people has been a terrible, terrible part of our country's history. They had their land removed from them at the point of a musket and at the point of a sword. We saw rape; we saw pillage; we saw kidnaps of Aboriginal people in Tasmania by Europeans, particularly in the early days and years and decades of European settlement in Tasmania. That tragedy extends to today, where we are not doing enough to return lands to the Tasmanian Aboriginal people. We are not doing enough to protect their priceless, unique cultural heritage on our beautiful island of Tasmania, and we have a state government today that is refusing to rule out appealing against a Federal Court judgement that will go some small way towards redressing the massive imbalance that has existed for over 200 years now, since Europeans arrived in Tasmania.

Destroying Aboriginal cultural heritage, as many four-wheel drivers did in the takanya-Tarkine region, is like bulldozing the great pyramids of Egypt and using the rubble as road gravel. It is cultural vandalism of the highest order. It has to stop. The state government has to show some leadership here. The Federal Court has done its job by interpreting the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act in the way it has and in making both Justice Kerr's interim judgement and Justice Mortimer's final judgement. It is now time for the state government to show leadership. (Time expired)