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Wednesday, 10 March 1999
Page: 3700

Mr Latham asked the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, upon notice, on 11 November 1998:

What institutions other than those mentioned in the answer to question No. 2826 (Hansard , 30 June 1998, page 5535), have been approached to return Aboriginal human remains to Australia but have not agreed to return them.

Mr Ruddock (Immigration and Multicultural Affairs; Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —The Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) is responsible, on behalf of the Commonwealth, for matters to do with the repatriation of indigenous cultural property from overseas. As part of its responsibilities ATSIC may fund indigenous community projects directed at reclaiming ancestral remains.

ATSIC is not actively engaged in approaching overseas collecting institutions seeking the return of Aboriginal human remains. Reclaiming material from the national institutions of other countries is a delicate issue, and Australia has encouraged its overseas postings to use their influence wherever possible to encourage overseas bodies to release human remains.

A more active role has been played by Aboriginal organisations, notably by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) which, with minimal assistance from ATSIC, has utilised visits to institutions, and correspondence, to persuade overseas institutions to offer remains in return. Because of its independence, the TAC had not been obliged to account to the Commonwealth on its actions, and it is not possible, therefore, to report on its success with individual institutions. Proposed future funding of TAC by ATSIC will carry with it an obligation to report back against mandatory performance indicators requiring an account of research undertaken.

The Queensland Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA) has been funded to maintain a researcher in the United Kingdom has over the last couple of years. This researcher has been involved in researching the provenance of known collections, such as that of the University of Edinburgh, rather than making overtures to further institutions. There was, however, some media reporting earlier this year of an alleged refusal by the Natural History Museum in London to make records relating to Indigenous remains in its collection available to FAIRA.

Campaigns by Aboriginal groups to return ancestral remains have focused on the United Kingdom, and overtures to continental European institutions have to date been largely successful.