Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 11 September 1984
Page: 777

Senator MISSEN —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment. Has the Minister's attention been drawn to the controversy surrounding the recent decision by the Tasmanian Government to hand over to local Aboriginal groups all its museum holdings of human skeletal material for cremation? I ask the Minister whether she is aware of the tremendous value that anthropologists have placed on these human remains and, in particular, aware of comments by Professor John Mulvaney, Australia's pioneering pre-historian from the Australian National University, that:

Burning of their ancestors by contemporary Aborigines could be likened to the burning of books that took place in Germany in the 1930s.

What action does the Federal Government propose to take to ensure that these ancient remains of international scientific significance are preserved and that a vital part of Tasmania's archaeological heritage is not destroyed?

Senator RYAN —Although Senator Missen gave me prior notice of his interest in this matter, the brief that I have from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs simply states facts that are obviously already known to him; namely, that the decision was made by the responsible authorities in Tasmania to hand over the remains to members of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community. Legislation will be introduced into the Tasmanian Parliament early in its Budget session to allow the handing over of the remains to Aboriginal elders. The Tasmanian Minister for National Parks, Mr Beswick, said:

The Government has already acknowledged the wish of the Aboriginal community, as revealed in a survey conducted by the Tasmanian National Aboriginal Conference representative, Mr Roy Nichols, to cremate those remains known as the Crowther Collection at Oyster Cove and to dispose of the ashes on the site.

In addition, the Government has now decided after further consultations, that the other Aboriginal remains held in the museums should also be handed over.

However, I have asked the Aboriginal community to consider retaining, under its control, those few remains which are regarded by anthropologists as having important scientific value.

Mr Beswick went on to say that this is a matter to be decided by the Aboriginal community. I am not sure that the Federal Government would seek to interfere, or indeed has any powers to interfere, in a decision which has been made by the Tasmanian Government in response to the Tasmanian community, but I suppose some members of the Government would echo Mr Beswick's wish that those remains of anthropological value be preserved under the control of the Aboriginal community so that their value is not lost. I am not aware of any intention on the part of the Federal Government to take steps in this matter.

Senator MISSEN —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. What does the Federal Government propose to do to preserve these ancient remains? In view of the unsatisfactory brief which the Minister has on this question, will the Minister go back to the Minister for Home Affairs and Environment to ascertain his views of the Government's powers and also the persuasive abilities of the Government to ensure that these important remains are not left in the hands of someone else but are retained within the State Government's control so that they are not destroyed, meaning that future inquiry and research cannot be carried out?

Senator RYAN —I will refer Senator Missen's inquiries to the appropriate Government Ministers but my personal view is that the decision has been made by the Tasmanian Government in consultation with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community and it should be left there. That is a personal view and not a Government view, because we have not discussed it. I will get further information for Senator Missen.