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Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Page: 7220

Senator McCARTHY (Northern Territory) (18:56): I would like to commend Senator Hinch for bringing to the Senate this MPI about protecting dugongs and sea turtles. The speakers here this evening have, most importantly, raised concerns around the care and protection of dugongs and sea turtles. I want to share with the Senate the cultural and spiritual importance of dugong and sea turtle—in particular, to the Yanyuwa people, to whom I belong, in the Gulf Country. We are known as li-antha wirriyarra, which means our spiritual origins are in the sea country, so dugongs and sea turtles are very much what we are about. We have a dance called the ngardiji, which means the mermaid dance and the dreaming. In terms of cultural and spiritual significance, those stories of country are integral to the way first nations people live.

But there is no room for the desecration and the incredible cruelty that we've seen at different stages over the years. The penalties that are there should apply. Clearly, if you break the law, those penalties need to apply. The strength of the first nations rangers on our coastlines—in particular, in northern Australia—is absolutely outstanding. I've heard speakers today talk about what are traditional practices and what are contemporary practices of first nations people. Believe me, that is an ongoing conversation that takes place, even within our own families across Australia, as first nations people.

I would like to share a couple of the language words that the Yanyuwa people use, because this helps us when we explain and describe the importance of cultural and spiritual linkages to these beautiful sea creatures. Yurduwiji means the dust that is stirred up in the seagrass country. Yurduwiji arrawa means that the sea dust is there because of the dugong as opposed to sea dust that might be brought up because of other issues, like cyclones or changes in tides. This is important. The sediment disturbed by feeding dugong and sea turtle is manginy. All of this is very much a part of our cultural understanding of who we are as first nations people, as Yanyuwa, li-antha wirriyarra.

The use of canoes went on very much right up to my mother's time. My mother sailed the seas in the canoes of the Yanyuwa. The use of canoes was very much a part of hunting for dugong and sea turtle. I disagree with speakers when they say that you shouldn't use speedboats. I think we have to take the use of speedboats into consideration. If I refer back to my own clan and kinship groups in the Gulf Country, there is also a deep respect in how that hunting takes place. The use of speedboats means slowing down. People need the speedboats to get out to the island country but, when they know they're hunting for dugong, something else takes place—a deeper respect of how you're going to do it. What we use in the Gulf Country is harpoons. There is a real pride that comes with being a dugong hunter and doing it properly, with the deepest of respect.

The dugong hunter plays a significant role in terms of kinship responsibility. When a dugong hunter goes out and hunts a dugong, then brings it back to the land, the dugong is turned to face towards the sea. Again, there is a blessing that goes with how that dugong not only has just been caught but is about to be killed to feed the clan and the family group that are gathered on any of the many islands in the Gulf Country. It may be on West Island, North Island, Centre Island, Vanderlin Island, South West Island, Black Craggy Island, White Craggy Island or Skull Island. These are the islands that make up the Yanyuwa country, where the dugongs and sea turtles live.

We have a ranger group called the Li-Anthawirriyarra Sea Rangers, who are incredibly proud of monitoring all of that coastal area to care for and protect the dugongs and sea turtles—so much so that they will come down hard on anyone, Indigenous or otherwise, who is doing the wrong thing; either in terms of exploiting the dugongs and sea turtles or in terms of their sale. If there is a black market out there, they are the front line. It is significant that we have these first nations rangers. They must be enabled to be resourced far better than they are. I commend Senator Scullion for the work that he does with the rangers, but I know that this parliament can do so much more in terms of facing what we know is a growing concern, not just about the dugongs and sea turtles but also about anyone who's trying to come into Australia and anyone who's doing anything illegal with other goods across the seas. These sea rangers are usually the first ones who will know about what's happening on their country, on the seas and on the land. In the Northern Territory there are 130 rangers who are employed, full-time and or on a casual basis, and half of them work on protection programs. Recently, there has been promotional material developed in consultation with the NLC rangers and the Northern Territory Department of Environment and Natural Resources around the responsible harvest of eggs.

In Borroloola, there's been a long-term project monitoring nesting rates. On West Island, where they have the home of the flatback sea turtles, it is part of a school holiday program to take the kids back out on country to teach them, again, of li-anthawirriyarra—the importance and the essence of being people who are strong from the sea but care about the sea country, the seabeds, and understand the meaning of all of those things. In Yanyuwa, there is a relationship with all of it. Just as there is a relationship between the dugong hunter and the dugong, there is a relationship with the seabeds and the sea country—where the grass seabeds are, in the area of the islands, or out in the open sea further towards deeper water. All of these things are taught as part of looking at the nesting programs of the flatback sea turtles out on West Island. It is an incredible program that the sea rangers are very proud of. They are very proud of the monitoring, but also very proud of sharing the knowledge.

The other thing about the spiritual relationship with the sea country is that there is great sadness at even the death of one dugong. If that dugong is there and has been cut to feed the family, there is sorrow with that. That comes back to the religious and spiritual relationship of why dugongs are important and, again, I speak specifically for the Yanyuwa. I share this because I think it might give a bit of insight as to why people don't want to see the desecration of or the cruelty to any animals and, if that is occurring, then those penalties need to apply and they must be enforced.

I note that Senator Scullion mentioned other things that impact our sea creatures—the fishing industry with its boats, nets, ghost nets, which have caused more harm to our sea turtles than anything else. I thank you, Senator Hinch, for bringing this to the Senate.