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Environment and Communications References Committee
Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area

LANGFORD, Ms Ruth, State Secretary, Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre


CHAIR: Welcome. I understand that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. The committee has your submission. I now invite you to make a short opening statement and at the conclusion of your remarks I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you.

Ms Langford then spoke in language—

Ms Langford : I would like to call in all our old people who hold this country in their hearts whether or not they are here with us presently or they have gone before us. As far as I am concerned, this is a reciprocal process. It is an opportunity for me to find out from the Senate where their thoughts are because you all make decisions which will directly impact upon our people and future generations to come. One of the things that I was thinking about is that often we come into a process where the timescape is very different from what we are used to and the forms of responsibilities that are culturally our obligations. One of the things that we come across are people who carry with them a sense of the truth that they are journeying with all the people who have come before them. To get a gist of where your mindsets are, do you know who your grandparents are? Do you know the names of your grandparents? Do you know the names of your great-grandparents? What about your great-great-grandparents? It is very rare that I come across a person who will know the names of their great-great-grandparents.

CHAIR: I can actually go back seven generations. I appreciate where you are coming from—and it was Duggan, incidentally. So I am probably related to the gentleman who just left.

Ms Langford : To put things into perspective, my grandmother knew 40 generations of her people. When we come to share things and to call on you to widen your understanding of the truth I present to you today, you should know there is a completely different mindscape that comes here. I carry directly within me 40 generations and then the unknown and unspeakable that goes beyond that.

So, when we are talking about reviewing the extension boundaries, or even the process, we are yet to have a look at the truth of the universal values of these areas of lands. One of the most crucial elements has been the continuation of the Aboriginal culture and heritage within these areas. Although there are recognised universal values based upon ecological conservation, the process of Aboriginal heritage has yet to be undertaken.

My submission was saying that until the Aboriginal heritage values have been identified by the Aboriginal community then this process is fundamentally flawed. The World Heritage committee requested that the state undertake that assessment by our people. I draw your attention to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—I will table the articles—and particularly article 32, which entrenches the rights of Indigenous people under international law to the continuing use of, and control over, our traditional lands, waters and resources. It also protects the rights to be involved prior to approvals such as World Heritage status and supports Aborigines' development of management plans with respect to our lands

We hope that the Senate inquiry could undertake a process of honouring the fact that our people still have and maintain, and would like to strengthen, our core cultural responsibilities and obligations to care for and protect our lands, and to share the knowledge that we have with the wider population, including the population of the globe. Until that is done, how can people make a decision? You only have half the facts.

Senator Milne's question before was about these universal values: would you want to log in those areas? While people only have specific facts, how can they make informed decisions about the process?

CHAIR: If I understand you correctly today, and from your submission, your position is that there are problems with the current listing of the World Heritage area because insufficient study has been done about the Aboriginal values of that area. Is that your contention?

Ms Langford : Our contention is that the current Commonwealth and state governments are looking to repeal these areas of the extended boundary. It has been directed by the World Heritage committee that the Aboriginal cultural values need to be assessed by our community in order to inform this process. That has yet to be done.

CHAIR: So are you criticising the original decision to list and/or the extension and the delisting? It sounds, from what you have said, that there has been very little consultation with the Aboriginal community, throughout.

Ms Langford : That is correct. We are yet to the have the opportunity to be fully informed in this process and to participate in it. We would hope that this process urges that we have an ability to share our story on this.

Senator MILNE: So you are saying that you want the extension to stand, but you also want the commitment to provide funding to Tasmania's Aboriginal people to be delivered so that you can do the assessment that the World Heritage Committee has asked be done, and contribute to the knowledge of the values of the place. As I understand it, the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage area is listed for both its natural and its cultural values. But the cultural values have not been properly assessed; everybody acknowledges that. So, really, this is an opportunity for a restatement of a commitment for the funding for you to be able to do that work. Is that where you are coming from?

Ms Langford : Both. Certainly it is a commitment. We would like the commitment to be undertaken. We assert that that cultural assessment needs to be done by the community, not by a government department. It cannot possibly adequately provide for the cultural assessment unless it is done by Aboriginal people, by our own community. However, I do assert that any process that is undertaken needs to take into consideration our values. The past process did not take that into consideration. We are not commenting one way or another whether those extensions should or should not have happened. What we are saying is that the decision by the World Heritage Committee needs to also be informed by those cultural values so that those extensions may come out. If we were to have a look at those boundaries and have a look at the cultural values being assessed, we may have been able to say, 'We need this area of land to be included because this comes through here and this forest provides for this.' Because that assessment has not been done then we cannot possibly inform the process.

Senator MILNE: Were you ever promised a particular sum of money by the Commonwealth do this work?

Ms Langford : Five hundred thousand dollars was originally suggested by the past minister for a cultural values assessment to be undertaken.

Senator MILNE: Was any money ever paid to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre or any other Aboriginal group to begin that work?

Ms Langford : No.

Senator MILNE: So not one cent has come to you?

Ms Langford : No, and we are yet to find out where that process is at.

Senator MILNE: We as a Senate committee cannot undertake to deliver funding, but we can certainly undertake to pursue what has happened with regard to those promises in forward estimates and so on. We will take that on notice and pursue that.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Would you rather see the areas protected while this assessment goes ahead or would you rather see them open to logging and other activities, where presumably you will also get to do an assessment?

Ms Langford : Our cultural obligation is to care and protect that area while we also provide for the ongoing cultural continuing of our traditional practices, which also means the collection of bark. Under law we have access rights; however, it is very difficult to continue those practices. We believe there is a process of recognising that it is an Aboriginal landscape. Under law as a World Heritage area there is care and protection provided, but, as we have seen, we are locked out of our international rights as Indigenous people to actually manage, maintain and protect that area. We assert our rights to continue to do that. Obviously, it is our cultural obligation to care and protect for that area of land, as it is to care and protect for the social equality of our people and give them access to the ability to provide income as well.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ms Langford, for your attendance here today and your contribution.

Ms Langford : Thank you.