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Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
04/10/2018
Matters relating to constitutional change

REDMOND, Mr Mark, Chief Executive, Reconciliation Tasmania

Committee met at 09:02

Evidence was taken via teleconference—

CHAIR ( Mr Leeser ): Good morning, everyone, and welcome to Brisbane for this meeting, on Thursday, 4 October, of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition Relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay respects to their elders past and present.

It's my pleasure to declare open this hearing of the joint select committee here in Brisbane. The committee was established by the Australian parliament in March of this year to consider matters relating to constitutional change and recognition. The committee presented its interim report in July and is now seeking further evidence in relation to a First Nations voice, truth-telling and agreement making, which arose from the Uluru Statement from the Heart, as well as other forms of recognition. The committee is due to present its final report in November.

The committee is delighted to be here in Brisbane today to discuss these important matters with members of the community. This hearing is being broadcast on the parliament's website, and a transcript of the proceedings will be made available. Those present here today are advised that filming and recording are permitted during the hearing. I also remind members of the media who may be present or listening on the web of the need to fairly and accurately report the proceedings of the committee.

I am now delighted to welcome the representative of Reconciliation Tasmania, who is joining us via teleconference.

Mr Redmond : Good morning, committee members. I appreciate the time to be here.

CHAIR: Thanks, Mr Redmond. Although the committee doesn't require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as the proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. I now invite you to make a brief opening statement before we proceed to discussion.

Mr Redmond : Thank you. From our perspective, Tasmanian Aboriginal people presented their first petition to the Queen, or attempted to, in 1846 from Wybalenna. It was the first of many, many attempts since that time for Aboriginal voices to be heard from the grassroots Aboriginal people across this country. It wasn't heard. We believe now that parliament has a prime opportunity to listen and hear what Aboriginal leaders have said. The Uluru Statement from the Heart remains a generous gift from Indigenous people to create unity, to seek resolution for past history and to achieve substantive change in getting their voices heard by government. The voice to parliament, a Makarrata and a truth-telling commission are seen as the best way forward from our perspective, the people attending the historic event in 2017. Reconciliation Tasmania supports the principle of the need to listen and respond to our First Nations people in order to fully recognise them in our Constitution and to ensure protection against any racial discrimination in laws enacted by parliament, protected from future changes to the Constitution. The challenge, we believe, for the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition is to listen to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who have been consulted over many years, and act on the gift that has been offered by Indigenous leaders by listening, hearing and acting so that real reconciliation can be achieved and nationhood can be achieved through such recognition.

Those are my opening comments. I have a range of other comments to make, but perhaps that's enough to start.

CHAIR: Tell me a little bit about Reconciliation Tasmania. How many members do you have? Tell us a bit of history and what you do by way of meetings. The reason I'm asking is that, if we're to have a referendum on these matters, one of the things to consider is: where are the grassroots organisations that might be mobilised to help support a campaign for a yes vote?

Mr Redmond : Reconciliation Tasmania was formed in August 2017 after one of our co-chairs, Bill Lawson, realised, as a member of the Reconciliation Australia board, that it was the only state in Australia without such a council. We were established with the support of all the Aboriginal leaders in Tasmania, from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, the tracker members, the Governor and leaders of all parties in the state. The launch was held at Macquarie Point, with over 700 people attending. Since that time, we have had a board set up of 50 per cent Aboriginal people and 50 per cent non-Aboriginal, representing the three key areas—the north, the north-west and the south—with four members in each, half being Aboriginal and half being non-Aboriginal. We have over 260 members on our books at the moment and we have active member meetings across the state at quarterly intervals. We're about to go to an AGM in the next four weeks. I believe we have a truly representative cross-section of the Aboriginal community and some significant members from the non-Aboriginal community who support what we're doing and what our objectives are, which are consistent with Reconciliation Australia's five key components of reconciliation. Historical acceptance is a key one, of course, as are racial unity, equality and institutional integrity, all of which underpin the conversation we're having about constitutional recognition.

CHAIR: Mr Redmond, can you tell me the population of Tasmania that is Indigenous or considers itself Indigenous?

Mr Redmond : It's estimated to be, from the last census, around 26,000 people.

CHAIR: The Tasmanian population is about 300,000, isn't it?

Mr Redmond : It's 500,000, so it's about five per cent.

CHAIR: Thank you. Does Reconciliation Tasmania have a view about what the voice should look like? One of the key things that this committee has to do is design the voice—local, regional and national. I'm interested in your views about the form of the voice.

Mr Redmond : We certainly believe, as from the Statement from the Heart and the Referendum Council's report, that the voice is certainly not a third house of the parliament. It was never seen to be a third chamber. We see the voice as an opportunity for legislators and, hopefully, within the Constitution, for regional communities around the country to have a chance to actually feed up to a representative body to advise parliament whether it be over a certain period of time in a year or throughout the year on matters affecting Aboriginal people. We believe that the ATSIC model that was previously enacted through parliament was a really good representative model of regional grassroots representation. It allowed for commissioners to be elected across the country, which would enable grassroots views to be filtered up to a voice which could then be presented to parliamentarians and the Senate and members in federal parliament.

CHAIR: Can you remind me how Tasmania was dealt with under the old ATSIC arrangements? Was Tasmania one region or was it part of other regions? How many people were on the regional council?

Mr Redmond : Mr Rodney Dillon was the ATSIC commissioner back in 2000 for five years, I think. I worked with Mr Dillon at that time too, in a way, as a community member. I saw that that representation across Tasmania worked really well. And, across the country, from what I've read, I believed it also worked well. A few discrepancies happened along the way, but I think that model of local regional representation has worked and has proven to be an effective model of having a local voice up to a federal voice. What the Uluru people and the leaders have said is that all this time we've had all these representations to the government around a voice. I think it is prime time and it seems to me the Uluru voice is supported by ATSIC and is supported by the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country. So it's a good model.

CHAIR: One of the other issues that we're looking at is truth-telling. The history of Tasmania in relation to its Indigenous people is very sad. Do you have a view about how we might do truth-telling in Tasmania?

Mr Redmond : Reconciliation Tasmania is currently working on a couple of projects around this. Truth-telling and storytelling are both a little bit different. They're really important to getting really good reconciliation outcomes. But in relation to truth-telling, from our perspective, a lot has been written recently—whether it be Dark Emu or This Whispering in Our Hearts, the most recent, updated book by Henry Reynolds—around the real history that happened and the damage that happened from both perspectives. The convicts were victims, the Aboriginal people were victims and the settlers. There's a lot of history which has not been told, and I think we believe as Reconciliation Tasmania that a lot of unity and healing can be done through getting these stories out around what really happened in Tasmania. As you know, there was quite a significant impact on the local Aboriginal people and on the settlers and the convicts who were here too. There are a whole range of victims around that. But I think that truth-telling can come out and be told in a mature way and a sensible way—to our young people particularly, who are now being educated in schools around better truth than our older generations—that is only going to add to a unity of our country. Our history has to be told in a fuller way than has been done in the past, and I think that view is held by our members and by Aboriginal organisations across the state in a very strong way.

CHAIR: I want to ask you a difficult question about this. In recent years, some of the history of the Tasmanian Aboriginal contact with settlers has become contested. How would we deal with cases where history is contested in the Tasmanian context and in other places around the country? Do you have a view about that?

Mr Redmond : Again, I believe that historians such as Henry Reynolds and numerous authors, such as Bruce Pascoe, Cassandra Pybus and Lyndall Ryan, of course, have written extensively and authoritatively around factual records of what happened in Tasmania. I know Henry Reynolds is still writing another book now, so there is continued fact based evidence about what happened in Tasmania. I think the Windschuttle viewpoint has been totally discredited.

I think there's a united, clear and accurate record of our story about the frontier wars in Tasmania and it needs to be told. The state parliament is considering legislation for stage 2 of Macquarie Point, around the Truth and Reconciliation Park being developed there, and we're part of that process. We believe that there's a huge opportunity for that truth-telling to be done symbolically through monuments in some way—that's another project we're working on—but also through storytelling, which is what we're seeking to do from an Aboriginal perspective but also from a non-Aboriginal perspective, which has a lot of room for peering as well.

CHAIR: I suppose I'm just trying to get you to think about what we do when there is a contest again in Tasmania. People have tried to give Hobart its Aboriginal name, and I know that's being contested too. I'm not having a go at people who are trying to do these things, but it's an issue. I just want to try and work our way through how we might address this issue as a committee and I just wondered if you had any views about that that you wanted to share with us.

Mr Redmond : The issue around dual naming is being reviewed by the state government, and that's still up for review. Regional communities around the state have their own views on this. That's being aired through the dual naming review where quite a number of Aboriginal communities are having a voice and are being heard. So there's not just one voice; there are many communities around the state who now have asked to be heard and want to be listened to around their views in their local communities. That's an ongoing discussion in Tasmania. That process is happening in a mature, honest and open way. Reconciliation Tasmania is an independent and neutral organisation and doesn't adjudicate or have a side on that. We will seek to bring unity across the different viewpoints in this area. It's a live issue and there is certainly no conflict or issue around wanting to tell the truth and having truth-telling talked about across the state. All Aboriginal communities in Tasmania are certainly keen for that to progress and get to another level where we can actually celebrate the rich tradition of the Aboriginal community being here for 50,000 years and get that story out as well as the more recent not-so-glorious history of our state. That needs to be told from both sides.

Senator DODSON: Pardon my ignorance, but what is the significance of 1803? In the brief we've received 1803 is a starting point for the sharing of history. Is that the first occupation by the British? I'm not sure what the date is.

Mr Redmond : I lost you for a moment.

Senator DODSON: Well, I can do the research and find out for myself. I thought it might have been some significant—

CHAIR: Could you not hear Senator Dodson or you couldn't follow the question?

Mr Redmond : I lost Senator Dodson as soon as he started. I am back on line now.

Senator DODSON: The brief we've got says 'the significance of starting in 1803'. I wanted to know what the significance of that was. Was that the date of assertion of sovereignty by the British?

Mr Redmond : Yes. Was that the question?

Senator DODSON: I just wanted to know why 1803 was the date.

Mr Redmond : It is the date of the arrival of the ships into the Derwent River. It is seen as invasion day from our perspective down here. It is seen as a sad day. For your information, we're working on a way to acknowledge Australia Day from an Aboriginal perspective, such as what happens in Barangaroo in Sydney now. The Premier has put out that he would like to be part of, in consultation with the Aboriginal communities surrounding Tasmania, a remembrance on that day of what 26 January was, which is not relevant to Tasmania, because that was when Sydney was formed. We happened 15 years later, so 1803 was certainly a sad time. We are working with state governments and Aboriginal communities around the state on how 2020—and also Australia Day next year—can be celebrated, because it remains a big issue for communities. There is an olive branch, hopefully, from both sides to acknowledge 26 January, without changing the date, as a significant date of impact on the Aboriginal community here.

Senator DODSON: This other question may be a bit harder for me to articulate. How do we celebrate the settler history without viewing it through the lens of First Nations, as it were—the good things the settler society contributed and leading up to the modern period—if we are to get to a shared history? While fundamentally there may have been a wrong that may have been constantly perpetrated, there must've been some good things that they did.

Mr Redmond : Certainly. There's the famous book by Nan Chauncy written in the 1950s called Tangara, which is a story about how settlers and Aboriginal law were reconciled. That was written in the 1950s. Settler history needs to be celebrated because there are some good stories about how they've contributed to the state. Convicts are at another level as well. There have been calls to set up a convict history memorial at Macquarie Point, for example. I think Henry Reynolds called for that last week. The whole story of the most recent settlement in Tasmania needs to be celebrated. That's the basis of reconciliation—all sides need to be listened to.

Senator DODSON: How is that approach responded to?

Mr Redmond : How was that approach—

Senator DODSON: The approach that all sides of the history have to be at least acknowledged, respected, commemorated and celebrated. How is that responded to by the people you deal with?

Mr Redmond : It's responded to pretty positively. We are running a youth program now called Speakout. We are having 40 students presenting to parliament in two weeks time. They have written stories about reconciliation. They are the culture change. They are arguing quite strongly in their speeches and artwork that we need to recognise the trauma that has happened but also the multicultural community we are now. We are all immigrants, and recent immigrants of course, and we are Tasmanian. As Richard Flanagan said at Garma recently, we've become indigenised. White non-Aboriginal people live here, love this land and belong to this land. It's really important to acknowledge their history and their forefathers' history, because we have become indigenised—we have become part of this land as well and we respect and love it like our Aboriginal brothers and sisters do as well. So I think there is strong support for acknowledging the settler contribution—good and bad—and how there has been that melding of cultures across time, even though it was pretty dramatic down here.

Senator DODSON: Have you developed materials or documents around this inclusive approach?

Mr Redmond : We're currently working on a couple of projects around this. I think our vision statement acknowledges that—that's one. Second, we're having a storytelling memorial project, which has been developed through a couple of members. It's a good question. The youth project which we're doing is a way of getting that documented. All the stories that are in that we're going to have published, have on record and have available. And it is through our reconciliation action plans. We're working with a range of organisations, whether it be councils or motoring organisations—and we're working with the police at the moment as well, potentially with a RAP—to get fair organisational and strategic plans in place to acknowledge the importance of storytelling within their organisations and the importance of connection with the Aboriginal community. Again, there's probably not a lot of documentation as such because we're only a year old and we've got two part-time staff. We're not going to be government funded. We seek to earn our own income, to be really independent. So we're very much a fledgling organisation, but certainly that's a point I'll take on note, Senator Dodson. I believe, from what we've talked about with communities across the state, that there's a real drive for acknowledgement, for all sides of the story in Tasmania to be told and heard and celebrated. So that's the opportunity, and I think it's right across Australia—for that to happen.

Senator DODSON: I know the co-chair has raised this in other meetings, but would it be useful if governments were to provide some assistance to help bring about the expressions of how this interaction and interface has taken place at regional and local levels? Would that be a useful thing?

Mr Redmond : Sorry; I missed that.

Senator DODSON: That's all right. You're in Tasmania and I'm up here in Brisbane. The question is whether it would be useful for governments to provide some financial support for community groups to actually give practical expression to their aspirations about expressing the intertwined nature of their histories.

Mr Redmond : Yes. I think that would be great. That would be very helpful. For example, one of our community members, Aunty Patsy Cameron, is trying to organise a Mannalargenna Day—Mannalargenna was a famous Tasmanian leader and warrior. She's run this off her own bat for the last three years. It's a huge ceremony. It's a celebration of the story of the north-east Tasmanian tribes and nations. The local government was not throwing any money at us, so we've asked Senator Duniam and our Minister Petrusma down here to fund that, around three centres across Tasmania, to celebrate the local warriors. It's under-resourced, and it would need resourcing for languages and storytelling, to be developed more fully.

Ms McGOWAN: Thank you very much for your evidence. If there were three things that you've learnt from your experience in Tasmania around truth-telling, what would they be? What would the three key bits of advice be for us?

Mr Redmond : Get local stories recorded now. Oral history—down here and across Australia—is the paramount way of collecting them. Let's collect these stories effectively—that's one. Second, let's talk to different communities across the state, so it's a broad mixture of voices that are heard. Third is to act on it and fund it, as Senator Dodson just said, to actually give it legs. Get the grassroots stories into a log which is actually produced into something which is respected and acknowledged by the community as being real works from the community around their stories. Stories that happened around the state need to be resourced. They're my three, I would say.

Ms McGOWAN: Thank you very much.

CHAIR: Just before we conclude, Mr Redmond, I wanted to test the sort of proposition about the referendum campaign and readiness, as it were, in Tasmania. Just tell me a little about the political skills of your organisation. I know it's a relatively new organisation, but do you have people involved who've been former parliamentarians or campaign people or people who've got some political skills in the event that we were to run a referendum?

Mr Redmond : Yes, we have. We've got no ex-parliamentarians, but we have a range of people who have political backgrounds, legal backgrounds and bureaucratic department backgrounds. We have good dialogue with all three major parties down here.

CHAIR: In your membership have you got people who would have political backgrounds from across the spectrum?

Mr Redmond : Yes. As I say, we've got 260 members, and of those we have about 50 who are active members who have committed to supporting us. The skill sets across them are pretty broad.

CHAIR: That's very useful. Thank you, Mr Redmond, for your evidence today. We might have asked you to provide some additional information. If we have, could you please forward it to our secretariat by 12 October. You'll be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence, and you'll have an opportunity to request corrections to transcription errors.

Mr Redmond : Thanks very much for your time today.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 09 : 31 to 09 : 56