Bigger land handback urged

Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre legal director Michael Mansell
Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre legal director Michael Mansell

THE Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre has called on the government to rewrite a lapsed piece of handback legislation to include at least 30,000 more hectares.

The Aboriginal Lands Amendment Bill (2012), which stalled in the Legislative Council after passing the lower house 18 months ago, proposed that two lots of land on the East and West coasts be handed back to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.

The change of government in March meant the bill to would need to be reintroduced for the 150 hectares at Rebecca Creek and larapunya to again be considered for a handover.

Premier Will Hodgman said he remained committed to the original legislation, but TAC legal director Michael Mansell urged him to alter it to include the significant sites of Wukalina (Mount William National Park) and the West Coast Aboriginal Landscape zone between Marrawah and Granville Harbour - an extra 30,000 hectares.

``They should have a complete rethink of the amount of land they are offering - it's hardly symbolic of an attempt to rectify the past,'' Mr Mansell said.

``Tasmanian Aboriginal people lost 6.8 million hectares of land - and the government is offering 150 hectares? Come on. You or I could go out and buy that.''

Since 1995, about 55,000 hectares of land has been returned to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community - less than 0.01 per cent of the state's total landmass.

Mr Mansell said land ownership was crucial for Aboriginal people to build an economic base and display their heritage.

``I think a lot of people are unsure about Aboriginal people and what we want, what is important to us. This needs to be rectified from the top down,'' he said.

``If Aboriginal people, for example, are going to rebuild the Aboriginal huts on the West Coast, if we are going to have people explain the history to tourists - that's got to be done in conjunction with a government decision.

``Acknowledging ownership is not about feeling guilty but about building a sense of pride so all Tasmanian people can free to look back at history, examine what happened, and share it.'' 

Both Mr Mansell and TAC state secretary Ruth Langford said 400,000 hectares remained outside current zones Aboriginal significance - an amount which, if added to current indigenous-owned land, would account for about 7 per cent of Tasmania.

Ms Langford said this included the 174,000 hectares added to the Tasmanian World Heritage Area in 2013, an area that she said should undergo an indigenous-led process of cultural assessment.

Mrs Langford said she would also like to see the 21,000-hectare West Coast Aboriginal Landscape Zone nominated as an Indigenous Protected Area.

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