Wednesday 26 October 2016
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016 (No. 54)


Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I would have preferred to have more time to think about what we heard during the briefing but seeing no-one is too hasty to move I am happy to work over in my own mind what we heard whilst still referring to some notes I made earlier.

To the extent that I do welcome this bill I wonder why it has been so long in coming before the Parliament of Tasmania.  As the second reading speech pointed out, Tasmania is the only state that does not recognise the Aboriginal people in its constitution, whether in the body of it, or in the preamble. 

This bill arises from extensive consultation with the Aboriginal community and a subsequent parliamentary committee which recommended that the Constitution be amended to include recognition of Aboriginal people as Tasmania's First People.

Extensive consultation, well and good, but I cannot understand why this bill is almost being sneaked through parliament.  There was mention made by another member during our briefing that it is a very important historical step.  I am sure that most Tasmanians are totally unaware that this step is being taken and we only became aware of this bill just a few weeks ago.  There has been practically no reporting in the media.  I wonder why the Government is somewhat coy about this bill which should be celebrated, to my mind.

I notice from the article in the Mercury and I was not in the lower House at the time this was debated, but there was no Aboriginal presence when the bill was debated in the lower House.  It is interesting today that we do have Aboriginal presence in the upper House.  Perhaps this historic move can be celebrated retrospectively and we heard from the Premier that this may be an opportunity for it to be recognised.  Nevertheless, I celebrate it and strongly support this amendment bill.

I would like to put on record some of the things we heard during the briefing.  I will probably be a little disjointed because I have not had a chance to write anything about what we have heard.

We heard from the Premier this morning that he did - something amuses the member for Rumney but that is not unusual.

Mr Mulder
- Neither are you being disjointed, notes or not.

- I did leave myself open there, too. 

The Premier explained that he set up the committee to explore this; he thought it was one step in reconciliation.  The committee comprised a member from each party - Labor, the Greens and the Government.  A draft amendment was distributed.  There were 28 submissions received and 50 per cent, interestingly enough, were for and 50 per cent were against.  He was not unaware of other opportunities; this is one step and other opportunities will flow on.  He highlighted that all parties supported this and I have a note here about the celebration at royal assent, perhaps.

In respect of criticism by Michael Mansell in the article in the Mercury that was distributed to each of us, he said that he had visited all 21 - I think that was the number, I might be corrected there - Aboriginal organisations in the state.  Whilst there is some disagreement, he had been to people's homes.  I believe it was mentioned by Michael Mansell in the article that unlike Ray Groom, Tony Fletcher and others, he had not been to people's homes.  But the Premier was quick to point out that he had been to people's homes to
discuss this development.

We then heard from Heather Sculthorpe from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.  She pointed out that the TAC does not want this.  She was quite passionate about the fact that the consent of people is required and she thought that this was not the case.  She said that if people do not want it, it is not a benefit.  That was the feeling she expressed and I make the assumption that she was speaking on behalf of the TAC when she said this.  She said the Premier spoke at the TAC gathering in Launceston but did not talk about the Constitution and this move we see here today.  The Premier also pointed out that during his discussions he went to talk about issues with the Aboriginal community and it was highlighted in some of those discussions.  It may have been with the TAC - I am making an assumption here - that there was a general discussion but this aspect was not mentioned.
I am trying to recall the conversation or the way Heather Sculthorpe presented the next issue.  When asked, 'How do you verify your stance the TAC is in disagreement with this?', Heather Sculthorpe said because of discussions that are held at various meetings the Aboriginal people attend.  She said people do talk about this.  That was where she got the sense people were opposed.  She said something along the lines of this is our judgment call and she did not feel this was a judgment call the TAC would make.  Generally this move by the Premier, by the Government, was not greeted warmly.

The member for Montgomery was trying to get some numbers from Heather Sculthorpe in respect of the representation she felt that she might have for the Aboriginal community.  She had great difficulty in providing numbers that may be represented by the TAC and it is not a simple question to answer.  Ms Sculthorpe said the idea this would move to promoting a treaty had not been discussed with the community and there is no treaty on the table at this time.

The detail of what was spoken about during the visit by the Premier was refuted by Heather Sculthorpe.  This development was not mentioned.  That is reiterating what I spoke about before.  She acknowledged there was unanimous support downstairs in the House of Assembly for this move, but it was merely symbolic and tokenistic by the Government.  She thought it was disempowering and a step backwards.  She was critical about aspects of the arguments put forward about the placement in the preamble or Constitution.

The member for Windermere expressed his concern to Ms Sculthorpe about the fact if we do not support this up here, we can be viewed as racist or not in support of the advancement of the Aboriginal community.  Ms Sculthorpe did say this process was not done properly from a discussion point of view.  When we talk about consultation here in this House, how deep down do you drill in respect of consultation and discussion?  That is always a moot point in this House, as some people will say, 'We have been consulted way over the top,' and others would say, 'We have not been consulted at all.'  Heather Sculthorpe's view was this was not done properly.

She said there was no evidence of doing things better if we are doing this and at the same time having the dispute occurring on the west coast.  That must be the issue about the damage to middens and the opening up of opportunities for recreational people on the west coast.  She thought there was a disconnect there between the two.  On one hand a positive, on the other hand a negative as far as the Aboriginal community was concerned.  She felt the whole process was a 'them and us' situation, rather than being inclusive of people.

This was an assessment of the briefing.  Thanks very much to the Government and the Leader for organising it to give us some feeling of how the various elements were responding to this initiative by the Government.  We heard then from - apologies, I did not write down the names of the people who were representative today - a group led by Rodney Dillon being presented to us, people from Flinders Island and various parts of the state, nine groups.  Mr Dillon referred to things historically in respect of Captain Cook and the invasion, as he presented it, and also the fact that our Aboriginal people were regarded as flora and fauna.  That must rankle and burn into the souls of these people when they feel they were regarded as such and it is something very hard to reconcile and get over.

Mr Dillon said that we need to take quicker steps - that was my interpretation of what he was saying - and there needs to be an opportunity.  Whilst he and others might not have the opportunity in their lifetime to see some advantage out of the steps that are being taken, he felt there was a need to tell children and grandchildren about the recognition that will occur in our Constitution about the First Nation.  He felt it was important for it to be recognised.

In light of the member for Montgomery asking the question about numbers, I put it to Mr Dillon how many numbers he felt the people we had today represented.  He felt, if there was a total figure of 21 500 to 22 000 people, if the TAC represented 6000, which was the figure mentioned, that the groups represented the remainder, so that would be in the vicinity of 14 000 people.

The question posed by the member for Apsley was to explore where the harm was in passing this legislation if we went down that path.  Mr Dillon thought there was harm if we did not pass this legislation, considering all the developments that have taken place, particularly on the mainland.  It was interesting to hear him highlight the fact that this is in every state in Australia and we are the last.  He thought there were no implications or ramifications from the opportunity that had been created in those other states by having this type of process part of the constitutional recognition of the Aboriginal peoples.

There was another representative - whose name is not available to me - and she made the point that it would be good to have this as part of our presentations in Tasmania, part of our laws, so we can continue alongside non-Aboriginal people.  That was an interesting point.

Are Europeans going to be harmed by this?  It was a point that somebody made.  It was interesting to hear the member for Mersey talk about the inclusion of 'historical'.  I am sure you will prosecute that when you come to the podium.  It was an interesting aspect you had picked up in your investigation of this legislation and the points you were making resonated with me.  That is not to say that if you have an amendment, I am going to support it.  We will see what unfolds with that.  It was an interesting conundrum that the word 'historical' was not used when some of the implications in the future might depend or be strengthened by having the word 'historical' as part of the process.

We heard also from Mr Dillon that he felt this was certainly a forward move.  The value in healing with this move is important for this state.  We talked about the treaty and our thoughts turned to the extension of where this might take us.  He talked about the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand and that not being the be-all and end-all of the process, but certainly part of it.

Then we heard about the constant battle to prove Aboriginality that pervades people's lives and we heard the plea that we expect you to do stuff that is good for us as an Aboriginal community.  People who want this should be allowed to have this.

They are some of my recollections of the briefing and it was good to have that evidence, that food for thought.  I have not had the chance to cogitate on those memories.  However, in light of my earlier considerations and the reinforcement I have had from the briefing, I strongly support this bill.