Issue #1555 11 July 2012
Anger over Tas forestry move
Activist Michael Mansell says a Forest Agreement Bill introduced into the Tasmanian Parliament last month has the hallmarks of Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s 1985 “anti-Mabo” legislation. The legal director of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre says sections of the Bill – aimed at ending the state’s long-running forest conflict – have been added to lock Aboriginal people out of owning or managing any of the likely 500,000 hectares of land in question.
A government staffer gave Aaron Everett (centre) from the TAC the controversial bill as soon as it was tabled in Parliament. He is pictured here with protesters outside of Parliament House in Hobart. (Photo: Koori Mail)
He said the Bill hands any Crown lands reserved to the Parks and Wildlife Service.
The TAC had previously entered into talks with Forestry Tasmania, which currently has tenure of the land, about managing the land.
Mr Mansell said the Bill was a Greens agenda to prevent Aboriginal management of reserved areas.
“The Greens don’t trust us, and have swayed government thinking,” he said.
“We were shocked to see an additional clause preventing Forestry Tasmania from leasing or sub-leasing any of the lands it controls.
“This is a clear reference to the possibility of FT leasing lands to Aboriginal people so that Aborigines can manage the lands, allow public access and make money from tourism.”
Mr Mansell said another provision stating that “no compensation is payable to any person as a result of this agreement” had the hallmarks of anti-Mabo legislation struck down by the High Court in 1992.
“We will investigate whether, or not we can take legal action to claim compensation and have section 11 struck out as being invalid,” he said.
“These trees were not grown by Forestry Tasmania, these trees were grown by our own people after burning, these trees are 500 or 600 years old.
“They were here before white people came and they say we have no interest in the forest. Aborigines clearly have an interest.
“(The Bill) effectively precludes Aboriginal people from making any claims for compensation for the loss of trees that our people nurtured.”
A group of about 20 Aboriginal people with flags and placards voiced their objections outside of Parliament House as the Bill was being tabled.
Mr Mansell said the introduction of another “token” bill to return 148 hectares of land to the Aboriginal community on the same day was a blatant political tactic, intended to confuse the debate about Aboriginal management of the forests.
“The tactic is designed to convey the false impression that the government is pro-Aboriginal land rights,” he said.
“It is dirty politics and takes advantage of our weak position.”
Energy and Resources Minister Bryan Green said the accusations were unfair.
“We’re working with the Aboriginal community all the time on issues to make sure that we keep faith with the community,” he said.
Mr Mansell labelled the Forest Agreement Bill a straight betrayal of Aboriginal people, representing a rejection by the government and the Greens of the proposal put by Aborigines for ownership and management of the reserved areas.
“The government talks of land rights, but talk is cheap. If the government were genuine it would have left the door open for Aboriginal involvement in the forest agreement,” he said.
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