After three years, Premier Peter Gutwein’s government has failed to provide the federal Minister for the Environment, Susan Ley, with the information required by law to enable the re-opening of off-road vehicles tracks in takayna/the Tarkine coastline south of Sandy Cape.
At a meeting in Canberra earlier this month, Minister Ley told Bob Brown Foundation representatives that she could not make a decision because Hobart had provided no report on the studies required by a Federal Court decision in 2017.
Today the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre and Bob Brown Foundation called on candidates for the election to make clear they would protect the rich Aboriginal heritage on the takayna coastline between Sandy Cape and the Pieman River by keeping it free of motorised intrusion.
“The Federal Court found that that is irreplaceable Aboriginal heritage with the highest cultural values," Heather Sculthorpe said. “Premier Gutwein should end the drawn-out agony he is putting us through and agree to protect our heritage. We implore the government not to keep the matter going."
Nala Mansell said: “The racial discrimination when it comes to heritage protection in this state is blatantly obvious. Our ancient, irreplaceable heritage on the takayna coast deserves as much protection as the colonial heritage sites. Could you imagine the uproar if these off-road vehicles were driving through Port Arthur, desecrating that heritage site? Aboriginal heritage needs to be understood, respected and protected.”
“We demand the Premier and other political leaders pledge their commitment to protecting the Aboriginal heritage sites in this area before the May 1 election,” Nala Mansell said.
“More than three years ago the Federal Court required this government to reassess the impact of opening these tracks to off-road vehicles and inform the federal minister. But it has done nothing. It will be shocking if the Liberals regain office and then make the unpopular move to open the tracks. That would cheat the Tasmanian public, in particular Aboriginal Tasmanians,” Bob Brown said.
They also called on candidates to commit to funding permanent Aboriginal rangers to monitor and protect takayna/the Tarkine and to both promote its World Heritage status and return the land, which includes no private land, to Aboriginal ownership.
In 2012 the Tasmanian Labor Government closed 15 of 94 off road vehicle tracks within the Arthur Pieman Conservation Area. Of these 12 were duplicate tracks onto sections of beach already serviced by another track. The remaining three removed destructive off road vehicle access to areas south of Sea Devil Rivulet to the Pieman River (37.3km).
The area covered by these tracks were recommended for closure by the APCA Sustainable Recreational Vehicle Access Draft Report, and in the default prescriptions in the Arthur Pieman Conservation Area Management Plan 2000.
In February 2013, the Western Tasmanian Aboriginal Cultural Landscape was inscribed on the National Heritage List, including the area from Sea Devil Rivulet to Pieman River.
The incoming Liberal Government promised to reopen these tracks, and attempted to do so before being stymied by legal action by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre. The Government's plan included hardening tracks through Aboriginal sites and the use of plastic matting to bury Aboriginal midden sites s that they could be driven over. The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre won a victory in the Federal Court, when it ruled ruled that the tracks could not be reopened without the planned works to 'protect' National Heritage Values (Aboriginal Heritage) and other matters of national environmental significance, and that these planned works required assessment under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
The Tasmanian Government, joined by the Federal Government, appealed this ruling. The government's appeal failed, the original verdict in favour of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre upheld.
The Tasmanian Government has referred the project for EPBC Assessment as a controlled action. Project assessment guideline were issued in 2017, and the Commonwealth is now awaiting the Tasmanian Government's Public Environment Report for assessment