Posted on January 22, 2016

Aboriginality Test Changes Will ‘Swamp the Community with White People’, Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre Fears

News, January 21, 2016

A move by the Tasmanian Government to change the way Aboriginality is determined will “swamp the community with white people”, one Indigenous group claims.

Premier Will Hodgman used his address ahead of Australia Day to announce plans to scrap the state’s controversial Aboriginal Eligibility Policy.

The changes mean documentation such as a family tree would not be required for Aboriginal people to participate in traditional practices, including mutton birding and collecting swan eggs.

Heather Sculthorpe from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre told 936 ABC Hobart the Premier’s changes will put a strain on resources.

“[The Premier is] encouraging people to tick the box to say they’re Aboriginal,” she said.

“If people do that, then the Aboriginal community will be swamped by white people, hence we will disappear in the great morass of those who the Premier is encouraging to tick the box.

“If all those people who imagine they might be Aboriginal line up for services, there’s no way there’s going to be the money available to fund those services.”

She said traditional Aboriginal practices, such as hunting, would be put at risk as a result of the changes.

“I don’t think he’s [Hodgman] thought through the implications of all these people swamping the Aboriginal community. Both in terms mutton birds and fishing, as well as all the other sorts of human services that are around,” she said.

“It’s not as if there’s a whole lot of money around for being Aboriginal, but Aboriginal people do have entitlements as original owners and by diluting those entitlements, by swamping with people who aren’t really Aboriginal, there’s going to be big implications for the community.”

Ms Sculthorpe also had concerns surrounding Aboriginal history being incorporated into school curriculums.

She said there could be discrepancies.

“Which Aboriginal history is this going to be? One that says there was never an attempted genocide here, that that’s all made up, that’s why we’ve got all these Aborigines here now, because we never were the butt of an attempted genocide?” she said.

“Who’s going to write it?

“What exactly he wants to achieve with this I’m not sure.”

However, Rodney Dillon from the Regional Aboriginal Communities Alliance is not concerned.

“It goes back to oral history, some Aboriginal people were never recognised as being Aboriginal,” he said.

‘Glaring inequity’ will be addressed, Premier says

Mr Hodgman said the changes came after consulting with Aboriginal people across the state last year, and eligibility and identify were identified as major issues in the community.

He said there were inconsistencies between national and state recognition.

“The census for example, says there’s around 20,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this state, yet under the current government policy here in Tasmania, which was implemented back in 2005, there’s just 6,000 recognised Indigenous Tasmanians,” he said.

“There are thousands who are not accessing services that they might need to improve their health or education. They’re not able to engage in cultural activities.

“There’s a glaring inequity and we can no longer allow that to occur because it’s disadvantaging Tasmanian Aboriginals.”

He said current policy, which was frozen in 2012, meant there were discrepancies within families.

“You could have people within one family, one of whom was recognised in the state as a Tasmanian Aboriginal, but their close relatives weren’t.”

“A grandfather mightn’t be able to, for example, be able to pass down through to the generation of grandchildren some of the cultural activities he may have enjoyed because the grandchildren aren’t recognised within Tasmania.”

He downplayed the potential strain on resources the additional recognised Indigenous Australians will have, saying the cost will mainly be carried by federal counterparts.

“It’s important to note that the Federal Government is a significantly greater contributor to funding for Indigenous programs – they contribute around half a billion dollars to the states in terms of the services that are available to our Indigenous Tasmanians,” the Premier said.

“It’s about $8 million here in Tasmania.”