The chair of the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania has criticised out-going Premier Will Hodgman following his shock resignation on Tuesday.
Shahni Wellington

15 Jan 2020 - 5:09 PM  UPDATED 15 Jan 2020 - 5:13 PM

As Tasmanians reflect on the achievements of outgoing Premier Will Hodgman, one Palawa Elder says there is little to celebrate when it comes to his dealings with the state's Aboriginal community.

The Premier announced his resignation on Tuesday, one day after announcing the government's commitment to work more closely with members of the Aboriginal community to better manage the land. 

His plan included three specialist Aboriginal positions within the Parks and Wildlife Service, a $100,000 pilot grant program for local cultural burning practices and an invitation for Aboriginal representation on the Statewide Fuel Reduction Steering Committee.

Chair of the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania, Michael Mansell, says there was no community consultation prior to the announcement, and has labelled the move an effort to improve Mr Hodgman's image before bowing out.

 “Over the years Liberal and Labor Premiers have had their images improved or tarnished, depending on how they got on with the Aboriginal community.

“And so instead of, at least sitting down and talking to Aboriginal people before he made the announcement - as part of the way he operated - He just wanted to improve his image by saying ‘Before I go, I'm gonna give three Aborigines jobs’ - Big deal!" Mr Mansell said.

“He was the person who was uninspiring and didn't know how to deal with people other than people who are his own ilk - the very conservative Tasmanians, so we're glad to see the back of him.”

Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman put returning Aboriginal land on the agenda in 2015, saying he was “personally committed to reopening discussions about land hand-backs.”

His government has since launched a review of the Model for Returning Land to Aboriginal Communities, which received 151 submissions during the consultation period.

While public comments and consultations finished in January last year, the Tasmanian government is yet to produce a draft report.

The last time land was returned through the Aboriginal Lands act (1995) process was Clarke Island, or Lungtalanana, in 2005.

The Land Council will now seek to have a meeting with the new Premier, expected to be announced next week, to mend the fractured relationship.

“If the government genuinely wants to work with Aboriginal people - as we said to Hodgman six years ago - If you want a partnership, if you want to sit down and understand the effects of discrimination, dispossession and prejudice that Aboriginal people that have experienced the last 200 years, we will work with you or anyone else," Mr Mansell said.

“So it will be up to the new Premier next week to declare their hand.”

Hodgman resignation

The office of the Premier has confirmed the commitment to Indigenous land management still stands.

Will Hodgman served as the Liberal Party’s leader for 14 years and premier for almost six, before announcing he would be stepping down on Tuesday.

Despite the close proximity to the announcement to work more closely with Indigenous communities, Mr Hodgman mentioned that he hadn’t arrived at the decision to resign until “the last day or so.”

"I've always said I'd give this job 100 per cent every single day I do it, and I believed that I would continue to do so in this role, but I've taken time to reflect with my family over the Christmas period," he said.

In his speech, Mr Hodgman referred to the toll that his lengthy career in politics had on his wife and children.

"It does have an impact on my family, and I cannot deny that I'm conscious of that — what they read in the paper and what they see on the news can affect them," he said.

In a statement, a Tasmanian government spokesperson have an update on the progress of resetting the relationship with the First Nations people.

“The Government is having conversations with Tasmanian Aboriginal communities on all of the recently announced initiatives.

“We want to see more land returned to Tasmanian Aboriginal people and reviewing the model for returning land is a crucial part of the Government’s Reset Agenda."

Land back as best form of management

Traditional Aboriginal methods of land management and cultural burns have made headlines over the past few weeks, as an effective measure to prevent bushfires. 

The Tasmanian government announced the specified roles and pilot grant program in hope of reducing the chance of a disaster fire season, currently playing out on the mainland.

"As our nation suffers from devastating bushfires, we should draw on the deep connection Tasmanian Aboriginals have with the land," Premier Will Hodgman said in a statement.

While Michael Mansell welcomed the employment of Aboriginal people, he said the move isn't good enough. 

"It's good that the government and Parks and Wildlife have recognised the Aboriginal traditional knowledge of burning... But they're small steps in the whole process of Aboriginal people getting justice."

"The government should be about giving land back and sitting down with the Aboriginal people and working out what rights we got over that land instead of just making an announcement every now and again, for three jobs without telling anyone the announcement was coming," Mr Mansell said.