• Aboriginal leaders in Tasmania say the state government needs to rule out reopening 4WD tracks on culturally significant land following an assessment report. (BOB BROWN FOUNDATION)Source: BOB BROWN FOUNDATION
A report released this week found 35 Aboriginal heritage sites directly intersect the tracks, while another 26 are potentially at risk.
17 Jul 2021 - 1:59 PM  UPDATED 17 Jul 2021 - 1:59 PM

Aboriginal leaders are urging the Tasmanian government to rule out reopening 4WD tracks on culturally significant land in the state's rugged northwest.

A cultural assessment report found a proposal to allow off-road vehicles on three tracks in the Arthur-Pieman Conservation Area does not minimise risk to Aboriginal heritage sites. 

The tracks, which contain middens thousands of years old plus stone artefacts, were closed in 2012.

The Liberal government pledged to reopen them during the 2014 election campaign and had a legal challenge against the closure dismissed in the Federal Court two years later.

"This report ... I think it will kill the idea that these areas should be subjected to 4WDs. The government doesn't really have anywhere to go," Aboriginal Land Council chairman Michael Mansell told AAP. 

The report, released this week, found 35 Aboriginal heritage sites directly intersect the tracks, while another 26 are potentially at risk.

It said there was not sufficient evidence the reopening plan would be effective in mitigating damage to Aboriginal heritage values, including national heritage values.

The plan does not adequately address the unacceptably high risk of impacts associated with non-compliant activities which have created "significant damage" in the past, the report noted.

"What is there has to be preserved and managed by Aboriginal people," Mr Mansell said. 

"It has a beauty of its own. To go into such a wild area and see the manifestation of a peoples' existence for thousands and thousands of years right in front of you. 

"Run over it with 4WDs and what are you going to look at? Tyre tracks."

Liberal MP Sarah Courtney said a firm decision was likely in coming weeks once the state government had consulted with stakeholders including 4WD users and the Aboriginal community.

"We want to get an outcome that works for everybody," she told reporters on Friday.

"We want to get an outcome that ensures we protect our cultural and natural heritage but also protects the Tasmanian way of life."

Premier Peter Gutwein conceded it would be "difficult" to have the tracks reopened.

Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre heritage officer Sharnie Read said the only way to safeguard the sites is to ensure the tracks remain off limits.

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"There is no need to refer the matter to the commonwealth environment minister, the purpose for which this latest report was prepared," she said in a statement. 

"Just stop now is our plea to the Tasmanian government."

Labor and the Greens have also called on the state government to rule out reopening the tracks. 

Barney Campbell, from 4WD Tasmania which has about 300 members, voiced disappointment with the tracks' closure and the determinations of the report.

"We hope that we could have a bit of a talk to the state government about where we go from here," he told the ABC.

The state government says it is committed to developing further opportunities on the west coast for Tasmania's recreational 4WD community. 

It will look at improving existing roads and tracks in the region and providing "much-needed" campgrounds and facilities.

Bob Brown Foundation spokeswoman Jenny Weber said it was unacceptable for government to foster 4WD recreation over the preservation of Aboriginal living landscape.

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