02 March, 2012

Minister 'out of line', Aborigines demand apology

ABC NewsMarch 02, 2012

Tasmania's Aboriginal Affairs Minister Cassy O'Connor has apologised to Aborigines for comments claiming Forestry Tasmania was exploiting a vulnerable community.

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre demanded the public apology saying the comments were patronising and condescending.

The centre wants to control more than 500,000 hectares of native forest in a partnership with Forestry Tasmania.

It has been in talks with the state-owned company about transferring land protected from logging under the forest peace deal to the Indigenous community.

Ms O'Connor had accused Forestry Tasmania of exploiting the vulnerable Aboriginal community.

That angered the centre's legal director Michael Mansell.

"[It's out of line] to make such patronising and paternalistic and condescending comments about Aboriginal people and then claim to be the Minister representing their interests."

Mr Mansell says the proposal would create 60 jobs for Aborigines and the Minister should be representing their interests.

He says he was pleased to receive a call from Ms O'Connor but that was not enough.

"I did point out to her that I was very happy to accept that, and I appreciated her call, but her comments were made public."

"Aborigines around Tasmania heard those comments, were hurt by those comments and she should make a public apology."

The Minister has since apologised unreservedly to any member of the Aboriginal community who took offence.

She says she was reflecting on Forestry Tasmania's motives rather than members of the Aboriginal community.

Support for plan
Tasmania's forest industry has backed the plan.

The Forestry Industries Association has abandoned the peace talks, but says the idea has merit and needs to be considered.

Spokesman Terry Edwards has rejected claims Forestry Tasmania is trying to undermine the peace process.

"Forestry would not get any additional access over and above as if these were national parks.

"The people that will get access are the people of Tasmania, the recreational users, the people camping and fishing and hunting."

One of the parties involved in a proposal also denies it would threaten the state's forest peace deal.

The Managing Director of Britton Timbers at Smithton, Glenn Britton, rejects claims it will derail the deal.

"This does not jeopardise the IGA (Inter-Governmental Agreement) in any shape or form. The only jeopardy the IGA is in is the radical Green movement."

The Wilderness Society's Vica Bayley says Forestry Tasmania is in no position to transfer control of the land.

"We're highly suspicious of the role of Forestry Tasmania here."

"There is no role for Forestry Tasmania in negotiating Aboriginal land hand back issues and we would recommend the Government get involved and negotiate that directly."

Forestry Tasmania has rejected claims it is working to undermine the peace deal.

Meanwhile, the Premier, Lara Giddings, has ruled out signing a memorandum of understanding between the two groups.

Forestry Tasmania's Bob Gordon says a formal agreement will not proceed without the Premier's approval but talks with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre may continue.

"When the Premier rang the Chairman she asked us not to sign."

"We weren't intending to sign it immediately anyway. We were always intending to have a further discussion with government about it and if Michael Mansell wants to have further discussions with government and he wants us to be involved then we'd be part of that."

Kelty plea
Tasmanian Premier is appealing to the forest peace deal negotiator, Bill Kelty, to return to Tasmania to help finalise the deal.

The former union boss helped the environmental and industry signatories reach the initial agreement to end logging in most public native forests.

The signatories now have to agree on the boundaries of protected forest, based on the findings of an independent panel which has assessed 572,000.

The Premier, Lara Giddings, is hoping Mr Kelty will return to the state for the most challenging stage of the talks; deciding which forests to protect from logging.

She says Mr Kelty is considering the invitation.

"[He's] one of Australia's best negotiators.

"I've had some preliminary discussions with Bill, I'm just not sure whether or not he's able to do it at this point but I certsainly think that is what we need and that is what the Australian Government wants, it's what the Tasmanian Government wants."

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