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Blog Tasmanian Election ’24
15 minutes

Tasmanian Election ’24

Phaedra Engel-Harrison
Last edited: March 20, 2024

Tasmanians are heading to the polls on 23 March with Liberal Premier Jeremy Rockcliff calling the election early in an attempt to overcome a minority government situation after losing two members to the crossbench and independents refusing to play ball.

In another standout, an additional 10 members will be elected to the House of Assembly, restoring the numbers to 35 for the first time since 1996, potentially increasing the chances for candidates from the Greens, Jacqui Lambie Network, other minor parties and independents.

As with most elections, important issues for First Nations communities are unlikely to receive the attention they deserve or much media coverage at all. The cost of living crisis – housing, energy and food security – are key issues or at least on the radar behind the controversial Macquarie Point stadium described by Rockliff as “a great deal for Tasmania”… because so often it all comes down to sports.

Here we’re providing an overview of the major parties’ policies (if any) on the key issues of truth-telling and treaty, youth detention and over-incarceration, cultural heritage protection, and housing – with reference to the national Closing the Gap strategy and targets.

ANTAR wrote to the major parties in the lead up to the Tasmanian state election seeking their policy platforms on these key issues impacting First Nations communities. To date, only the Greens have responded and their letter can be read in full here.

Truth-telling and treaty

In last year’s referendum wash up, ANTAR wrote to the Rockcliff Government to express our disappointment at the national result and to urge ongoing commitment to the core principles of the Uluru Statement from the Heart – voice (through First Nations self-determination in existing and proposed models and frameworks), treaty and truth-telling. The response from Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Roger Jaensch was predictable, referencing the Aboriginal Advisory Group announced in 2022 who are tasked with working with the Government to design a process for Truth-Telling and Treaty. Minister Jaensch said:

Truth-telling processes are important for understanding the dark reality of Australia’s shared history. This work will require engagement with all Tasmanians and will take time.

Aside from the reality that First Nations communities including Tasmania’s Palawa/ Pakana peoples have been waiting on treaty and truth-telling for 235 years and counting, it is not realistic to expect real progress if “there is no set timeframe or predetermined outcome” for the work. Further, the Aboriginal Advisory Group has so far been allocated only $500K to support the process.

There has also been some criticism that the group’s positioning within government has led to the exclusion of community voices. Rodney Gibbins, Chair of the Tuylupa Tunapri Palawa Community Delegation said:

…it’s shut and locked tight against the Palawa community and they’re only willing to listen to six people as part of their government-selected group… [it’s important to] have people from everywhere working on this… People are entitled to have different views and different feelings about it, so I think that will be important. It’s about trying to address the things that happened in the past and tell the truth about what happened.

The Pathway to Truth-telling and Treaty report (2021) prepared for the previous Premier Peter Gutwein by Professor Kate Warner and Professor Tim McCormack recommended that a Truth-telling and Treaty framework be developed and then legislated. While Labor supported the recommendations of the report at the time, nothing has really been said since. The Greens “support a respectful and effective model for Truth-telling and Treaty” and of all the major parties have been the most consistent over the longer term in their support for change.

The Tasmanian Government formalised the commitment to truth-telling and treaty in its own Closing the Gap Implementation Plan under Priority Area 1 – Partnership and Shared Decision-making, noting:

The Government commits to use its best endeavours to implement the recommendations of the recently established investigations into ‘a pathway to reconciliation and treaty’.

It is crucial that the truth-telling and treaty processes underway in Tasmania are properly funded and progressed in a meaningful and wholly inclusive way by whoever forms government after the election on 23 March, rather than continuing to be undervalued and de-prioritised.

Youth justice and over-incarceration

The recent Productivity Commission Review on Closing the Gap assessed Target 10 – to ‘reduce the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults held in incarceration by at least 15% [by 2031]’ as not on track and worsening. This is mirrored in the results for Tasmania with both national and state progress assessed with a ‘low level of confidence’.

Youth justice campaigners consistently point to evidence that shows children who are exposed to the criminal justice system are more likely to end up incarcerated as adults. This forms one of the strongest cases for doing things differently with restorative/therapeutic justice and justice reinvestment. Across the country, First Nations children are 20 times more likely to be in detention and while it is significantly less for Tasmania, there is a clear pathway to reducing adult over-incarceration by keeping kids out of the system.

The Raise the Age Campaign advocates for raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years without exceptions. To the Rockcliff Government’s credit, late in 2023 they committed to raising the age, becoming the first jurisdiction to meet the minimum standards determined by the United Nations, advocates and medical experts. However, the implementation date of 2029 will see many more children suffer in the system and be pipelined into adult prisons. Jake Smith, CEO at Tasmanian Aboriginal Legal Services said:

Aboriginal youth in Tasmania continue to be impacted and overrepresented in systems that do not support their needs. This … is an opportunity for the Tasmanian Government to genuinely consult and resource organisations to support Tasmanian youth, and particularly Aboriginal youth in alternative pathways that supports their needs and closes the gap.

The commitment by the Government to raise the age was part of the response to a damning report into institutional child sexual abuse tabled in 2023 off the back of a three year Commission of Inquiry. The eight volume, 3500 page report made 191 recommendations including to raise the age and to close the Ashley Youth Detention Centre (the state’s only youth detention facility). The report found that there was a ‘live and current’ risk of sexual abuse of detained children and recommended closing the Centre as soon as possible. Despite this, the Government has failed to take action, proposing an alternative site at Pontville (that advocates have warned against, suggesting it risks repeating the same mistakes due to its remote location and other factors) and taking inadequate measures at Ashley such as body-worn cameras and additional cctv installation.

Tasmanian Labor – under party leader Rebecca White – has criticised the inaction, saying:

…the Minister must outline immediately what action the Government will take to protect youth and to support AYDC staff in the interim and a timeline for the closure of Ashley and its move towards more therapeutic models of rehabilitation.

Labor has recently proposed a plan of action on youth justice should they be elected including to:

  • Fund youth diversion programs – $3.7M;
  • Establish a standalone youth court – $500K to scope the operations, find locations in the South, North and North West and fully cost the court; and
  • Close Ashley Youth Detention Centre as soon as possible.

The Tasmanian Greens have long pushed for the closure of Ashley and continue to press the Government to act on their commitment to implement all of the recommendations of the Inquiry into child sexual abuse. On youth justice issues, the Greens’ policy platform sets out a comprehensive plan to:

  • Urgently close Ashley Youth Detention Centre and replace it with a therapeutic model of care;
  • Raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14;
  • Employ 240 new child safety officers and specialist youth workers by 2030;
  • Develop parent advocacy services to help parents of children, in the child safety system, aim to reunify with their children;
  • Introduce a Human Rights Act for Tasmania;
  • Ensure all young people who want a job can get one by establishing a Youth Job Guarantee Program;
  • Provide resourcing to assist every public school to deliver breakfast programs; and
  • Develop a strategy to increase the use and effectiveness of police diversion programs for youth offenders.

Meanwhile, Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie has criticised the major parties and called for a national ‘youth crime taskforce’ in response to youth justice issues in Queensland:

Once these kids end up in detention, that should be the last resort, we have lost them. They have become better criminals… [s]tart doing things and stop waiting for them to end up in detention. Early intervention, we are just not doing it at all.

Craig Cutts, the Jacqui Lambie Network candidate for Braddon, has echoed Lambie’s call for military style youth boot camps as a fix for youth crime:

…we should be rolling out boot camps for these kids to give them the stability and mentorship they need to break out of their situations. There are examples of successful boot camps all over the country, but there is no funding for any Tasmania at the moment. That must change.

Another JLN candidate, Angela Armstrong has said:

(it’s a) priority for me to work on breaking cycles of generational poverty, crime, family violence, substance abuse, and child neglect and abuse. I’ve seen so many vulnerable people in Bass suffering through this cycle, we must do more to fix it at the root causes.

However the cards fall at the upcoming election, it’s clear that Tasmania needs immediate action to address youth justice issues if the state hopes to come close to reducing First Nations youth (and subsequently adult) incarceration 30% by 2031 as per Target 11 of the Closing the Gap strategy.

Cultural Heritage Protection

The Tasmanian Government has been working on new Aboriginal cultural heritage legislation for a number of years. Following consultations and a public submission process last year, the full exposure draft Bill is expected early in 2024. Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Roger Jaensch has referred to the complexity of this type of legislation and said it is critical that the Tasmanian government “get the detail right”, presumably referring to the disastrous WA process where a new Cultural Heritage Act was rolled out and then repealed very soon after by the Cook Labor Government.

Standouts of the proposed new Tasmanian Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act include:

  • The existing Aboriginal Heritage Council will become a regulatory body responsible for making decisions about the protection and management of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage (rather than being an advisory body);
  • Adjustments made to Aboriginal Heritage Permits, Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Management Plans and Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Agreements; and
  • An Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Register will be established.

The Tasmanian Greens 2024 election policy platform includes a number of actionables relevant to the protection of Palawa/Pakana cultural heritage, with environmental protections central to their overarching policy approach. These include:

  • Returning land to Aboriginal ownership and management, including through a new reserve tenure;
  • Reforming legislation to ensure lutruwita’s Aboriginal heritage is properly protected;
  • Supporting Aboriginal people to repatriate ancestral remains and cultural objects held by colonial institutions;
  • Working with Tasmanian Aboriginal people to create self-run facilities that store and showcase cultural heritage and knowledge; and
  • Fully funding Aboriginal Education Services to ensure the ongoing viability and quality of services and make positions permanent.

At the 2021 state election, opposition leader Rebecca White identified Aboriginal Heritage as a key issue for Labor – along with land returns, treaty and truth-telling. We are waiting to see if there will be anything from Labor on Aboriginal cultural heritage protection in the lead-up to this election.

Housing

Target 9A of the national Closing the Gap strategy aims to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in appropriately sized (not overcrowded) housing to 88% by 2031. Nationally, this target has marginally improved, although it is not on track to be met, while in Tasmania, the target is worsening.

In their 2021 Implementation Plan, the Tasmanian Government committed to two new actions for Aboriginal housing assistance (although funding was TBD):

  • Explore place-based partnerships with Aboriginal people to ensure that new social housing developments include appropriate numbers and quality of houses available for Aboriginal people; and
  • The Department of Communities will ensure that new social housing developments include appropriate numbers and quality of houses available for Aboriginal people.

There has been increasing public pressure on the Government to provide more affordable housing for Tasmanians generally, and this has become an election hot topic. The Government’s plan includes a ‘social housing only’ target of at least 2,000 more social homes by 2027 – as the fact remains that ‘low cost’ and ‘affordable’ housing is still out of reach for many.

Tasmanian Labor has a similar platform focused on building new low cost homes and addressing the number of homes being ‘lost’ to short term accommodation and includes a proposal to “urgently repair 215 uninhabitable social housing properties”. It should be said that public housing (including Aboriginal Housing) only constitutes part of social housing so it is unlikely that these pledges from either Liberal or Labor will go far in improving access to safe and secure – and not overcrowded – housing for Palawa/Pakana peoples.

The Greens have criticised the Government’s affordable housing plan as being grossly underfunded, and have pledged to ‘turbocharge’ construction of social and affordable housing by investing an additional $250M, bringing the total spend to $400M and quadrupling the Government’s yearly spending. Greens MHA for Clark Vica Bayley said:

Premier Rockliff’s plan is fanciful, his investment in this sector will deliver only 3000 public and social housing builds when he’s claiming he’s got a target of 10,000. The Greens plan is a credible plan to actually deliver the 10,000 homes…

The Greens also continue to oppose the development of the Macquarie Point football stadium on grounds that funding should go instead to public housing, with leader Dr Rosalie Woodruff saying:

The Greens are aligned with the majority of Tasmanians that don’t support that stadium… They want the money to be invested into hospital and housing infrastructure…

Jacqui Lambie Network candidates Troy Pfitzner, Chris Hannan, Conor Hallahan and Ludwig Johnson have all spoken on their commitment to improving access to affordable and social housing for Tasmanians. JLN leader Lambie had previously struck a deal with the Morrison Federal Government to waive Tasmania’s $150 million housing debt, according to Lambie “nearly doubling [the Government’s] investment in homelessness and public housing”. Kym Goodes, Tasmanian Council of Social Services CEO at the time said public housing in Tasmania had effectively been underfunded because of the debt burden:

The impacts of an underfunded housing system are real… we hear stories of people going without food for multiple days in a row just to keep a roof over their heads through extreme levels of rent.

In the years since, Tasmania’s affordable and social housing crisis (including Aboriginal housing) has continued to impact a growing number of Tasmanians, making it a key issue for all the major parties and independents contesting the upcoming election.

Whichever party succeeds in forming Government after 23 March will need to turn to a new Closing the Gap implementation plan that includes substantial funding commitments to ACCOs (Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations) and genuine power sharing arrangements to make the dial move in the right direction. The Productivity Commission’s Closing the Gap Review points out:

“In most jurisdictions, it is unclear how much funding is allocated to ACCOs and non‑Indigenous, non‑government organisations (NGOs), as most governments (the Australian, Victorian, Queensland, Northern Territory and Tasmanian governments) have either not undertaken or not published the expenditure reviews that they agreed to undertake in order to identify opportunities to prioritise ACCOs. Nonetheless, we heard that funding is continuing to go to NGOs and government service providers when it could be going to ACCOs.”

It is time for governments to relinquish the control they have held far too long and with devastating consequences for First Nations communities across the country. It is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living across ‘the gap’ that hold the solutions, and they must be fully empowered if we hope to see change.

Efforts to improve outcomes are far more likely to succeed when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people lead their design and implementation. Nothing will change until this model of partnership, based on genuine power sharing, becomes the rule and not the exception.

Productivity Commissioner Romlie Mokak

In our assessment of the Tasmanian parties’ policy in the lead up to the election it was clear that for the most part First Nations issues took a backseat. Of the major parties it could be said that the Greens have most consistently and comprehensively responded to Palawa/Pakana community needs and in their 2024 election platform only the Greens have centred First Nations priorities. The current Liberal Government has had many years to progress treaty and truth-telling and is nowhere near where it could have been. They have also failed to take action on closing the Ashley Youth Detention Centre – young people’s lives are at stake and the cost of the delays has been far too high.

We hope that the next Government of Tasmania will prioritise genuine engagement with Palawa/ Pakana peoples across the state – with a focus on building new and strengthening existing mechanisms for self-determination – to achieve the change that is so very much needed.

Phaedra Engel-Harrison
ANTAR Campaigns & Communications Manager

Phaedra grew up on beautiful Dharawal Country and now lives and works on Cammeraygal and Gadigal Land as ANTAR’s Campaigns & Communications Fundraising Manager. She has over a decade of experience in the ‘for purpose’ sector, working for humanitarian causes in Australia and internationally. She holds a BA (Media and Communications) and a Master of Human Rights from the University of Sydney. She is a dedicated campaigner for First Nations rights and justice and supports the Close the Gap and Raise the Age Campaigns through her role with ANTAR. Phaedra is passionate about politics and people-driven community movements for change powered by social media.