Media release – Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania, 1 March 2022
ROBBINS ISLAND WIND FARM SHOULD BE REJECTED ON ABORIGINAL HERITAGE GROUNDS
The Robbins Island wind farm should be rejected because of its impacts on an Aboriginal Cultural Landscape and, given the Aboriginal Heritage Act (1975) is acknowledged as deficient and Government has committed to new legislation, the upcoming assessment will be a test of the current Act and its interpretation by the Minister, according to the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania (ALCT).
“Approval of this development would represent complete regulatory capitulation to corporate interests and industrial capitalism at the expense of irreplaceable, ancient and ongoing cultural heritage values and the Tasmanian Aboriginal community’s collective interests,” concludes the ALCT representation to the Circular Head Council, Environmental Protection Authority and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.
“The decision to allow the Robbins Island wind farm rests with the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the same minister who has pledged to introduce new legislation that protects Aboriginal Heritage,” said Rebecca Digney, manager of the ALCT.
“Our submission identifies that the windfarm fails to clear even the very low bar set by the current Act, because of its industrial scale impacts on a landscape that is verified as of high significance for its Aboriginal heritage values.
“Given the Minister’s commitment to introduce new Aboriginal heritage protection legislation, it is a shame that this project preempts what is planned, but even the current Act has enough teeth to stop this project, and it should.
“This process will be a test for the current Act and should help establish what’s needed in a new one.
“Given the significance of Robbins Island in lutruwita/Tasmania’s ancient Aboriginal and more contemporary colonial history, if this project gets a green light, it will represent a major failure of assessment and approval in this state.”
Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania
182 Charles Street Launceston Tas 7250
Circular Head Council
PO Box 348 SMITHTON TAS 7330
Via email: [email protected]
27 February 2022
Representation: DA 2020/42 – Robbins Island Renewable Energy Park
- About the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania
The Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania (ALCT) is the statutory body, established under Tasmania’s Aboriginal Lands Act (1995), to own and manage returned land on behalf of Tasmania’s Aboriginal community.
ALCT is a neighboring landowner to Robbins Island, owning two islands in western Bass Strait, namely titima (Trefoil Island) and Steep Head. Steep Head was returned by the Tasmanian Government in 1995, while titima was purchased with the support of the Indigenous Land Council.
Through ALCT, the Aboriginal community aspires to achieve more land returns across lutruwita/Tasmania and has active claims over some areas and latent claims over others. This aspiration includes freehold land, including Robbins Island.
ALCT has a significant and long interest in Robbins Island, its tangible Aboriginal heritage, its Cultural Landscape and the stories and role in that the island plays lutruwita/Tasmania’s shared history.
- This submission
This submission is made in the knowledge that all land and sea in lutruwita was Aboriginal Land and none was ever ceded. This truth is beyond dispute and includes the land covered by C/T 110402/1 and C/T 50468/4T.
The Aboriginal Community claims ongoing ownership of Aboriginal heritage on Robbins Island.
Robbins Island was used by Aboriginal people for millennia. The freehold title of Robbins Island does not preclude ALCT or the Aboriginal community asserting its interest in the land, the cultural heritage it holds, its existence as an Aboriginal Cultural Landscape and the future protection and freehold ownership of this land and heritage.
Similarly, the Sea Country of Robbins passage was traversed and managed by Aboriginal people since time immemorial. ALCT and the Aboriginal Community maintains an interest in the protection, management and future ownership of this Sea Country.
Robbins Island and the surrounding sea scape, including Robbins Passage is an Aboriginal Cultural landscape.
It is an area that had been owned and actively managed by Aboriginal people for over 40,000 years. Never ceded, it has been removed from Aboriginal ownership for less than 220 years.
The uncontestable, disproportionate nature of this fact is fundamental to the ALCT objection to this Development Application and claims to ownership of land, cultural heritage and sea.
ALCT requests the Circular Head Council, Environmental Protection Authority and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs refuse a permit for the construction of the Robbins Island Renewable Energy Park.
- The Planning Report
ALCT condemns the Planning Report authored by GHD on behalf of UPC Renewables Pty Ltd (UPC) and its approach to Aboriginal history, heritage and values. Whether though deliberate decision or overt ignorance, the report reduces the 40,000 year history of Aboriginal ownership, occupation, stewardship and cultural connection to a single line mention of the discovery of ‘several Aboriginal artifacts’.
In the 21st Century, for a project of this size on a landscape of such cultural significance, surely people can do better.
The Planning Report section titled ‘Site History’ (2.2), begins with discussion of the ‘European historic use of the island’, grazing, residency and staffing.
Simple literature review (Pomley, Ryan, Pybus, Clements and Henry), let alone inquiry of Aboriginal experts in culture and history, reveals significant detail about the Nation and band associations with Robbins Island and Robbins Passage. Aboriginal interactions and use of Robbins Island, first contact between Aborigines and sealers and Robbins Island’s prominence in the ‘conciliations’ of George Augustus Robinson is prominent in literature and historical text.
Even the Aboriginal Heritage Assessment Report commissioned by GHD and included in the Development Application itself contains a section titled ‘Ethno-historic Background’, which details significant existing knowledge of Aboriginal occupancy and contact with Europeans on Robbins Island.
While Planning and Aboriginal heritage protection legislation in Tasmania is woefully inadequate (as will be discussed later), the very least Aboriginal people expect is that their ancestral heritage is discussed with some level of respect, prominence, and accuracy.
The Planning Report fails on all three accounts in what looks like a deliberate attempt to diminish Aboriginal historic significance and, in doing so, deny recognition and protection of that history.
- Historical human context
Our people lived on Robbins Island since the time of the seas rising. They were Parpertloihener people, with their own dialect and history, their warriors and major events carved over centuries into the petroglypghs at Preminghana to where they travelled for cultural and social exchanges. In return, the Tarkiner came to Robbins Island for dogwood spears when the three stars come. Great ceremonies were held among the two peoples on these occasions. The Tarkiner would always return again after two darks or when the three stars come out. The spears were highly sought after, and permission from the Parpertloihener people was given as part of the marital exchanges and great corroborees.
Robbins Island not only contained a number of villages but also burial grounds among the dunes away from the villages situated among the trees and bushes, sheltered from the fresh westerlies, with plenty of water in the running creeks. Kangaroo was abundant. Kunikong grew along the foreshore. Sheoak and kangaroo apples were in plentiful supply.
Robbins Island is the place of a great victory by our people against the marauding sealers who had previously abducted pre-adolescent girls. In the cold of 1832 four sealers rushed our village for the young girls, but our people mustered and rushed them in return, killing them. This victory lives on in our minds. There was great
ceremony among the people for the victory.
Narrucker was a 20 year old widow from Nungu or West Point. She was the wife of Loethdiderbope. She was stout and well-made and had become a member of the Robbins Island tribe by marriage to Pendowtewer. She was sent to Launceston by Robinson on 4 August 1830, from where she was returned to Circular Head on 28 August and escaped. In September 1832 Robinson met her at the Arthur River; and in April 1834 he removed her from Sandy Cape, sending her to the establishment.
Buried on Robbins is a young female Nowgarreker, who was killed there by a Peewrappee man named Nappelarleyer, who speared her in both her sides and in the neck. We believe this was done from jealousy, and that Pennerrinneker, one of tarerenore’s men, killed him in revenge. Her body was seen lying on Robbins Island in a state of putrefaction by GA Robinson in 1832.
In 1830 Robinson said:
it is in the recollection of several persons whom I have conversed with that this island was covered with kangaroo. The natives used to wander in quest of game, and from this island they could go to others, to the rocks to get birds, fish &c, and to the main. The natives were very numerous, but have been destroyed by the sealers and by the tribes with whom they are at war, and are now but few in number. They are a fair race of people. (Friendly Mission June 1830)
Yula, now known as mutton bird, provided an essential part of the social, cultural and economic life of people on Robbins Island. The rookery on the northern side of Robbins Island was much more expansive than it is now, and people walked across to Walkers Island for greater access to the birds. In November the people gathered the yula eggs and roasted them in their shells in the hot ashes. From February until late May, they fed on the young chicks. The rookeries and the birds were inextricably linked to the people.
Robbins Island and Robbins passage has a human history of occupation of over 1000 generations.
- Preempting protection under Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act (1984).
An application for the protection of Robbins Island under the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act (1984) has been received and is under active consideration by the Federal Government.
ALCT fully supports this application and the protection of Aboriginal heritage under this legislation and notes the constitutional supremacy of federal legislation over that of the states.
It is regrettable and inappropriate that the Development Application is being advertised and progressed in advance of the resolution of this application for protection under Commonwealth law.
- Aboriginal Heritage Act (1975)
Tasmania’s Aboriginal heritage protection legislation is comprehensively rejected by all relevant stakeholders and is universally acknowledged as being inadequate and its current application is unable to actually protect all Aboriginal cultural heritage values.
In response to a government-auspiced review process, the relevant Minister for the Tasmanian Government, Hon Roger Jaensch has tabled a report in Parliament that both agrees with this analysis and commits Government to the introduction of new legislation.
Amongst other things, Minister Jaensch’s tabling report states:
“The need for a new Act: The review has confirmed the Government’s long standing position that the Act is considerably out of date and that new legislation is required that expands the scope of the Act, beyond being mainly focussed on mitigating the impact of physical activities on Aboriginal heritage of archaeological significance.
It is clear that the Act itself does not provide effective mechanisms for protection, nor does it adequately consider the significance of Aboriginal heritage in the context of Aboriginal culture.”i(pg. 2)
Given this fact, the extreme significance of Robbins Island and Robbins Passage for Aboriginal heritage and to Aboriginal people, and the industrial scale impacts of the proposed wind farm development on an Aboriginal cultural landscape, the precautionary principle should compel the rejection of a planning permit pending the implementation of credible Aboriginal heritage protection legislation that addresses current acknowledged failures.
- Aboriginal Heritage Assessment report
The Aboriginal Heritage Assessment Report (Final Report v5) conducted as part of this Development Application is a product of the flawed Aboriginal Heritage Act (1975) and its subservient guidelines.
Nowhere does the report ‘assess’ the impact of the development on Aboriginal heritage values, quantify the extent of the impacts and loss of heritage values, or offer a view that this loss of values is acceptable.
The approach under which the report is conducted does not purport to protect Aboriginal heritage values or avoid impacts.
The report relies on a limited, archeological approach to heritage assessment and a lowest-common-denominator analysis that is based on an assumption that the development will be approved for construction and consequential impacts on Aboriginal heritage can only therefore be ‘minimised’.
This travesty is highlighted in the report itself, stating under ‘Summary Management Recommendations’ that,
“the recommendations are aimed at minimising the impact of the proposed Robbins Island Renewable Energy Park Development on the Aboriginal heritage resources.” (pg. 11)
This is reinforced in the “Project Aims” chapter of the report. Nowhere do the stated project aims claim to assess the impact of the development on Aboriginal heritage values and countenance a recommendation that the project not proceed.
Indeed, an explicit project aim is based on the assumption of approval and thus,
“…to develop a set of management recommendations aimed at minimising the impact of the Robbins Island Renewable Energy park Project on any identified Aboriginal heritage values.” (pg. 19)
Notwithstanding the flaws in the Aboriginal Heritage Act that translate into an inadequate Aboriginal Heritage Assessment Report that offers no credible ‘assessment’, the report contains significant details about the historical significance of Robbins Island, the aesthetic value of the Aboriginal heritage on the island and the significance of Robbins Island as a whole.
For example, Chapter 4 “Ethno-historic background” details significant knowledge of the structure of traditional Aboriginal community, their interactions with each other, their ownership, management and interaction with Robbins Island and historical accounts of invasion, ethnic cleansing and dispossession as reported by Europeans.
The Aboriginal Heritage Assessment Report does assess the ‘aesthetic values’ of the recorded Aboriginal sites and determines them to be ‘high’ (pg. 94)
Similarly, the Aboriginal Heritage Assessment report assess the overall significance of Robbins Island as greater than high. Specifically, the report states:
“The significance of these sites has been assessed on an individual basis, with ratings ranging from low to high. However, as a combined suite of sites, the research potential of the Aboriginal cultural resources on Robbins Island is collectively much greater.” (pg. 94)
ALCT contends that collectively, the extensive ethno-historic report and the above assessments of visual and other significance, when combined with the reporting of tangible Aboriginal heritage ‘sites’ that have been recorded, demonstrate that Robbins Island and Robbins Passage are collectively an Aboriginal Cultural Landscape.
ALCT believes further research and reporting should be conducted to establish the extent of the Cultural Landscape values and impacts of the proposed development on these landscape values. If any such research was compared against the impacts of the development to need to refuse a permit would become clear to the Minister.
The massive scale of this development, the visual impacts demonstrated by the Visual Impact Assessment and sensitive nature of the site reinforce the need for a permit to be refused and this project abandoned.
- Robbins Island as a ‘place’
Irrespective of the acknowledged failures of the Aboriginal Heritage Act (1975), the Act provides for the protection of Aboriginal ‘relics’, in that no person shall ‘destroy, damage, deface, conceal, or otherwise interfere with a relic’ (14(1)(c)) unless authorised to do so through a permit issued by the Minister.
A relic is defined as “any object, site, or place that bears signs of the activities of any such original inhabitants or their descendants, which is of significance to the Aboriginal people of Tasmania” (2(3)(b)) (emphasis added)
Based on the content of the Aboriginal Heritage Assessment Report, Robbins Island is clearly a ‘place’ that still bears the signs of Aboriginal occupation and is, demonstrably and asserted here by ALCT, of significance to the Aboriginal people of Tasmania.
This enlivens Section 14 and requires the Minister to consider the impact of the proposed development on the island as a whole, when considering the issue of a permit. In real terms, this should bring into play Cultural Landscape, spiritual and other Aboriginal heritage values for consideration.
Considering 7 above, the assessment of Robbins Island as of high significance and the assertion it represents an Aboriginal cultural landscape, ALCT contends a permit should be refused based on the unacceptable impact of the proposed development would have on the island as a whole, place and thus a relic as defined under the Act.
- Natural Heritage Values and cultural practice
The natural values of Robbins Island are significant and some pertain to values that intersect with Aboriginal cultural practice and heritage.
Of note here is yula (mutton bird) which migrate annually nest on islands across Tasmania including Robbins Island. Studiesii report over 40,000 nesting yula burrows on Robbins Island and a further 190,000 on nearby Walker Island.
Aboriginal people commercially harvest yula on the neighbouring Aboriginal-owned islands of titima (Trefoil Island) and are in the process of establishing operations on Steep Head.
ALCT holds concerns about the impact of the proposed development on the migration, breeding and viability of yula populations reliant on Robbins Island and its surrounding waters.
This has not been adequately addressed in the application.
- Other values
ALCT shares a broader community concern over the scale and location of this development and its consequential impacts on natural heritage values, visual and other amenity and a range of other community values of significance. If objectively assessed, ALCT believes the development should be non-compliant on a range of grounds when assessed against the Circular Head Planning Scheme and the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act (1994).
Given the absence of any reference to, or capacity to protect, Aboriginal heritage under these regulations, ALCT will leave detailed analysis and submission to experts in their fields and constrain this representation to issues of Aboriginal heritage significance.
A permit for the construction of the Robbins Island Renewable Energy Park should be refused based on its unacceptable impact on Aboriginal heritage values.
Knowledge, including that presented as part of this Development Application, demonstrates a rich Aboriginal history that spans millennia and is still in evidence today. The Aboriginal Community maintains a connection to Robbins Island, the heritage it holds and cultural practice it sustains.
The Robbins Island Renewable Energy Park is located in the wrong place and will lead to unacceptable impacts to physical sites of Aboriginal heritage significance, a place of Aboriginal heritage significance and the Aboriginal Cultural Landscape within which Robbins Island sits.
The proposed development is of a scale and in a location that means impacts on Aboriginal heritage cannot be avoided or mitigated. Management actions proposed to minimise impacts are not taken as adequate or effective, as negative impacts are sustained and are deemed unacceptable.
Despite the widely acknowledged flaws in the Aboriginal Heritage Act (1975) and Aboriginal Heritage Assessment Report, evidence demonstrates that Robbins Island as a whole can be considered a place of significance and thus a relic warranting protection from desecration by Ministerial decision.
When it comes to Aboriginal heritage, the approval decision pertaining to the Robbins Island Renewable Energy Park represents a significant test for the Aboriginal Heritage Act (1975) and the administration of it. There would be few Tasmanian landscapes that rival Robbins Island in significance to Aboriginal people, and few project developments with greater demonstrable impacts than an industrial wind farm.
Approval of this development would represent complete regulatory capitulation to corporate interests and industrial capitalism at the expense of irreplaceable, ancient and ongoing cultural heritage values and the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community’s collective interests.
i Tabling Report – Review of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1975
ii DISTRIBUTION, ABUNDANCE AND CONSERVATION STATUS OF SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATERS PUFFINUS TENUIROSTRIS IN TASMANIA, AUSTRALIA (1996) Skira et al, Marine Ornithology
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