Tasmania’s Michael Mansell wants Aboriginal electorate

Prominent Aboriginal lawyer and activist Michael Mansell is hoping to shore up support from Tasmania’s Labor Opposition and Greens for his proposal to have an island-wide Aboriginal electorate with a Legislative Council seat.

Mr Mansell presented the proposal on behalf of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre to the Electoral Redistribution Tribunal in Hobart during public hearings last week.

The tribunal will report on the redistribution of Legislative Council electoral boundaries in Tasmania and table its decision in State Parliament later this year.

Mr Mansell said Tasmania could be the first of the states to make what would be a landmark move.

He told NIT this week an Aboriginal electorate should be included in any Legislative Council changes.

Aboriginal voters would have the choice of voting in the Aboriginal seat or in their regional seat under a system similar to those that operate in countries such as Columbia, New Zealand and some US states.

The elected member for the seat would then have the job of representing Indigenous Tasmania in Parliament.

Mr Mansell said he would meet with Labor Opposition leader Bryan Green to discuss the proposal, which he hoped the ALP in Tasmania would support.

He is also hopeful of backing from the Greens.

“We’re pretty certain the Labor Party will jump on board, and the Greens … it sounds like they are interested in the idea,” he said.

“We’re only two votes short of getting Parliament to agree to it, but the beauty of this is the tribunal makes the decision rather than the politicians.

“That’s why it’s an independent body. Even if the government opposed it, because it is an independent body, the tribunal decides.”

Mr Mansell said it didn’t matter the proposal did not have the support of the Hodgman Liberal government.

“The government is desperately clinging to power down here so they are naturally going to oppose any reform unless it guarantees their re-election,” he said. “That’s to be anticipated rather than be seen as a setback.”

Last year Mr Mansell released a book, Treaty and Statehood, in which he proposed Central Australia could become a seventh, Aboriginal state, taking in land from the Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland.

He said an Aboriginal seat in Tasmania could become a starting point for national change.

“The same could apply in other states,” he said. “In the more populated Aboriginal states – New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland — you could have two seats, and one in Victoria and one in South Australia.”

He said the current political system didn’t work for Aboriginal people.

“The difficulty for people like (Labor senators) Pat Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy is there is absolutely no question that they are genuinely trying to do their best for Aboriginal people, but they are constrained by their obligations to the party that put them there and the broad spectrum of voters who voted them in who are not Aboriginal people; they are white people,” he said.

“So they are not free to speak on behalf of Aboriginal people when it suits them.”

Mr Mansell said a mooted Reconciliation Council for Tasmania was also a waste of time.

“These sorts of body are put there to deflect any urgency from the government to do something positive,” he said. “They can point to these bodies and say ‘We don’t have to do anything – we’ve got a Reconciliation Council’.”

He said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s national advisory body also did not help Aboriginal causes.

“We will never get self-determination while people willingly go on advisory bodies hand-picked by government,” he said.

Under Tasmania’s electoral system, the island will go to the polls in some of its Legislative Council seats in May. The election for the lower house seats is due in March next year.

The Hodgman government said in a statement it does not support Mr Mansell’s idea.

“Quotas or reserve seats are at odds with the fundamental one vote, one value ethos of our democracy,” it said.

Tasmanian Opposition leader Bryan Green and Greens leader Cassy O’Connor did not respond to NIT’s inquiries.

By Wendy Caccetta

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