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Senator slams treatment of Tasmanian Aboriginal remains as backlash continues

Callan Morse -

Greens senator Dorinda Cox has slammed the treatment of Aboriginal remains, which were returned to a Tasmanian Aboriginal corporation in brown paper bags last week.

The remains, found at Carlton Beach, south of Sorell and the Shank, near Low Rocky Point were returned without warning to the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre on Friday following separate coronial inquests into their origin, outraging the organisation and members of the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.

While visiting Hobart this week, Senator Cox, the Greens’ First Nations spokesperson, called out the “disrespect and lack of dignity” in the way the remains were returned.

“We deserve, under Australian law through all levels of government, the respect and dignity for the peace and justice of our old people,” the Yamatji and Noongar woman told The Mercury.

“Still on the coastlines of our nation are remains, ancestral remains of our old people being found. And in the process of climate change, they are washing up on the shores.

“They are being exposed, and yet governments of Australia are failing First Nations people by not advising the custodians and Traditional Owners of their country about those findings.”

The incident reportedly horrified the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre’s (TAC) campaign manager, Nala Mansell, who labelled the coroner's office's handling of the remains a "complete disrespect and disregard" for Aboriginal peoples.

"A police officer has rocked up unannounced to the Tasmanian centre with paper bags informing us that: 'Here's the bones of your ancestors. I've been asked to drop them off to you,'" Ms Mansell told the ABC.

"We're at a loss as to how, after 220 years, the remains of Aboriginal people in this state continue to be treated with the utmost disrespect in a manner that we understand would not be OK if it was a non-Aboriginal person."

Testing determined the remains to contain a DNA type which is exclusive to Indigenous Australians, with estimates suggesting they date between 772 and 991 AD.

Tasmanian Greens leader Rosalie Woodruff labelled the handling of the remains “an outrage” and “a stain on our (Tasmanian) government”.

“Tasmanian Aboriginal people suffer ongoing impacts of colonisation every day,” Ms Woodruff said, The Mercury reports.

“The response of the coroner’s office to the treatment of Aboriginal remains is an outrage and it is a stain on our government and the institutions of the government that an act like this would still occur today.

“It shows a sincere and deep lack of understanding from the coroner’s office for how they need to treat Aboriginal remains, and very importantly, how they need to speak with, engage with and understand the wishes and desires of the Tasmanian Aboriginal people.”

Following the return, a Tasmanian government spokesperson said the government was “deeply disappointed to hear the reports of insensitive treatment of Aboriginal remains”.

“We are committing to address the process for the treatment of Aboriginal remains in our Aboriginal Engagement Guidelines,” the government spokesperson said, saying it understood the remains were referred to the TAC “as soon as information became available to the coroner” that the bones were Aboriginal remains.

Tasmanian Attorney-General Guy Barnett said the government is seeking advice from the state’s Department of Justice about the “appropriateness” of existing arrangements under the Coroners Act.

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