Push for indigenous reps in Tas parliament

A select committee is examining the restoration of Tasmania's lower house to 35 seats.
A select committee is examining the restoration of Tasmania's lower house to 35 seats.

Tasmania's parliament would have two designated indigenous seats under a proposal put forward by several of the state's Aboriginal bodies.

A select committee is examining the merit of restoring the island state's lower house to 35 seats from its current 25.

Chair of the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania Michael Mansell said any increase must include an indigenous voice.

"Currently the dice are loaded heavily against us," he told a public hearing at Hobart's parliament house on Monday.

"If we're talking about the Tasmanian parliament being representative, we have to include the original people."

Under the proposal, a separate voter roll would be created to elect indigenous representatives from one electorate spanning the whole state.

The push comes as the federal government grapples with questions of constitutional recognition for Australia's indigenous people.

"We are the only people to have lost the whole state. It seems to us that the time is right," Mr Mansell said, adding the issues of health, recidivism and land return are priorities for the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.

The Liberal state government is non-committal.

"Tasmanians would expect us to be focused on our schools, hospitals and community safety - rather than more politicians," Acting Premier Jeremy Rockliff told reporters.

"We welcome ideas and submissions and we'll look closely at the recommendations that the committee provides."

The proposal, put forward by four Tasmanian Aboriginal groups, draws on the example of New Zealand, where there are seven designated Maori seats in parliament.

Tasmania's House of Assembly was shrunk to 25 seats in 1998 after concerns the state was over-governed and prone to hung parliaments.

But calls have grown in recent years for an increase, with critics claiming government ministers are being overloaded with too many portfolios.

Premier Will Hodgman said it would likely cost the state $7.9 million to set up a 35-seat parliament and $7.2 million per year to maintain it.

The state is currently divided into five electorates, with five MPs elected in each.

The committee is expected to present its recommendations in September.

Australian Associated Press