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Question: Repatriation of Ancestral Aboriginal Remains

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I seek to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs a question about the repatriation of Aboriginal remains.

Leave granted.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: The South Australian Museum cares for almost 4,000 restricted objects that have significance according to Aboriginal tradition. On 27 March 2024, the SA government's State Aboriginal Heritage Committee wrote to the arts minister, Andrea Michaels, and the museum's chair, Kim Cheater, to express their concern about the impact of a proposed museum restructure of the research and collections division. I know that the minister is aware of this letter as he was carbon copied in.

That letter reads in part: [The SA Museum] has held some 4,600 Aboriginal remains over the past 165 years. SA Museum's role here is unique and cannot be replicated or delegated, including because only [the Museum] is eligible to apply for the commonwealth funding to support the return of ancestral remains from overseas. The proposed restructure appears to resile from this commitment by failing to maintain suitably senior, qualified, experienced personnel to perform the work.

The State Aboriginal Heritage Committee has also expressed their concerns that the repatriation manager has taken a long time to develop significant relationships of trust, carefully built over recent
years, but has been told that they will have to reapply for their job. The repatriation of ancestors is a key commitment of the South Australian government and last year it committed a further $1.5 million of repatriation projects to our state to be delivered by the South Australian Museum.

Indeed, over the last six years, the humanities team has successfully returned more than 700 ancestors, compared with only 49 in the previous 10 years. However, with the loss of expert knowledge and fewer staff positions intended, there are concerns that the museum will no longer appropriately continue these responsibilities. My questions to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs are:

1. Is the minister concerned about the lack of consultation from the SA Museum with the South Australian State Aboriginal Heritage Committee?

2. Is he concerned that the repatriation process, if not continued by the already currently qualified, experienced and trusted repatriation manager if she is to lose her position, willthen take much longer than intended and be done in an inappropriate way

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): I thank the honourable member for her question. Of course, the SA Museum isn't directly in my portfolio area but, as the honourable member has pointed out, the South Australian State Aboriginal Heritage Committee have made a decision to write a letter to the responsible minister, the Hon. Andrea Michaels, and I was cc'd into that letter.

I have had a number of other discussions, as I see community leaders at various events who have talked a little bit about the South Australian Museum. I think there was an answer, perhaps to a parliamentary committee of this place, where, if I remember correctly, the Museum talked about the family history unit as well as the repatriation unit and said that they would maintain the services there.

In relation to the specific question the honourable member had in relation to personnel within the repatriation area of the museum, I would put on the record, too, the good work that has been done in the repatriation effort. I will always acknowledge good work, even if it's not our government, but the Hon. Steven Marshall's government started the good work in Kaurna repatriation. That is certainly continuing and there has been further significant funding we have put there, as a government.

In relation to who is employed to conduct that work, that is obviously not in my portfolio area. Even if it were, it would be up to the heads of those organisations to make those decisions. I would expect those organisations to take into account a whole range of factors, including the work that has been done when they make such decisions.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Supplementary: what steps will the minister take to ensure that the State Aboriginal Heritage Committee's views are heard by the Minister for Arts?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): I thank the honourable member for her question. I was cc'd into that correspondence. It was sent directly to the minister responsible, so I am sure it will be taken into account when any considerations are made.

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