Mr FRANK SARTOR (Rockdale—Minister for Energy and Utilities, Minister for Science and Medical Research, Minister Assisting the Minister for Health (Cancer), and Minister Assisting the Premier on the Arts) [2.22 p.m.]: Tomorrow an historic ceremony will take place in Sydney Harbour National Park. The remains of 13 Aboriginal people will be laid to rest at North Head. Some have been in museums while others have been found on construction sites. The bodies of the Aboriginal people were originally from the Manly area. The ceremony will be part of the largest ever repatriation of Aboriginal remains from Australian museums for the metropolitan Aboriginal community. This latest repatriation has been co-ordinated by the Metropolitan Aboriginal Land Council in conjunction with the Australian Museum, the National Museum of Australia and the New South Wales Department of Environment and Conservation.
The remains are being returned as part of the State Government's policy of returning Aboriginal remains to their people when found in State collections. Since 2002 more than 40 sets of ancestral remains have been returned to Aboriginal communities across the State. They include the return and burial in May 2002 of the remains of 21 individuals brought home to the La Peruse community; the reburial of the remains—now 1,200 years old—of two Aboriginal people in Kosciuszko National Park in May 2003; and the return of the remains of a 12-year-old girl who died 150 years ago to the Gamilaroi in the Northern Tablelands.
This Government believes that the remains of Aboriginal people should be buried in their ancestral soil and not left on the shelves of museums. It is clear that they deserve to be buried with dignity by their own people. It is important for the remains to be reunited with their country rather than be in museums. It demonstrates that the New South Wales Government recognises the importance of the repatriation process for many Aboriginal communities. It has been working with Aborigines across the State to return remains. We are also urging other government agencies and research institutions to follow this example.
The New South Wales Department of Environment and Conservation is still the only land management agency in Australia that has an Aboriginal repatriation program. There are still many more sets of remains in museums and places of study in Australia and overseas. Their descendants deserve access to the remains. Aboriginal groups estimate that more than 8,000 sets of remains are still held in Europe. I commend this statement to the House.