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Research Guides

Commonwealth Government Records about Tasmania


In Canberra, the 1980s opened with the re-election of the fourth and last Fraser government (1980–83). In Tasmania, as part of a program of decentralisation and because Hobart was geographically well placed, two CSIRO divisions (Fisheries and Oceanography) moved to new headquarters beside the Derwent River. Further south, at Kingston, the Australian Antarctic Division headquarters were judged fit for occupation and were opened the following year by Prince Charles. Two months earlier, on the other side of the state, 40 homes were lost at Zeehan to raging bushfires, reaffirming that in this decade too, the federal presence would involve emergency funding assistance.

Roe's post-modern times were with the Greens, with no clearer sign than Bob Brown's arrival in the Tasmanian House of Assembly in January 1983. What had especially troubled Fraser, and after his defeat in March 1983, new Prime Minister Bob Hawke, was the unswerving determination of the HEC and Premier Robin Gray to dam the Franklin River in support of the Gordon River Power Development Scheme. After the May 1982 election, Gray was head of a Liberal government unusually able to govern in its own right. He exuded what Henry Reynolds described as 'combative populism' and seemed to enjoy nothing better than a fight with Canberra, something not unknown among state premiers.

Fraser had the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, including South-West and Franklin-Lower Gordon Wild Rivers, proclaimed by the World Heritage Commission under the 1972 UNESCO convention, and in December the Senate passed the World Heritage Protection Bill. Fraser preferred to persuade, with an offer of $500 million to build an alternative thermal power station and was not prepared to override state wishes. Hawke was, even if it meant losing every Tasmanian federal electorate and requiring his Attorney-General to scramble F-111s to photograph construction. Hawke had regulations passed to block the dam construction and successfully defended the decision in July before the High Court. Then the discussions about compensation began. By mid-1985 compensation was agreed at the level of $276 million. The resulting records were equally large, as explained in Chapter 4.

The newfound sense of identity and political purpose of Tasmania's Indigenous people strengthened into the 1980s, and resonated nationally. One of the judges in the aforementioned High Court case, won by just a four-to-three majority, had noted the significance of Aboriginal sites (including Kutikina Cave on the lower Franklin) in reaching his decision. In 1985, there was a four-day cremation ceremony at Oyster Cove, south of Hobart, for Aboriginal remains recovered from museums and in 1986, archaeologists discovered Aboriginal rock paintings in the south-west believed to be 20,000 years old – in their different ways, significant markers of reconciliation and validation. This resurgence, led by brilliant maverick Michael Mansell, took the initiative from Hawke's well-meaning Aboriginal Affairs Minister Clyde Holding, thus contributing to his replacement in 1987 by Gerry Hand.

As Appendix B shows, in this decade too the administrative agents of Canberra's executive seemed to keep multiplying, although the 54 new entities fell well short of the 1970s proliferation. In mid-1982, yet another reorganisation affected more than one-third of the entire public service, though changes now were so constant and temporary that as Nethercote observed, 'the stationery could barely keep up'. Even in the island state, the return of a Labor government in 1983 and Hawke's famous 'Westphalian moment' of Bastille Day 1987, when he unveiled unprecedented departmental abolitions and amalgamations, can be tracked via rebadged state and regional branch offices. There were also new, or newish, Tasmanianspecific entities. One, set up in 1981 for reasons its name suggests, was the Senate Select Committee on South West Tasmania (CA 4402). Another, gazetted in 1984, was the Divisional Returning Officer for the Division of Lyons (CA 4906), replacing the electorate of Wilmot. Two new CSIRO divisions, Division of Oceanography (CA 7795) and Division of Fisheries Research (CA 8065), also appeared following, as noted in Chapter 2, the 1977 Callaghan inquiry.


Chapter 1
The Commonwealth and Tasmania, 1901–2000