Susan Neill-Fraser’s appeal against her conviction for murdering Bob Chappell could go one of three ways

On the 26th of January, 2009, Bob Chappell disappeared from his yacht, moored off the Hobart suburb of Sandy Bay. He was never seen again.

There was no body, no murder weapon and to this day the events of that evening remain unclear.

But for the 12 jurors who sat through the trial of Susan Neill-Fraser, there was enough circumstantial evidence to unanimously convict her of the murder of her partner of almost 20 years.

Neill-Fraser has always maintained her innocence.

Twelve years later, one of Tasmania’s highest-profile murder cases will be back before the court in an appeal that could see the judges order a re-trial or Neill-Fraser walk free.

The original case

Neill-Fraser and Mr Chappell had been on the yacht together that afternoon.

Bob Chappell’s yacht, Four Winds, sank after his death.(AAP)

According to Neill-Fraser, she left the yacht to go to Bunnings and then headed to her West Hobart home where she remained for the rest of the evening.

During the original trial in 2010, the Crown argued Neill-Fraser had returned to the yacht, known as the Four Winds, via its dinghy.

They argued she then bludgeoned her partner with a wrench, disposed of his body in the River Derwent and scuttled the yacht, which was later found half submerged.

The trial also heard she had decided their relationship was over and was aware she would be financially better off in the event of his death, rather than separation.

She was convicted of his murder and sentenced to 26 years in prison with a non-parole period of 18 years. Both were later reduced by three years.

In his reasons for allowing the leave to appeal, Supreme Court Justice Michael Brett described the case against Neill-Fraser as “entirely circumstantial”.

He said one of the substantial aspects of the case was the “series of lies told by the applicant to investigating police, principally in relation to her whereabouts and movements on the night in question”.

What’s the appeal based around?

This is not the first time Neill-Fraser has tried to appeal her murder conviction, but it is the first time she has actually been granted leave for an appeal against her conviction.

Convicted murderer Susan Neill-Fraser
Susan Neill-Fraser has previously tried to fight her conviction for the 2009 murder of her partner Bob Chappell.(ABC News)

That is due to laws introduced in 2015 which allow appeals in cases where there is “fresh and compelling evidence”.

In 2019, Neill-Fraser’s legal team was able to convince Supreme Court Justice Brett they had “fresh and compelling” evidence which should be heard.

The “fresh and compelling” evidence came in the form of Meghan Vass, who was 15 and homeless at the time of Mr Chappell’s disappearance.

Justice Brett’s judgment states that Ms Vass’s DNA was found on the yacht, but at the time of the trial she denied having ever having been aboard the Four Winds.

Ms Vass has since changed her story, swearing in an affidavit that she was on the yacht on that night — this was backed up by a 60 Minutes interview that was not aired in Tasmania.

“In particular, Ms Vass states that she was present on the yacht then with two identified male companions,” wrote Justice Brett.

“She witnessed at least one of the males assault Mr Chappell. She recalls seeing a lot of blood.”

Her affidavit does not address what happened to Mr Chappell and she said she cannot remember leaving the yacht or what happened after the alleged assault.

While there are questions around the reliability of Ms Vass’s evidence, Justice Brett simply needed to take into consideration whether there was a possibility it could be considered credible when he was granting the appeal.

Neill-Fraser’s appeal notice shows her case will also call into question “evidence led by the prosecution at trial in relation to the results of, and inferences that could be drawn from DNA [and luminol testing]” and a “winching reconstruction on the Four Winds” which Neill-Fraser’s team said was “misleading”.

It also argues the “dinghy seen near the Four Winds around the time the deceased was attacked was not the Four Winds’ tender”.

What could happen?

Neill-Fraser’s appeal will be heard before the full bench of the Supreme Court, which means three judges will hear the evidence.

The Supreme Court of Tasmania in Hobart
A full bench of the Supreme Court will hear the appeal.(Damien Larkins, file photo: ABC News)

The appeal begins on March 1 and is expected to run for five days. The judges will then likely reserve their decision.

It could go three ways from there.

If Neill-Fraser’s appeal is successful, she could face a re-trial.

This means convincing a fresh jury she is innocent, or at least proving there is some doubt in her guilt — to be convicted, the burden of proof should be beyond reasonable doubt.

As it is such a high-profile case, the jury is likely to be familiar with her story, which could create questions around their impartiality.

Tasmania does not currently allow judge only trials, but there is legislation in the works.

Secondly, her conviction could be quashed by the judges and she could walk free.

Or her appeal could fail, but it is not necessarily her last chance.

If it is rejected, Neill-Fraser can challenge the conviction again, provided she finds more fresh and compelling evidence.

Of course, there is one final path.

In less than 18 months, Neill-Fraser will be eligible for parole, having served almost 12 years of her 23-year sentence.

But supporters say if she is going to walk free, she would rather do it as an innocent woman.

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Storm Leaves Layer of Hail on Seattle Streets

A storm in Washington State left a layer of hail on Seattle streets on February 26, when local residents also reported seeing lightning. This footage shows hail falling on Friday evening. A layer is already visible on the street hail continues to patter down. On Friday evening, the National Weather Service (NWS) said it received reports of hail and lightning “around Whidbey Island,” located north of Seattle. The NWS’ Seattle office reported hearing thunder on Feb 26 as well. Credit: @slkfw via Storyful

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Keelie McMahon can’t understand why police ignored years of allegations against paedophile nurse James Geoffrey Griffin

Keelie McMahon is angry and cannot fathom why it took so long for Tasmania Police to charge a paediatric nurse with child sex offences, as complaints piled up against him.

For years, James Geoffrey Griffin worked as a registered nurse at the Paediatric Centre at the Launceston General Hospital (LGH), on the Spirit of Tasmania ferry and at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre. He also worked as a massage therapist for children’s sporting teams.

In September 2019, Griffin, aged 69, was charged with a number of criminal offences involving the repeated sexual abuse of a child, after a woman told police he had abused her when she was 11 and he was 58.

James Griffin made admissions to police about his abuse of children.(Supplied)

By October 2019, four other women had spoken to police and made similar complaints of sexual abuse ranging from the late 1980s through to 2012.

Griffin died by suicide on October 19, 2019, and the coroner noted he had “made admissions” to police, and forensic searches of his home “located a significant amount of child exploitation material”.

An internal Tasmanian police review found the first allegation against Griffin was made in 2009 and there were issues with information sharing between agencies, such as child protection and police.

Keelie McMahon, who alleged she was first abused by Griffin when she was 14, said reading the review into how the investigation against the Launceston nurse was handled had made her angry.

“I read it two, three, four times and it just all sank in that this was happening while I was young, and that this was happening while he abused me, this was happening while multiple people I know were being abused,” she said.

Keelie McMahon reads a statement on an ipad tablet.
Keelie McMahon reads a statement regarding her abuser James Geoffrey Griffin.(ABC News)

“There are so many people out there suffering with trauma and having to deal with this everyday because they didn’t do their job.

“It just doesn’t make sense to me how so many people in such a high position could see that he was doing these things and just go ‘yeah let’s not worry about it, let’s not take it any further, let’s just let these children suffer and be abused’, just because they put it in the too-hard basket.” she said.

Trail of allegations

The review revealed police received information about potential child abuse in relation to Griffin in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2019, when police finally charged him.

As far back as 2011, child protection told Tasmania Police of sexual assaults on two unidentified victims.

A spokesman for the Department of Communities Tasmania, which handles child protection, released a statement saying it was working closely with police to strengthen information-sharing procedures.

Tasmania Police Commissioner Darren Hine apologised to Griffin’s victims.

Tasmania Police Commissioner Darren Hine gestures at a lectern.
Tasmania Police Commissioner Darren Hine apologised to Griffin’s victims.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

“We are truly sorry for any harm caused to the victims who were let down by deficiencies in our investigative processes at the time.”

The exterior of the Launceston General Hospital pictured in November 2020.
At the time of Griffin’s death he was a well-liked nurse on the children’s ward of the LGH.(ABC News: Luke Bowden)

Ms McMahon said saying sorry did not ease the burden she carried every day.

“It doesn’t take away the mental trauma and everything that we’ve had to deal with and that we’re going to have to deal with for the rest of our lives.”

Survivors must be heard

The CEO of Tasmania’s Sexual Assault Support Service (SASS) Jill Maxwell said the revelation about the lack of action over so many years highlighted the importance of survivors being heard.

“It takes a huge amount of courage for someone to talk about their experience as a survivor,” she said.

“If someone works up the courage to disclose that they’ve experienced sexual assault or sexual violence of any nature, how important it is for us to hear them and let them know we’ve heard them and that we believe them.”

“If that happens, it helps the survivor recover from the trauma much better than having not felt heard through any of that process.”

Ms Maxwell said she thought the culture of reporting sexual abuse was changing with evidence more survivors were coming forward.

Keelie McMahon smiles at the camera.
Keelie McMahon, pictured around the time of the alleged sexual abuse by James Geoffrey Griffin.(Supplied)

“But we’ve still got a long way to go as a community to change those attitudes about hearing their stories, believing them and addressing the system gaps that allows it to happen,” she said.

Ms McMahon said change needed to happen because for every child believed there might be another saved from abuse.

“I think I need to come to terms with the fact that police knew what he was doing and because of the police, I was abused, I lost my childhood, I continued to be abused by more people as I grew up because of this one event that could have been stopped,” she said.

“Now I just have to learn to deal with it, it’s something I have to live with for the rest of my life.”

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Small Steps multigenerational support program helps young mothers get back on their feet

Just weeks out from her baby being born, 17-year-old Taia Ayers was living in a caravan.

“His dad and I have applied to heaps of places but we haven’t had any luck getting into any,” she said.

With no home or support, she was referred to the live-in parenting and life skills program Small Steps, which is run through Hobart City Mission.

It has provided her and her baby with a safe home and allowed her to continue her Year 12 studies.

“The mums here are lovely.”

Helping young mothers

Small Steps offers supported accommodation to mothers aged between 15 and 25 and their children up to the age of five.

Small Steps program leader Nonie Pople says being well supported made a big difference to her experience as a young mother.(ABC News: Selina Ross)

Program leader Nonie Pople said Small Steps provided 24/7 onsite support and mothers could stay there for up to two years.

“Which is really great, because it alleviates that immediate pressure and crisis of ‘where are we going to stay tonight?’,” she said.

Ms Pople had her first child at 17, which gave her an understanding of the challenges young mums faced.

“I was really lucky in the fact that I did have support from my immediate family,” she said.

A young mother holds a new baby.
Nonie Pople was 17 years old when she had her first baby and understands the young women she works with.(Supplied: Nonie Pople)

“I feel like that [experience] would be quite different and have so many more challenges if I didn’t have that support, not to mention somewhere potentially to live.”

Women get referred to the Small Steps program from other services, including hospitals and local shelters.

Volunteers help care for the children while the mothers receive life and parenting skills training, as well as support to get their driver’s licence and continue their education.

Tammy McVey looks at the camera.
Tammy McVey is one of the volunteers who help care for the children while the mothers continue their education and training.(ABC News: Selina Ross)

Tammy McVey has volunteered for the past two years.

“It gives the mums the break they need to go off and do these really important programs to develop themselves as young mums.”

Turning lives around

Cassie Clare moved in to the Small Steps program in 2018.

A young woman with facial peircings
Cassie Clare says Small Steps gave her the will to live.(ABC News: Selina Ross)

She had two children and was pregnant with her third.

“Coming from the situation I did, my mental health was appalling, it was shocking,” she said.

“I think it was a bit hard for me at the start because I’m generally good at pushing people away and building boundaries and things like that but once trust was built it was good.”

Ms Clare stayed at Small Steps for 18 months and the support she received helped her move back into the community last year.

A woman plays ball with a toddler.
Small Steps volunteer Tammy McVey plays with one-year-old Oliver(ABC News: Selina Ross)

“Being surrounded by good people and finding ambition again and basically the will to live,” Ms Clare said.

“I’m a completely different person to the person who first moved into Small Steps.”

Providing multigenerational support

The Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing’s report on teenage mothers in Australia, published in 2018, found the number of teenage mothers was higher in regional areas and in areas of socioeconomic disadvantage.

National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds said she was a “big fan” of programs that offered a multigenerational approach.

A close-up shot of Anne Hollonds, director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies
Anne Hollonds, director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, praises the Small Steps approach.(ABC News)

“Often our policy and our services are very siloed [to provide help] to adults or to children,” she said.

“Whereas here’s an example of where we’re helping two generations at once and I see that that really has a multiplier effect.

“So not only are you supporting the young mums to ensure that their mental health and wellbeing is supported, to get the life skills and the education and the financial circumstances on track so that they get a good start to the rest of their adult lives, but also if that’s happening for the parent then the child is going to really benefit from that.”

A toddler in a blue striped hat holds a basketball.
Evidence shows programs like Small Steps help to break the cycle of generational poverty and disadvantage.(ABC News: Selina Ross)

Women who are homeless may have their children removed to state care due to a lack of appropriate accommodation.

Ms Hollonds said programs like Small Steps helped to break cycles of generational poverty and disadvantage.

“We know that the mental health of the mum has a really important impact on the developing child,” she said.

“If you can get that family unit set up well, then of course, for that young child down the track, they’re much more likely to also maintain independent income and employment and similarly have a good start to their lives.”

Small Steps receives no government funding — it is funded mostly through donations.

Hobart City Mission also runs a similar program for single fathers and there are usually waiting lists for both.

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Half-Million COVID-19 Vaccine Doses Arrive in Ivory Coast

Some 504,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Ivory Coast on February 26, part of the global COVAX initiative, sponsored in part by the United Nations. Ivory Coast is the second African country to receive vaccines for COVID-19 under COVAX. On Wednesday, 600,000 doses were shipped to Ghana. COVAX is a joint program led by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and Gavi, a global vaccine alliance. The Astra/Zeneca/Oxford vaccines received by Ivory Coast were produced in India, UNICEF reported. Credit: Gavi via Storyful

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Calls for UTAS to reintroduce midwifery courses amid nationwide shortage

King Island mother Jess Loane is a long way from home but she is preparing to have the closest thing she can to a home birth.

Ms Loane has made the Launceston Birth Centre her and her family’s home for the next few weeks while she prepares to give birth to her second child.

The birth centre is opposite the Launceston General Hospital (LGH) and is the only alternative birthing option for expectant mothers in the state’s north.

“Ideally, I would have loved to have a home birth, but it’s not an option over there [on King Island] … so I suppose the birth centre here in Launnie — it’s a home birth away from home,” Ms Loane said.

For many Tasmanian women, the choice of where they can give birth is often made for them due to limited options in the island state.

Launceston’s private hospital has no birthing suites and closed its post-natal maternity unit in 2017 due to a shortage of midwives.

Calvary has proposed to build a brand new private hospital adjacent to the LGH, which could include birthing services, but there is still no timeline of when the build will start.

‘To birth where you want would be a really good thing’

Natalie Harding had her second baby Leo this month.

Her pre-pregnancy appointments and care were also through the Launceston Birth Centre, but she was diagnosed with gestational diabetes two weeks before giving birth.

“That was OK until I went on insulin, then that classified me as higher risk so that meant I could only birth at the LGH, which was a a bit disappointing, but obviously that was the safest option,” Ms Harding said.

Ms Harding and her partner James Howard had private health cover and were lucky to get the last private room in the public hospital post her birth, and were then transferred to the birth centre.

Ms Harding said she was “really happy” with the LGH, but would have liked to give birth how she had initially planned.

Natalie Harding, of Launceston, and her newborn baby Leo..JPG
Natalie Harding says women should have more choice about where to give birth.(ABC News: Manika Champ)

“Just the choice, I think, to birth where you want would be a really good thing.”

In the nearby north-west, all births are through the North West Private Hospital at Burnie or one independent midwife.

In Hobart, expectant mothers have more of a choice, with the Royal Hobart Hospital, Hobart Private Hospital, Calvary Lenah Valley Hospital and four independent midwives offering birthing options — but the national midwife shortage is putting pressure on the situation there too.

Hospital offers cash for recruits

The Hobart Private Hospital has offered staff paid bonuses if they can help recruit additional nurses and midwives.

In a statement, a spokesperson said: “We are always looking for talented people to come on board at Hobart Private, and we run regular recruitment campaigns. One such campaign is currently underway, and includes incentives where our nurses help us find qualified people to join our team.”

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation has long called for better working conditions and wages for Tasmanian nurses and midwives.

The ANMF’s Tasmanian president Emily Shepherd said the cash bonuses incentive at the Hobart private highlighted workload issues.

“Certainly in light of COVID-19 we are seeing a reduction in interstate staff traveling to Tasmania to take up a position in the health sector, which is why it is so incredible important for health providers to be putting up competitive enterprise agreements so that we can retain existing nursing and midwives.”

The Hobart Private Hospital spokesperson said its recruitment campaign is “unrelated to the current EBA negotiations”.

‘The more midwives we have, the more options women have’

Independent midwife Jaimee Smith, who runs the Launceston Birthing Centre and formerly worked in the public system, said she had had to “borrow” an independent midwife from Hobart to help handle recent births.

“The more midwives we have, the more options women have to have continuity of care, and all the research shows that having continuity of care leads to better outcomes and more satisfaction for women when having their babies.”

Ms Smith said a lack of midwifes in the state should not be worrying for young mums.

“But it may limit some of their options,” she said.

Independent midwife Jaimee Smith looks at the camera.
Jaimee Smith would like to see UTAS reintroduce its midwifery course.(ABC News: Manika Champ)

“They’ll all get cared for, but whether or not it’s the care that meets their needs is another whole kettle of fish and I think that’s what’s happening — a lot of women are just surviving pregnancy, labour and birth rather than thriving through it.”

Ms Smith said re-introducing local maternity training in Tasmania could help boost midwife numbers.

The University of Tasmania cut its maternity course about five years ago and midwifery education in the state has since been provided by the University of Southern Queensland (USQ), through a collaboration with the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

According to the Tasmanian Health Service, 44 Tasmanians studied a Bachelor of Midwifery through USQ between 2017 and 2020. Another 20 Tasmanian students will commence their first year of the course in February.

A University of Tasmania spokesman said UTAS was “exploring the possibility of reintroducing a midwifery offering” as part of a “long-term” program.

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Tasmania Police took years to charge alleged paedophile nurse who worked with children, review finds

An internal review into how Tasmania Police handled its investigation into an alleged paedophile nurse has revealed the police were told of allegations he was abusing children as early as 2009.

It took another 10 years for police to charge James Geoffrey Griffin, and only after a complaint was received by an alleged victim.

Even after police received the formal complaint, it took from early May until the end of July for his workplace, the Launceston General Hospital, to be informed of the allegations.

The review revealed the agency received information about potential child abuse in relation to Mr Griffin in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015.

The first report to police came from an interstate police agency alleging Griffin had taken photos of children in a public place.

Police investigated that report by executing a search warrant and speaking to Griffin, but found no evidence of an offence.

Tasmania Police’s review found it handled those allegations appropriately.

The 2013 report related to allegations of “inappropriate touching and grooming behaviour” by Mr Griffin.

Police referred the matter to child protection, who spoke to Mr Griffin and the alleged victim.

Both denied the allegations, so the file was closed and police took no further action. Police did not speak to Mr Griffin nor the potential victim.

The 2015 report related to a referral from the Australian Federal Police related to Griffin and sexual offending and child exploitation material.

“Deficiencies in the management of this information by Tasmania Police have been identified and are the subject of a current Professional Standards investigation that relates to the Police Service Code of Conduct,” the review said.

As a result of the internal review, Tasmania Police said it had now implemented a specialist investigative and policy team to improve processes and procedures related to investigations into child sex abuse.

Mr Griffin took his own life in October 2019 after being charged with multiple child sex offences.

Tasmania Police Commissioner Darren Hine apologised to Mr Griffin’s alleged victims for any harm caused by the deficiencies identified in the report.

“I think this has fallen short of everyone’s standards, we need to make sure we continue to learn and evolve in relation to these matters.”

Commissioner Hine said he wanted to reassure victims they could safely come forward and that their “matters will be pursued”.

The report identified problems in information sharing across agencies, particularly with the Department of Communities, and called for a review of investigative guidelines of child sex offences.

Premier Peter Gutwein said the government would provide an addition $1.5 million in funding for a historic complaints’ review process lead by a specialist team within Tasmania Police, looking particularly at police and Department of Communities files.

“My expectation is that no stone be left unturned,” Mr Gutwein said.

‘The voice of victims matters’

Mr Gutwein also apologised to survivors of child sex abuse “where any agency may not have handled information appropriately”.

“The voice of victims matters, it truly does, and any victims of child sex abuse, whether historic or contemporary, need to know that they can come forward, and that when they do, they will be heard and appropriate action will be taken.

The report won’t be made public before the Commission of Inquiry into child abuse in the state service — Tasmania’s version of a royal commission – gets underway later this year.

The Government announced the Commission last year and since then 14 state service employees have been stood down over historical allegations of sexual abuse.

Some questions from the media would not be answered by Commissioner Hine and Mr Gutwein because they said they didn’t want to prejudice the commission’s proceedings.

“We are being as open and transparent as we can; on legal advice we cannot provide more information other than the Outcomes Report without prejudicing the Commission of Inquiry or identifying victims,” Commissioner Hine said in a statement.

“It is essential that the Inquiry is not impeded in its full examination of all matters.”

There is also a continuing internal police investigation around how information was dealt with, but Commissioner Hine wouldn’t be drawn on the number of people involved in that because it is ongoing.

Mr Gutwein said this report was a starting point for a lot more improvements and a lot more shocking developments.

“In terms of the commission of inquiry, Tasmanians needs to brace themselves, I think there will be a range of matters brought forward that will concern and shock Tasmanians.”

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Happy Husky Bounds Through Denver Snow

Snowfall in Denver, Colorado, made a husky very happy on Thursday morning, February 25, caught on video dashing through his front yard. Brett Schklar shared video on Twitter of his dog, Thunder, in his element Thursday morning. The National Weather Service said as much as 12 inches had accumulated in parts of Denver by early morning February 25. Credit: Brett Schklar via Storyful

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Aged care development to capitalise on ageing population on east coast of Tasmania

There are hopes a new retirement village and nursing home on Tasmania’s east coast will attract and retain more health workers to the regional area.

There are plans for a multi-million-dollar development on an 18-hectare property called Kelvedon Estate, 4 kilometres south of Swansea.

“The minute I saw the view and the position, I just knew it was exactly right,” principal architect John Lewis said.

“To feel that you’re living in a country town but with all the amenities that you need and can afford in your latter years.”

The Tempus retirement village has passed early hurdles after the Glamorgan Spring Bay Council initiated a planning scheme amendment and approved part of the first stage.

The proposal includes plans for a medical evacuation helipad.(Supplied: Tempus Village)

Plans include 140 independent living units, 30 assisted living units and in the future, a 44-bed nursing home, including a dementia ward.

“It will go through to high care, so in a sense, it’s a mini-hospital, although there won’t be operating as such,” Mr Lewis said.

He said the local Swansea GP clinic currently had two doctors and would look to expand to four GPs once the village was built.

There are also plans for a medical evacuation helipad, meaning patients are a 15-minute flight from the Royal Hobart Hospital.

The site will also have an 81-seat theatre, function hall, horse stables, communal workshop, playground and cafe which will all be open to the public.

Proponent Les Walden said the plan was to create something a bit different from other retirement villages.

“Some of them are just like ghost towns even though they’re supposedly full, we didn’t want to reproduce those,” he said.

“I’m sure they all do a good job but we wanted to produce something where people could age well, with home services, that’s pretty much a unique concept as we understand it.”

Mr Walden said the plan was to integrate health services into the local community.

“There’ll be medical rooms that people can use,” he said.

“We think it will attract other medical professionals, and that’s obviously of benefit in medical and economic ways to the community there.”

Health care services ‘under enormous strain’

Population researcher and demographer Amina Keygan said the population of the east coast was definitely getting older.

“Over the last 20 years, the proportion of those over 65 years in Glamorgan Spring Bay has increased from 19 per cent to 33 per cent of the overall population,” she said.

“Comparatively the population of Tasmania as a whole who are over 65 is roughly 20 per cent.”

Amina Keygan sits at a computer screen.
Tasmanian demographer Amina Keygan says any development needs to come with supportive infrastructure.(ABC News: Rick Eaves)

Dr Keygan said retirement villages on the east coast would need to come with supportive infrastructure such as access to medical services to avoid putting a strain on regional health services.

“Our regional health care services are under an enormous strain at the moment, due in part to inabilities to attract and retain health care workers in regional and rural areas,” she said.

“This is in part why the Tasmanian health system relies so heavily on fly-in fly-out locums and specialists.”

Young families welcome too

She said there was an opportunity for healthcare jobs to be created by the developments.

Leanne Dann, real estate agent.
Real estate agent Leanne Dann says the east coast is in the midst of a property boom.(ABC News: Laura Beavis)

East coast real estate agent Leanne Dann said she hoped more development would mean more health workers would be attracted to the area.

“We would love to see a lot more young families reside here and enjoy the coastal lifestyle,” she said.

She said there had been a property boom on the east coast, with land and houses selling about twice as quickly as they used to.

Mr Lewis said employment was something the developers were hoping to boost.

“Because we’re not just seasonal, we’re not just the holiday market, we’re there all the time, we’ll be able to offer people long-term careers so that the younger ones can stay here, we hope to train people,” she said.

The project’s current budget is $85 million but will increase by about $40 million when plans for the nursing home are finalised.

The proposed planning amendment, which includes highway access and some construction, will be available for public submissions before it is referred to the Tasmanian Planning Commission.

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Tasmania’s Aboriginal community outraged over government control of sacred Wargata Mina cave site

It is owned and managed by the Aboriginal community — but the sacred Wargata Mina cave in southwest Tasmania is still being controlled by the State Government, according to Tasmania’s Aboriginal Centre (TAC).

The cave is so remote it is only accessible by helicopter, and in order for helicopters to land in the area people are required to seek permits from the Parks and Wildlife Department, including Aboriginal people.

The cave is not open to the public, and photos of the hand stencils are not permitted, in order to protect the sacred site.

The TAC’s Nala Mansell is outraged, given the title of the Wargata Mina cave site was transferred to the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania in 1995.

“Wargata Mina cave is Aboriginal land, we own that land,” Ms Mansell said.

“It’s a complete abuse of power.”

Nala Mansell says the government has “snuck behind our backs to be the people in control of access”.(ABC News: Loretta Lohberger)

Ms Mansell said it’s one of the most spiritually significant sites to Tasmanian Aboriginal people.

“It’s a cave that was owned by our people for thousands of years. It contains hand stencils of our old people dating back over 15,000 years, so it obviously holds a really strong cultural and spiritual significance to our people,” she said.

She said the TAC would do everything in its powers to ensure the cave site was protected.

Map showing location of Wargata Mina Cave in Tasmania.
The Wargata Mina Cave site cannot be accessed by road.(ABC News)

Last week, Aboriginal heritage officer Sharnie Read visited the sacred site along with Nala Mansell and a group of other community members.

She said the Wargata Mina cave was an art site, with ancient art painted on the walls in more than one location.

Ms Read said the site was very special.

“It’s places like that within our culture that we utilise particularly for ceremony, so therefore it is hugely significant and very emotional cultural kind of connection to us who are today, but also the traditional practices that are no longer common within our community.”

A number of Indigenous elders were included in the trip.

A woman crouches down in a clearing in the bush.
“It’s so important for our elders — the elders are the custodians of these stories” — Sharnie Read.(ABC News: Mitch Woolnough)

“It’s so important for our elders — the elders are the custodians of these stories, and to be able to take them to these places is not an easy task, due to the inability for them to walk into that remote area,” she said.

“To take them there and give them that opportunity to connect and then to have those stories passed on to younger generations in the community is fulfilling a cultural right.

“For me personally, there is no other thing. There’s no other kind of cultural aspect that even comes close to having the opportunity or ability to do that for my elders.”

Concern DPIPWE staff have visited site without permission

Nala Mansell said the TAC had been made aware that the State Government had been granting permits to their own department staff to visit the sacred site.

“Without any consultation whatsoever with us as the landowners, we have no idea how this could have happened, that they’ve snuck behind our backs to be the people in control of access,” she said.

Ms Mansell said the TAC had contacted the Minister’s office and the secretary of DPIPWE but had heard absolutely nothing.

“We’re looking into charges of trespass for the state government permitting entry on to privately owned Aboriginal land, without our permission or any consultation whatsoever.”

Members of Tasmania's Aboriginal community pose next to a helicopter.
Members of Tasmania’s Aboriginal community had to get permission to fly in to the site.(Supplied)

Sharnie Read said that in her view Parks and Wildlife staff had been abusing the process by handing themselves permits.

“Even though those cave sites are private property they take their own staff members … and they go into those places without asking the Aboriginal community if it’s appropriate.

Rodney Dillon from the Tasmanian Regional Aboriginal Communities Alliance agreed.

In a statement, a DPIPWE spokeswoman said PWS “does not issue landing authorities for Aboriginal land, only for the adjacent reserved land in the TWWHA”.

“PWS ‘Working on Country’ Aboriginal Rangers were authorised to land in the TWWHA near the Wargata Mina cave in early February to assist PWS Aboriginal fire rangers with post wildfire assessments.”

“Verbal consent was sought from the Chair of the Aboriginal Land Council for the Aboriginal Rangers to visit the cave and they entered the cave to appreciate its cultural significance as many had not been there before.”

But chair of the Aboriginal Land Council Michael Mansell said he had not received any calls from the department or any officials asking for permission to visit the caves.

“If had received any such phone call, I would’ve told them to put it in writing and send it to the office of the Aboriginal Land Council,” he said.

“We’ve owned the land since 1995, so that’s 26 years. I’ve been Land Council Chairman for the last three years and I’ve received no calls from the department seeking access.

“They should seek access because the land belongs to Aboriginal people and is no longer Crown land.”

He said he would be “very happy” to sit down with the department, minister or Premier to sort out the issue.

“The department should not be claiming it has permission from the Aboriginal Land Council when it doesn’t,” he said.

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