Michael Mansell

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Michael Mansell
Personal details
Michael Alexander Mansell

(1951-06-05) 5 June 1951 (age 70)
Northern Tasmania, Australia
ResidenceHobart, Tasmania, Australia
Alma materUniversity of Tasmania
OccupationLawyer, activist

Michael Alexander Mansell (born 5 June 1951 in northern Tasmania) is a Tasmanian Aboriginal leader who, as an activist and lawyer, has worked for social, political and legal changes to improve the lives and social standing of Tasmanian Aboriginal (Palawa) people.

Mansell is of Palawa descent from the Trawlwoolway group on his mother's side and from the Pinterrairer group on his father's side, both of which are Indigenous groups from north-eastern Tasmania.[1]

Legal career[edit]

From an early age, Mansell was a radical protester about the status and treatment of Tasmanian Aboriginal people within the community. However he discovered that mere protest was an ineffective measure to achieve his aims of land rights and improved conditions, and the radical tactics that he and other Indigenous rights protesters employed in the 1970s were abandoned.[citation needed]

Mansell undertook a degree in law at the University of Tasmania, graduating in 1983. He began a career as a lawyer, attempting to defend the rights of Aboriginal people, whilst pursuing an agenda of reform. Since then, he has become a qualified barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Tasmania, and the High Court of Australia.[citation needed]

In 1972, he and others set up the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, of which he was chairman and legal manager.[2] He was also the founding secretary of the Aboriginal Provisional Government in 1990.[3] Mansell also played senior football for North Hobart in the Tasmanian Football League[4]

Mansell was named "Aboriginal of the Year", at the 1987 National NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee) Awards, and played a crucial role in the drafting of legislation for the Native Title Act 1993 that arose from the Mabo v Queensland case.[citation needed]

Mansell was an independent candidate to represent Tasmania in the Australian Senate at the 1987 Australian federal election held on 11 July 1987. He was unsuccessful, receiving 1,102 votes (21,451 votes were required to win a seat).[citation needed]


Subjects that Mansell has written about include the Australian Constitution, Aboriginal customary law, cultural and intellectual property, the Human Genome Project, land rights and Aboriginal sovereignty. In 2016 his book Treaty and Statehood: Aboriginal self-determination was published.[5][1]

Activism and commentary[edit]

In the wider Australian community, Mansell has often been seen as controversial, having resorted to confrontational tactics to push issues of Indigenous rights and past mistreatment onto the public agenda in Tasmania.[citation needed] Mansell has often been involved in public confrontation with politicians and the media. One area where he is most in conflict with the Australian and Tasmanian governments is over the issue of Aboriginal Sovereignty.[citation needed]

In April 1987, at a conference sponsored by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in Libya called "A Conference on Peace and Revolution in the Pacific", Mansell spoke to a large international audience.

To gain international attention for the cause of Tasmanian Aboriginal people, Mansell established an alternative Aboriginal passport. In 1988 he secured recognition for the passport from Gaddafi's Libya, which declared it valid for travel to Libya.[6] Mansell said he had Gaddafi's support for the establishment of an independent Aboriginal nation.[7]

In 2001 Mansell stated that "there were more phoney than real Aborigines in Tasmania and more than half the voters in the 1996 ATSIC election were not Aboriginal".[8] The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre brought court challenges against the claims of Aboriginality of a number of candidates to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.[2]

In February 2008 Mansell said on Australian radio that although he was happy that the new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd would offer a formal public apology on behalf of all Australians for the treatment of the "Stolen Generations", he referred to it as a "half-measure" if it was without compensation.[9] On the first anniversary of the apology, Mansell said that the apology had not improved the situation of Aborigines, nor had the government stopped welfare policies based on race.[10]

Mansell was one of 16 pale-skinned Aboriginal people named in a series of articles written by Andrew Bolt and published in the Herald Sun newspaper in 2009. These articles were subsequently found by the Federal Court of Australia in the case Eatock v Bolt to have contravened Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.[11]

In his 2016 book Treaty and Statehood: Aboriginal Self-determination, Mansell advocated for a seventh Australian state to be run by indigenous people on land currently deeded to native title, complete with its own state parliament and court system. He also said that such a state may not be created for "at least two or three decades", and felt that treaties or designated seats in the Federal Parliament are more politically likely.[12]

In January 2020, Mansell (as chairman of the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania) issued a three-page statement saying that (like Andrew Bolt) he does not believe that Bruce Pascoe has Indigenous ancestry, and Pascoe should stop claiming he does.[13][14]


  1. ^ a b "Michael Mansell - Abstract". Murdoch University. 2008. Archived from the original on 11 May 2011. Retrieved 26 March 2008.
  2. ^ a b 4 Corners (ABC)
  3. ^ "ABOUT the Aboriginal Provisional Government". Aboriginal Provisional Government. Retrieved 1 February 2020.
  4. ^ "Michael Mansell". Federaion Press.
  5. ^ Treaty and Statehood: Aboriginal self-determination (Federation Press, November, 2016)
  6. ^ "Desperate Times". Retrieved 26 March 2008.
  7. ^ "Gaddafi sending $140,000 a year to Australian Muslims". Sydney Morning Herald. 15 December 1987. p. 1.
  8. ^ D Woolford (17 February 2001). "Australia: Aboriginal Identity Problems". Townsville Bulletin. p. 40.
  9. ^ "Michael Mansell - Interview (Audio file)". Retrieved 26 March 2008.
  10. ^ "Kevin Rudd's apology to stolen generations 'a shield' over indigenous failures". Archived from the original on 18 February 2009. Retrieved 19 February 2009.
  11. ^ Eatock v Bolt [2011] FCA 1103, (2011) 197 FCR 261, Federal Court (Australia).
  12. ^ Australia should create seventh state run by Indigenous people, lawyer Michael Mansell says, ABC News
  13. ^ Mansell, Michael (23 January 2020). "Bruce Pascoe Is Not Tasmanian Aboriginal". Tasmanian Times.com. Archived from the original on 24 January 2020. Retrieved 24 January 2020.
  14. ^ Denholm, Matthew (23 January 2020). "Bruce Pascoe 'should stop claiming indigenous ancestry'". The Australian. Retrieved 23 January 2020.