Protection of Aboriginal heritage

Key action: 

  • The development of nationally prescribed minimum standards for the protection of cultural heritage to operate across jurisdictions that are based on international best practice for introduction into Commonwealth legislation.
  • That these standards are developed with full participation of those people whose heritage it is – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

 

The right to protect country and culture is fundamental to Traditional Owners, with heritage management and protection being central to this.  Unfortunately however, jurisdictional heritage laws as they currently stand tend to undermine the capacity of Traditional Owners to adequately protect their cultural heritage as they have been developed with the expediency of development assessments and approvals in mind.

 

The recently released Our North, Our Future:  White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, calls for a review of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 (ATSIHPA) ‘to reduce duplication in the heritage protection regimes across jurisdictions’.  A nationally prescribed set of minimum standards for the protection of cultural heritage based on international best practice should therefore be introduced through either the ATSIHPA or the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

 

The most important aspect of heritage protection is to not forget whose heritage it is – and in this case it is the heritage of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia.  As such, the development of standards cannot be undertaken without the full and effective participation of Indigenous people.  Further to this, any standards developed need to recognise the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to protect their cultural heritage as a foundation principle and incorporate the principles of free, prior and informed consent.