The National Native Title Council (NNTC) welcomes the extensive recommendations made in ‘A Way Forward – Final Report Into the destruction of Indigenous heritage sites at Juukan Gorge’ from the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia, as tabled today in Commonwealth Parliament, calling for the Commonwealth to legislate a new framework for Indigenous Cultural Heritage legislation co-designed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. That legislation would then set out the minimum standards for state and territory protections consistent with international law.
The NNTC notes that under international law, it is the Commonwealth’s responsibility to legislate to protect Indigenous heritage. The Commonwealth’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 was declared “virtually moribund” by the Committee in their Interim Report “Never Again in December 2020. Its failures manifest in the Juukan Gorge disaster.
The NNTC believes that co-design with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People is critical in order to create legalisation that genuinely addresses the shortcomings of the past and seeks to protect Australia’s precious Indigenous Cultural Heritage. The NNTC also believes tthis cannot be left to the inconsistent and unnecessarily complex State and Territory regimes. The impending Western Australian Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2020 which was not co-designed and will permit another Juukan Gorge, being a case in point.
Australia is home to the oldest continuing living culture in the entire world. The richness and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in Australia is something we should all take pride in as a nation. Tragically, the core of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, the knowledge and lore, practices and objects, and places that are connected to our identity and country, are under continual and serious threat across Australia.
As found by the Joint Standing Committee, Rio Tinto’s destruction of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People’s (PKKP) 46,000+ year old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge caused immense cultural and spiritual loss and profound grief for the PKKP peoples and a great loss to the world.
“Sadly, though an extreme example, this is not an isolated incident.” states Kado Muir, Ngalia Cultural and Community Leader, Chairman of National Native Title Council and Co-Chair of the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance.”
“First Nations heritage is destroyed on a daily basis, often legally and without a legal right for Traditional Owners to ‘say no’. he continues “To this end, we welcome the recommendations made to allow traditional owners to withhold consent to the destruction of cultural heritage, and to better resource native title bodies so they can effectively carry out their statutory duties.”
As set out in the Juukan Gorge Report, ‘the new legislation sets out minimum standards for state and heritage protections, that are consistent with relevant and international law (including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples UNDRIP) and the Dhawura Ngilan: A Vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage in Australia.
Under the United Nations Declarations on the rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), this includes the right to negotiate the development of standards for negotiation of agreements, that require proponents to adhere to the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent.
“We welcome the recommendation to review the Native Title Act 1993 to address the inequalities in the negotiating position of traditional owners in the future acts regime and addressing the inadequate resourcing of Prescribed Body Corporates PBCs” states Jamie Lowe Gundjitmara Djabwurrung man and CEO, National Native Title Council.
“The highest bar currently available to First Nations Peoples under legislation is the right to negotiate, making it critical for the right to genuine Free Prior and Informed consent to be lawfully codified.”
“The interim report to the Juukan Gorge was titled “Never Again” Mr Lowe continues, “yet there have not been sufficient changes made to ensure that a catastrophe like the destruction of Juukan Gorge will not happen again.
This highlights the legislation that governs Indigenous Cultural Heritage (ICH) Protection in Australia is woefully inadequate.”
“The world has changed from an environment and biodiversity perspective and therefore the heritage perspective must also change.” says Kado Muir.
The National Native Title Council reiterates that Commonwealth, state and territory governments must commit to a genuine partnership process for cultural heritage reform, and meet the standards and expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as well as the public.
For all media enquiries including interviews with Kado Muir or Jamie Lowe,
please contact Sarah Easson Media Consultant, National Native Title Council
E: firstname.lastname@example.org M: 0419 228 642