Indigenous Australians given say on new cultural protection laws

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Indigenous groups from around Australia will shape the country’s cultural heritage protection systems under a new agreement.

The government on Monday announced a partnership with the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance, under which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will have a direct say in reforming heritage laws.

Australia’s Indigenous culture heritage protection systems have faced intense criticism since mining giant Rio Tinto destroyed culturally significant 46,000-year-old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia last year, Xinhua news agency reported.

A parliamentary inquiry in October slammed state and federal legislation as inadequate, calling for a new legislative framework to better protect sites of cultural significance.

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said on Monday that the views of Indigenous people needed to be central to the overhaul of protection laws.

“Indigenous Australians should have the right to determine the heritage that is important to them, the ability to access applicable policies and laws to safeguard that heritage, and the choice of how they generate revenue on their land,” he said in a statement.

“As we look to modernise Indigenous protection, it is fundamentally important that we are working in partnership with Indigenous Australians and recognising the rights of traditional owners to manage their land and heritage as they deem fit.”

The alliance will represent more than 30 Indigenous groups from across the country and consult with many others.

It will be chaired by Kado Muir, the chair of the National Native Title Council, who welcomed the opportunity to help design the reforms.

“It is important that our cultural heritage places are recognised and protected on the basis of inherent cultural heritage values, and not as an element of land access and development approvals,” he said.

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