National plan for stronger Indigenous cultural heritage protection launched

Article by Giovanni Torre for the National Indigenous Times

The First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance and Federal Government have released a new discussion paper on the modernisation of Indigenous cultural heritage protections.

The paper coincides with the launch of a national engagement process which will seek views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as industry and state governments, on how to better protect cultural heritage.

Concerns about inadequate state-level cultural Indigenous heritage protection hit global headlines in 2020 with the destruction of Juukan Gorge, carried out with the legal approval of Western Australia’s Aboriginal Heritage Act.

However, Commonwealth protections for Indigenous cultural heritage are primarily contained in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act, a limited law introduced in 1984 as an interim measure but never replaced with more comprehensive legislation as had been originally intended.

First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance co-chairwoman Anne Dennis said the national process had to find tangible solutions.

“First Nations people need to be in control of our cultural heritage, and our free, prior and informed consent should be obtained in any dealings with that heritage,” she said.

National Native Title Council chairman Kado Muir said the discussion paper would shape policy to better protects heritage.

“There is an expectation to ensure investor money is invested ethically and supports heritage protection,” he said.

“We now look to the Federal government to modernise cultural heritage protection and to deliver on certainly and reform.”

A report will be put to Environment Minister Sussan Ley and the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance.

At least five reviews into the Act and cultural protections in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act have been carried out in the past 30 years.

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