As the Land Rights Network is aware, reform to Aboriginal cultural heritage laws are long overdue. It was promised with the passing of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act in 1983 and NSW is the last state without updated or modernized laws.

Earlier this year, the NSW Government consulted on the Draft Aboriginal Culture and Heritage Bill 2018. This presented a significant opportunity to improve on the current laws in the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, that continue to allow wide-spread destruction of our heritage and side-line our people in decision making.

We have been working hard to ensure that any laws meet our principles for reform and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, particularly in relation to self-determination and free, prior and informed consent. We have called for further amendments to the Draft Bill to strengthen these principles.

We have strongly advocated for the Bill to:

• Empower Aboriginal people to make key decisions about our heritage, not the Minister or Chief Executive of the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) - this includes putting key policy and regulatory decisions in the Aboriginal hands of the proposed Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Authority, rather than leaving critical policy matters to laws made by non-Aboriginal Parliamentarians;
• Ensure the new State-level Aboriginal Cultural Heritage (ACH) Authority is composed of a nominee from both NSWALC and NTSCORP, as well as members of Local Aboriginal Land Councils, registered native title claimants where connection has been accepted, and Aboriginal Owners registered under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act,
• Limit roles of the Minister, in policy and regulatory decisions and included safeguards on remaining Ministerial powers,
• Provide for a role for LALCs in establishing and supporting local panels,
• Increase penalties for harming Aboriginal heritage,
• Recognise that Aboriginal heritage belongs to Aboriginal people - not the Crown;
• Improve integration with the NSW planning system and assessment process;
• Improve the definitions of Aboriginal cultural heritage to include water, landscape and intangible values;
• Improve information and mapping systems;
• Improve investigative, enforcement and compliance provisions; and
• Limit defences for harming Aboriginal heritage.

We have also worked hard to secure commitments regarding the proposed five-year transition and implementation process.

Regrettably, in recent days the NSW Government has taken a decision to delay the introduction of the Aboriginal Culture and Heritage Bill 2018 to the NSW Parliament in this term of Government.

We have been waiting more than 40 years for this policy commitment of Government to be delivered.

We are concerned this this delay leaves an uncertain future for improved protections for Aboriginal heritage in NSW.

We are also concerned that Government may backslide on commitments that improve the Bill including in relation to the composition of ACH Authority Board, and the limiting of ministerial decisions and discretion.

Ahead of the NSW Government election in March 2019, we are seeking urgent commitments from both the NSW Government and the Opposition to commit to reforming Aboriginal Cultural Heritage laws that meet our key principles.

We are seeking your support to ask the major parties to keep their commitment to improve protections for Aboriginal Culture and Heritage by delivering new laws in the first 100 days of being elected in 2019.

We ask that LALCs urgently contact the NSW Premier and your Local Member of NSW Parliament to highlight the need for reform and ask for new laws to protect our cultural sites.

NSWALC's detailed submission to Government on the Draft Bill which outlines recommendations for improving the reform proposals and transitioning to a new system is available on the NSWALC website.

More information

Website: /culture-and-heritage/more-than-flora--fauna.aspx

Phone the NSWALC Strategy and Policy Unit: 02 9689 4444

Email: policy@alc.org.au