Culture and Heritage Campaign Delivering Significant Reform

Network Message from NSWALC Chairwoman Bev Manton

The ongoing campaign by NSWALC, LALCs, NTSCORP and other Aboriginal organisations on the protection of Aboriginal culture and heritage in New South Wales is beginning to deliver significant reforms.

The New South Wales Parliament has finally passed a series of amendments to the National Parks and Wildlife Act which significantly strengthen the provisions designed to protect Aboriginal culture and heritage.

The amendments, which passed through the State Parliament today, introduce much tougher penalties for companies and individuals who damage our cultural heritage with fines of up to $1.1 million in the case of companies who flout the law.

But, more importantly, the introduction, debate, and passage of the legislation, and the review which preceded it, has demonstrated the commitment of all political parties in the Parliament to a much wider reform agenda regardless of which party assumes power in the forthcoming State election.

It has set the groundwork for a future State Government to finally deliver on a 30 year old promise: the establishment of a stand alone Aboriginal Heritage Commission.

I have attached the Hansard record of debate from the Legislative Council on the National Parks and Wildlife Amendment Bill 2010 for the interest of all LALC members.

It demonstrates the commitment of all parties, major and minor, to ongoing reform and underscores the importance of the campaign by NSWALC, NTSCORP and others in securing the commitment to further and crucial reform.

The debate shows the Government, through Climate Change and Environment Minister Frank Sartor, has been prepared to listen and has made a number of major concessions on the existing legislation.

In so doing he has accommodated a number, if not all, of the concerns raised by NSWALC, NTSCORP and others.

His willingness to listen and to act should be acknowledged.

Importantly, he has committed the Kenneally Government to the establishment of a working party to develop stand alone legislation within two years.

During the parliamentary debate the Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability, Catherine Cusack, confirmed the commitment of an incoming Liberal Government to take Aboriginal cultural heritage out of the National Parks and Wildlife Act and to vest them in a new Aboriginal Heritage Act.

She has told the Parliament the Liberal and National Parties recognise the "indignity" of the current situation which regulates Aboriginal culture and heritage under an Act made to protect flora and fauna.

Ms Cusack, in line with other speakers acknowledged the importance of NSWALC's submission, More than Flora and Fauna, to the review of the Act in arguing for stand alone legislation.

She noted that the Urban Development Task Force, New South Wales Farmers and the New South Wales Minerals Council had all indicated their support for a separate Aboriginal Heritage Act in discussions with the Opposition.

The contribution from Greens MLC Ian Cohen will, I'm sure, be of interest to all LALC members. He poses a number of threshold questions on how the New South Wales state obtained "ownership rights," over our heritage.

He outlines a comprehensive history flowing from the central recommendations of the Keane Select Committee for the establishment of an Aboriginal Heritage Commission, comprising Aboriginal elected representatives, to protect, maintain and manage sites and objects of cultural heritage significance.

He says the State is perpetuating a continuing dispossession of Aboriginal heritage, identity and knowledge through "our legal system and our inability to reform laws pertaining to Aboriginal heritage."

Mr Cohen says he's encouraged by the commitment of both the Government and the Opposition to remove Aboriginal heritage from the flora and fauna legislation and to "place it in stand alone legislation that provides Aboriginal owners with the right to manage their own heritage."

He says the Greens look forward to the development of the long promised Aboriginal Heritage Commission.

It is pleasing to see the work of NSWALC, and other peak Aboriginal organizations, acknowledged throughout the debate and I'd like to thank my fellow Councillors and staff for their efforts in this regard during our campaign.

We have a long way to go but I'm sure you will agree, upon reading the attached Hansard, that things are finally moving in the right direction in our efforts to ensure our people are given control over their own heritage.

Bev Manton
Chairwoman
NSWALC