The primary law for the protection and management of Aboriginal culture and heritage in NSW is the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NPW Act). While the NSW Government has primary responsibility for protecting Aboriginal culture and heritage through the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 (ATSIHP Act) the Federal Government has significant powers to step in and act where the State has failed to protect Aboriginal culture and heritage.
Significant reforms to the ATSIHP Act
In August 2009, the Hon. Peter Garrett, Federal Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, released the discussion paper: Indigenous Heritage Law Reform which proposes a range of significant reforms to the ATSIHP Act.
The Federal Government announced that it had decided to review the ATSIHP Act because "The ATSIHP Act has not proven to be an effective means of protecting traditional areas and objects."
The changes proposed to the ATSIHP Act include:
- The introduction of minimum national standards for the protection of Aboriginal culture and heritage, and
- New processes for applying to the Federal Minister for emergency and longer-term protection of areas and objects.
NSWALC's response to Indigenous Heritage Law Reform.
The proposed changes to the Federal ATSIHP Act are separate to the changes proposed to the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 by the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW).
While NSWALC supports moves to reform the ATSIHP Act, it is concerned that the review may result in reduced avenues for Aboriginal people in NSW to seek emergency protection of cultural heritage which is under threat.
NSWALC's submission also provides an overview of the state of Aboriginal cultural heritage protection in NSW.
In particular, the Respect and Protect submission details how the current NSW regime has led to the widespread destruction of Aboriginal culture and heritage in NSW, and would fail to meet even the basic minimum standards proposed by the Federal Government.
For more information about this submission contact the Land, Policy and Research Unit of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council by phone on 02 9689 4444.
NSWALC has produced 2 new Fact Sheets for LALCs which explain the current Federal law and the proposed changes. These Fact Sheets are apart of a series of NSWALC Culture and Heritage Fact Sheets developed recently.
For more information and to download a copy of the discussion paper: Indigenous Heritage Law Reform visit the Federal Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) website at http://www.heritage.gov.au/indigenous/lawreform.