Land councils angry at ineffective culture and heritage bill.

Land councils angry at ineffective culture and heritage

17 August, 2009

The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council's Deputy Chair and elected representative for the Northern Region of NSW, Tom Briggs, said the 14 Local Aboriginal Land Councils in his Region wanted to take out an injunction against the State Government over proposed amendments to the State's heritage and culture legislation.

"This decision accurately reflects the level of their anger," Councillor Briggs added.

"Once again we are being denied a formal role in mechanisms that allow us to protect our heritage.

"Put bluntly, they feel the amended Omnibus Bill and associated administrative arrangements is a case of "one step forward, two steps back."

Councillor Briggs said Land Councils believed that the current system that allowed permits that consented to the destruction of Aboriginal heritage and culture was fundamentally flawed.

"The regime should be build around a system to protect - not destroy.

"After all, how long will it be before Australians realise that what is being destroyed is really Australia's heritage  - and unique heritage at that.

"Once gone its gone forever," he said.

Councillor Briggs said his Region's Land Councils agreed and backed  NSWALC's decision to challenge the new legislation and associated due diligence guidelines as the right approach.

"We want to work with Government on this.  We have a proven track record of doing this.  But in this case we believe sincerely the Government should pull back and enter into a wide-ranging independent inquiry with the Aboriginal community on this issue.

"We believe we will never get adequate protection of our precious culture and heritage until we have an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill."

Councillor Briggs said his Local Land Councils believed even the amended Omnibus bill - set to be tabled in Parliament in September - while offering clearly significant improvements, such as massively increased fines for those found guilty of destroying Aboriginal objects, still contained too many legal loop holes that would mitigate against successful prosecution.

"In recent years the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW) has approved 84 percent of all applications to destroy or damage Aboriginal objects and places.

"This is appalling and speaks volumes for why the Government needs to step back, reconsider the legislation and enter into widespread and meaningful consultations".