Overhaul of Aboriginal Culture and Heritage Regime

Overhaul of Aboriginal Culture and Heritage Regime

12 August 2009

The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council has called on the State Government to commit to urgent and fundamental reform of state laws governing the protection and promotion of Aboriginal culture and heritage.

The State's peak Aboriginal representative body says the current regime has failed to protect Aboriginal culture and heritage from ongoing destruction and will continue to do so without fundamental reform.

NSWALC says the current proposals by the NSW Government to make significant changes to the current regime through the proposed National Parks and Wildlife Amendment Bill 2009, which is due to be introduced in State Parliament in September this year, need to be thoroughly reconsidered.

The provisions of the proposed amendments "take one step forward, and two steps back," in seeking to prevent the ongoing destruction of Aboriginal culture and heritage in NSW.

They will be introduced into the Parliament without adequate or meaningful consultation with the Aboriginal community.

NSWALC Chairperson Bev Manton said today it was clear the current system for the protection of Aboriginal and cultural heritage in NSW was in need of urgent and fundamental reform.

"The current laws, and the proposed amending bill, do not recognise Aboriginal people as the owners and primary determiners of their culture and heritage," Ms Manton said.

"They have not, and will not, prevent the ongoing destruction of our culture and heritage without fundamental reform to both the underlying principles and machinery provisions of current and proposed legislation."

Ms Manton said it was clear from consultation by NSWALC's Governing Council with the Aboriginal community that a wide ranging independent inquiry was urgently required.

This should lead to the establishment of an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill and an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Commission based on recognition that the ownership of Aboriginal cultural heritage lies with Aboriginal people.

"The current proposals to amend the current regime are ad hoc," she added.

"While some aspects might appear, at face value, to strengthen existing laws they fall well short of the reform required to satisfy the legitimate concerns and aspirations of the Aboriginal community to be given a truly effective voice in the protection and preservation of their culture and heritage.

"NSWALC is concerned at the current high rate of permits issued to destroy our cultural and heritage and the Bill in its current form will make it easier to issue such permits.

"New South Wales is also the only State without independent culture and heritage legislation. The inclusion of Aboriginal heritage in a flora and fauna Act is outdated and paternalistic."

NSWALC has set out its detailed concerns and those of its constituents in a major submission to the Government on the proposed National Parks and Wildlife Amendment Bill 2009.

"We have decided to publicly release our submission, More Than Flora and Fauna, given our profound concerns, and those of our constituents, about the content and shortcomings of the proposed legislation," Ms Manton said.

"We earnestly hope its public release will raise awareness both within and outside the State Parliament about the grave concerns we have to ensure our efforts, and those of our constituents, lead to a fundamental rethink about the need for the establishment of an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Commission in NSW which was promised back in the 1980's.

"New South Wales has the best land rights legislation in the world. We should also have the best Aboriginal Culture and Heritage legislation in the world."

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Media Contact: Peter Windsor  0400 554 603