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Qld must better protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage

23 August, 2019

The Queensland Government is undertaking a review of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003 and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Heritage Act 2003 (the Cultural Heritage Acts). 

The review is being led through the Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships (DATSIP). Public submissions are now closed.

You can find more information on the review on the government website here, including the consultation paper provided by DATSIP to guide the review.

The review is focused on examining whether the Cultural Heritage Acts are:

  • still operating as intended;
  • achieving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other stakeholders in Queensland;
  • in line with the Queensland Government’s broader objective to reframe the relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; and
  • should be updated to reflect the current native title landscape; and
  • still consistent with contemporary drafting standards.

EDO Qld provided a submission to this review, available here.

A summary of our key recommendations is provided below.

This submission was drafted after consultation with various stakeholders who have operated under these Acts, along with relying on our legal experience working with the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003.

These Acts are overdue for meaningful amendment. A review occurred in 2009 which resulted in very little meaningful change. EDO Qld urges the Queensland Government to ensure this review leads to meaningful amendments to the Cultural Heritage Acts to ensure they are operating to achieve their purpose of protecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Heritage.

Summary of EDO Qld’s key recommendations:

  1. Properly identify Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parties – do not limit the ability of First Nations people to be involved in the protection of cultural heritage of importance to them.
  2. Vest ownership of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage (except specified matters) in the First Nations People who by their culture and traditional practices are the guardians and keepers of their cultural heritage - including intangible cultural heritage.
  3. Provide a means by which the Traditional Owners can seek an effective redress from those who intentionally or negligently damage or destroy Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage.
  4. Provide Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a legal means of accessing land upon which their cultural heritage is located.
  5. Improve mandatory reporting of cultural heritage assessments and consultation for project proposals, with clear criteria as to what is required in undertaking these activities, to assist in assessing compliance.
  6. Improve the process for compulsory consultation and agreement of a Cultural Heritage Management Plan (CHMP) to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage management practices are fully realised.
  7. Prevent loopholes allowing effective exclusion of First Nations parties from cultural heritage management through amending the Duty of Care Guidelines.
  8. Clearly define intangible cultural heritage values of an area in the Duty of Care Guidelines to ensure this heritage is also adequately acknowledged and protected.
  9. Improve compliance and enforcement processes and activities under the Cultural Heritage Acts – laws that are not properly administered and enforced are rendered ineffective and cannot achieve their aims.
  10. Ensure that CHMPs are required and registered for any activity which may impact on Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage.

Please see our full submission here for more information behind these summarised recommendations.

Environmental Defenders Office Queensland (EDO Qld) gives a strong legal voice to the environment when needed most.

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