As Victorian Traditional Owners, custodians of the oldest living Culture on earth and an independent statutory authority, Council felt that it was time to for the Act to realise its intention. Whilst strong, the Act fails in key areas to enshrine self-determination adequately or respectfully in its prescription for the management and protection of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage on the lands now known as the state of Victoria.
On 22 June 2020, Council published Taking Control of Our Heritage, a discussion paper on legislative reform of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006. The objective of the Discussion Paper was to have a genuine conversation with Traditional Owners, land managers, the broader community and the government on the operation of the Act.
The primary focus of the review was the Act, however, it has necessarily brough to the fore issues around the Act’s associated Aboriginal Heritage Regulations 2018 (Regulations) and the Geographic Place Names Act 1998. Council will consider this work later in 2021.
Council’s Legislative Review and Regulatory Functions Committee (LRRFC) has overseen the development of Council’s proposals for legislative reform. Through release of the Discussion Paper in mid-2020, followed by comprehensive community consultation and rigorous review of submissions in late 2020, it has developed these proposals informed by policy and community perspectives.
In September 2020, the Heritage Chairs of Australia and New Zealand welcomed and supported Dhawura Ngilan: A vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage in Australia. Council’s contribution to the Vision, in the development of the Best Practice Standards in Indigenous Cultural Heritage management and legislation, meant that Victorian Traditional Owner voices were heard on a national level.
The proposed suite of reforms are planned to be introduced in early-mid 2021. By this time, during the life of the current Parliament, it will be five years after the 2016 amendments to the Act and fifteen years since the Act came into existence.
Council’s ambition for the proposals is that, through incorporating a benchmarked, national set of Best Practice Standards into Victoria’s own legislation, whilst fully realising the Declaration, Victoria’s Aboriginal Cultural Heritage legislative can set a benchmark at both national and international levels.