“It must be hard for other people to understand the impact of government controlling what we can and can’t say is our own culture. My mum’s still with us and she grew up classified as ‘not’ an Australian by the government and they’re still classifying us.”
Significant registration delays have created obstacles for Traditional Owners trying to protect their Cultural Heritage.
One of the functions of the Secretary is to establish and maintain the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register (Register). This means that powers over the Registration of Aboriginal Heritage lie with public servants within AV, and not with Traditional Owners. AV staffs’ views on what is appropriate for Registration can often conflict with those of both Traditional Owners and HAs, meaning that what appears on the Register is not always representative of the views of Traditional Owners.
That the Act should be amended to transfer responsibility of the Register (including Registration of both tangible and intangible Heritage) to Council.
Section 1(b) states that one of the Act’s purposes is to empower Traditional Owners as protectors of their Cultural Heritage on behalf of Aboriginal People. Transferring the responsibility of maintaining the Register to Council would allow Traditional Owners to oversee the Registration of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage, empowering them with the management of their Heritage and therefore aligning with the purposes of the Act.
Section 144A(a) states that a main purpose of the Register is for Victorian Traditional Owners to store information about their Cultural Heritage. It follows on from this notion that Victorian Traditional Owners should be the group that actually stores the information on the Register. As Council is composed solely of Traditional Owners, they are the most suitable authority to oversee the storing of this information.
In practice, the transfer of responsibility of the Register would result in the current staff who monitor and maintain the Register having their operations transferred to the Offi ce of the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council (OVAHC). There, they would report to and be overseen by Council to ensure that Traditional Owners had oversight over the Registration process and the ongoing maintenance of the Register.
Submission response to the proposal
The Castan Centre is a world-renowned academic centre using its human rights expertise to create a more just world where human rights are respected and protected, allowing people to pursue their lives in freedom and with dignity. The Centre’s innovative approach to public engagement and passion for human rights are redefining how an academic institution can create important and lasting change. Dr O’Bryan is a lecturer in the Faculty of Law and former solicitor in native title, acting for native title claim groups in both Western Australia and Victoria.
Community support for the proposal
Most submissions supported transfer of responsibility. It was generally acknowledged that having control over the Register is perceived as fundamental to Aboriginal self determination and subsequent participation of Traditional Owners in the registration, security and storage of their cultural knowledge and places.
One Traditional Owner organisation stated that they:
“Support the right of Traditional Owners to maintain, control, protect and develop their Aboriginal cultural heritage and agree that Traditional Owners should have greater oversight over the Registration process and the ongoing maintenance of the Register.”
The only submission opposed to the proposal was raised by the Building and Development sector, who stated preference for responsibility for the register to remain with AV. However, no explanation was proffered. Another from this sector was notably not in opposition of transfer of responsibility to Council but that they did not support ‘any change to the Registry’s main functions which is to act as a repository of information.’
This issue should be considered in relation to Article 11:
“Indigenous peoples have the right to practise and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs. This includes the right to maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as archaeological and historical sites, artefacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature.”
Best practice standards in Indigenous cultural heritage management and legislation
This recommendation should be considered in relation to Best Practice Standard 5 - Incorporation of principles of self-determination:
“The affected Indigenous Community itself should be the ultimate arbiter of the management of the ICH aspects any proposal that will affect that heritage.”