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.
In a landmark piece of legislation, the Council was created through the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006, as the only statutory authority composed entirely of Victorian Traditional Owners. Then, as now, the significance of Council’s representation is a positive step towards empowerment. The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in 2006, the Hon. Gavin Jennings, supported the policy shift towards self-determination in that:
“the Council will ensure Aboriginal people throughout Victoria play a central role in protecting and managing their heritage and that this role is widely acknowledged and respected in the broader community”.
The United Nations General Assembly (Assembly) adopted the significant Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Even then they recognised:
“the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources.”
It is with great sadness that, as Traditional Owners, members of the broader Victorian community and as those with responsibilities for Victoria’s Cultural Heritage legislation, we must acknowledge that the Assembly’s call for action has fallen on deaf ears.
The Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 is amended. Council has increased statutory responsibilities, including:
- overseeing Registered Aboriginal Parties’ (RAP) operations
- overseeing and monitoring the system of reporting and returning Ancestral Remains and Secret or Sacred Objects (Sacred Objects) in Victoria
- managing the Victorian Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Fund
- producing a State of Victoria’s Aboriginal Cultural Heritage report every five years.
Council’s Legislative Review and Regulatory Functions Committee (LRRFC) initiated a project to review the Act and develop any necessary proposals for legislative reform.
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 Heritage Chairs of Australia and New Zealand welcomed and supported Dhawura Ngilan: A vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage in Australia (Appendix IV). Council’s contribution to the Vision, in the development of the Best Practice Standards in Indigenous Cultural Heritage management and legislation (Appendix IV), meant that Victorian Traditional Owner voices were heard on a national level.
The June 2020 release of the Discussion Paper was followed by comprehensive community consultation and rigorous review of submissions received by late November 2020. The LRRFC considered the submissions and developed a revised proposal informed by policy and community perspectives.
The revised suite of proposals were again taken to the community for public consultation. Once submissions closed, Council’s LRRFC considered further submissions and developed the current recommendations made in this document.
Council makes these formal recommendations for reform of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 to the Hon. Gabrielle Williams, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.
Notes on the Recommendation Format
Each recommendation includes:
- a quote from Traditional Owners provided during the consultation process,
- the problem or issue that is being experienced,
- the proposal for legislative reform that would resolve this issue,
- considerations that should be given in thinking about the recommendation, and
- submissions received through the Discussion Paper process.
To show that each recommendation meets the ambitions set by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Best Practice Standards in Indigenous Cultural Heritage Management and Legislation, details are tabled at the end of each recommendation.