Council’s legislative review is pursuant to its responsibilities under Sections 132(2)(cg) and 132(3) of the Act. It has undertaken this reform process to ensure that the voices of Traditional Owners are heard at all levels of government and that their responsibilities to their Cultural Heritage and Ancestors is not only lived, but supported in legislation.
It sought feedback from key rightsholders, including RAPs, organisations representing Traditional Owners/Traditional Owner Corporations, and stakeholders in Victoria’s development and land-use industry, heritage advisors, local government authorities (LGAs), and public land managers.
More than 22 submissions were received in response to the Discussion Paper and an additional 9 submissions were received to the Proposals Paper. Across both consultation processes, the submissions included positive, negative and mixed responses on individual themes and proposals. Overall, responses to the proposals were resoundingly positive.
II. Submissions to the Discussion Paper and Proposals Paper
Council is pleased at the breadth and depth of submissions it received to both the Discussion Paper and Proposals Paper. Above all else, the informed and impassioned responses showed that Aboriginal Culture, whether it be your cultural heritage or not, is slowly being appreciated for its value to all Victorians.
Signicantly however, the responses also revealed the inherent racism that exists in some sectors and the fear of change associated with this. It is not a surprise that, as a society, we still have a long way to go to achieve reconciliation. But, what is surprising, is the perception within government and powerful industry bodies that Aboriginal People are unable to manage their own affairs and are unqualified to speak with authority on their own Cultural Heritage. Whilst Aboriginal People understand what loss of Country means, to many non-Aboriginal people, the threat of any interference with what could be considered as inappropriate management of Country is met with hostility and ever-present racial slurs.
To better understand the perspectives and voices in this recommendations document, the submissions have been grouped into the following representative sectors.
Traditional Owner Organisations
The Traditional Owner Organisation sector is broad in Victoria, comprising a range of organisations including but not limited to Registered Aboriginal Parties, Aboriginal Controlled Heath Organisations, the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Organisations, Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc. and independent wellbeing and cultural entities. Across these groups, the membership or primary users are Victorian Traditional Owners with connection to Culture, community and Country at the centre of service delivery. As they had been instrumental in working with Council’s LRRFC on development of the Proposals and Discussion Papers, this sector was largely supportive of the proposed reforms.
Heritage – Policy
The Heritage Policy sector encompasses a range of organisations that oversee the broader policy direction of Heritage in Victoria. This includes the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council and Heritage Council of Victoria, peak heritage organisations outside of statutory bodies, like the National Trust and Royal Historical Societies of Victoria, university and public policy individuals and policy divisions within broader organisations. The considered submissions received from this sector had targeted concerns largely relating to the intersection of legislation with practical implications of change.
Heritage – Business
The Heritage Business sector is the ‘on the ground’ heritage industry of archaeologists, Heritage Advisors (HAs), researchers, and industry bodies such as the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists Inc. and Australian Archaeological Association Inc. The sector is supported by tertiary education departments and associated areas within government. As a sector, submissions largely took an ‘if it isn’t broken, it doesn’t need fixing’ approach. Such an approach fails to consider that Traditional Owners do feel that the system is broken. Hence, it fundamentally lacked constructive critical insight whilst conceptually supporting Traditional Owner responsibilities and rights. Largely, concerns raised were around the practical application of any proposed amendments and regulation of the broader Heritage Business industry.
Building and Development
The Building and Development sector is a significant contributor to the Victorian economy and employs almost 240,000 people. Given the sector’s size and influence, it is important that these submissions be considered. However these submissions revealed the most significant lack of understanding of the principles of self-determination and overt racism of any sector. Whilst there was some consideration made of the need for Traditional Owners to retain a connection to Country, the submissions were clear that it should not come at any cost to the sector’s requirements for access to Country and quick planning and building decision approvals.
Local Government Sector
The Local Government Sector includes Local Government Authorities and those community organisations that exist to support community within geographic specific and community-based areas. Whilst generally submissions from this sector supported the rights of Traditional Owners to participate in management of their Cultural Heritage on Country, there were also significant concerns raised for the practical implications of implementing changed consultation processes within the LGAs themselves. It is appropriate that submissions considered the practical implementation of the proposals but these should not impact on broader legislative considerations of Traditional Owner rights and responsibilities.
Whilst the primary focus of the review was the Act, it has however brought to the fore issues around the Act’s associated Aboriginal Heritage Regulations 2018 (the Regulations) and the Geographic Place Names Act 1998.
The Act is currently failing to meet its objective that Aboriginal Cultural Heritage be managed by Traditional Owners; protected for their ongoing cultural connection and wellbeing, and enjoyed by all Victorians. The necessarily lengthy consideration involved in legislative reform will further allow an opportunity for the failings of the Act to be exploited. Full realisation of self-determination by Aboriginal Peoples must be made in the Act and this can only be done by adopting the recommendations made here and enshrining them in law. There are also minor regulatory changes that could affect significant change in protecting Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in Victoria.
Recommendations on amendments to the Regulations will be made by Council later in 2021.