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aboriginalheritagecouncil.vic.gov.au

Deeper understanding of cultural heritage

A long-standing statutory function of Council is to promote public awareness and understanding of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in Victoria.

Complementing this function is Council’s role to promote and facilitate research into Aboriginal Cultural Heritage.

Council strategically engages with communities, organisations, government departments and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to build mutual respect in the broader community, in partnership with RAPs and other Traditional Owners.

Working collectively

Council contributes extensively to promoting a deeper understanding of Cultural Heritage through broad engagement with strategic legislative and operational reviews.

Council Advisory Committees

  • Ancestral Remains Advisory Committees
  • Ancestral Remains Policy Committee
  • Budget & Risk Committee
  • Cultural Heritage Management Plans and Permits Advisory Committee
  • Legislative Review and Regulatory Functions Committee
  • Secret and Sacred Objects Advisory Committees
  • Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register Advisory Committees
  • New direction in developing relationships with Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs)

The 2016 amendments to the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 provided a real and practicable framework for broadened protection of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in Victoria. Part of these changes was the development of a regulatory function for Council that represents a significant new chapter in its history.

Subsection 132(ch) of the Act establishes as one of these functions that Council 'manage, oversee and supervise the operations of registered Aboriginal parties.' Section 154A creates the power in Council to impose conditions upon the registration of a RAP and section 156 creates the power to suspend or revoke the registration of a RAP.

In combination, these sections are a comprehensive set of provisions designed to give Council a central role supporting RAPs in the exercise of their 14 statutory powers under the Act. Council has been working towards a strength-based approach in exercising these functions and now seeks to work closely with RAPs on developing actionable policies and programs to realise this.

Council has formed the new Legislative Review and Regulatory Functions Committee to develop policies and examine their regulatory framework. The Committee will guide Council in their work so that the regulatory structure outlined in the Act actively supports and helps RAPs and their Traditional Owner members, not burdens and undermines them.

New direction in developing relationships with RAPs

The 2016 amendments to the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 provided a real and practicable framework for broadened protection of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in Victoria. Part of these changes was the development of a regulatory function for Council that represents a significant new chapter in its history.

Subsection 132(ch) of the Act establishes as one of these functions that Council “manage, oversee and supervise the operations of registered Aboriginal parties”. Section 154A creates the power in Council to impose conditions upon the registration of a RAP and section 156 creates the power to suspend or revoke the registration of a RAP.

In combination, these sections are a comprehensive set of provisions designed to give Council a central role supporting RAPs in the exercise of their statutory powers under the Act. Council has been working towards a strength-based approach in exercising these functions and now seeks to work closely with RAPs on developing actionable policies and programs to realise this.

Council has formed the new Legislative Review and Regulatory Functions Committee to develop policies and examine their regulatory framework. The Committee will guide Council in their work so that the regulatory structure outlined in the Act actively supports and helps RAPs and their Traditional Owner members, not burdens and undermines them.

Council Committees and Working Groups

  • Conference Planning Committee
  • Inspector training and consultation policy working group
  • Joint working group with the Heritage Council of Victoria

Reference/Steering Groups and Committees

  • Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment Cultural Reference Group – Best Practice Principles & Vision
  • Marine & Coastal Policy Stakeholder Reference Group
  • Right People for Country Steering Committee
  • The University of Melbourne Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Heritage Oversight Committee
  • Victorian Aboriginal Local Government Action Plan

Policy, strategy and development reviews

Legislative review

  • Taking Control of Our Heritage, a Discussion Paper on legislative reform of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006.
  • Review of the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 - Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council Submission to the 2020 phase 1 review.
  • Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council submission to the 2020 phase 2 review.

Council policy

  • Complaints against Registered Aboriginal Parties - A formal mechanism for people to bring to Council’s attention their complaints about the way a RAP discharges its functions under the Act.
  • Registered Aboriginal Parties and fieldwork under coronavirus (COVID-19) Stage 3 Stay at Home restrictions - Guidelines for RAPs, heritage advisors and sponsors to the circumstances in which CHMP or cultural heritage permit fieldwork can proceed under coronavirus (COVID-19) Stage 3 Stay at Home restrictions.
  • Use of a Due Diligence Approach to Assessment of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage - Recommendations for RAPs and Local Government Authorities (LGAs) on the use of the “Due Diligence” approach, to assess the requirement for a Cultural Heritage Management Plan.
  • Variations to Registrations of Aboriginal Parties - Understanding section 155 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006.
  • RAP Code of Conduct (for publication after the reporting period) - Aims to both clarify and codify the role of RAPs, the standards of work and conduct that should be aspired to and illuminate the types of behaviours and best practice procedures for RAPs.
  • Heritage Advisor Guidelines (for publication after the reporting period) - Aim to both clarify and codify the role of Heritage Advisors, the standards of work and conduct that should be expected and illuminate the types of behaviours and values that should underpin heritage work in Victoria.

Strategy development

  • Dhawura Ngilan - A vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage in Australia and the Best Practice Standards in Indigenous Cultural Heritage management and legislation.
  • Framework for Government Engagement with Traditional Owners.
  • Latrobe Valley Regional Rehabilitation Strategy.
  • Repatriation of Ceremonial Objects and Human Remains under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • Victorian Aboriginal and Local Government Strategy 2020 – 2025 Pathway to Stronger Partnerships.

Government engagement with Traditional Owners

Western Highway

Throughout the reporting period, the ongoing disruption to works on the Western Highway has been a concern for our community, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. Council feels that robust processes for the protection of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage have been, and will continue to be, undertaken.

Victoria has nationally significant legislation that protects Aboriginal Cultural Heritage through ensuring it is managed by Traditional Owners. Council supports Traditional Owners to speak for their Cultural Heritage and supports this through undertaking statutory responsibilities under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006.

The Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 provides protection of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in Victoria. It supports Registered Aboriginal Parties, Traditional Owners, custodians and First Peoples to once again take their rightful place as the primary guardians, keepers and knowledge holders of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in Victoria.

Rodney Carter, Chairperson

The Council supports inclusive Traditional Owner group structures whilst appreciating that all People have a voice and the agency to speak for their Culture. Our People have a strong and respected tradition of protesting - of siting in, of camping out – because we know that questioning decisions is essential to an engaged and dynamic community.

The process of managing our Cultural Heritage is undertaken through rigorous applications to both federal and state legislation, ensuring inclusion within our community and engagement with our neighbours. Through representative organisations which have met stringent requirements for inclusiveness in speaking for their people and Country, the voices of Djab Wurrung People have been heard through the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation and Martang Pty. Ltd.

Engagement with non-representative groups undermines the capacity for self-determination of formally recognised and inclusive Traditional Owner organisations. The Council supports these recognised organisations to speak collectively for their community and Country.

Not recognising due process clouds the importance of the acknowledgement of recognised Traditional Owners and what they undertook to participate in these processes. The challenge for us all is to understand that the right thing has happened and that, through the process, the voice of First Peoples’ has been recognised.

Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission Hearing

At the 21 November 2019 Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) hearing, recordings of property developer John Woodman revealed that he had “paid off” Aboriginal groups to overlook Aboriginal Cultural Heritage. It is essential that we understand the context for these claims made about Aboriginal People taking lightly their responsibility for their Cultural Heritage and their Old People.

The Martha Cove Development Assessments which are the basis of the allegations, were undertaken in 2002. This was well before the implementation of the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Act in 2006 and the appointment of a Registered Aboriginal Party for this area in 2017. Concerns regarding corruption, and the wrong Aboriginal People being involved in decision making, were drivers for the creation of the current Act.

These claims are completely unacceptable, and it was rumours of this sort of behaviour that led to the legislation being changed in Victoria in 2006. The Council is pleased that Victoria is at the forefront of having heritage legislation in place that combats this sort of behaviour.

The Act provides protection of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in Victoria in several ways. Most importantly, this is achieved through the statutory empowerment of its custodians. This is, in part, achieved through the creation of the Council and through its responsibility to appoint RAPs. Council is proud of what it has done over the last decade to empower Traditional Owners and resolve the injustice to our People by appointing RAPs as custodians and managers of their Cultural Heritage.

The kind of behaviour revealed in the IBAC hearings impacts most on the protection of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage, and the reputation of Traditional Owners. And that’s why it’s Traditional Owners themselves, through the Council, who are empowered to do something about it.

There will always be a minority of people who try this on, who try to get around properly managing and protecting heritage. But we have the means to stamp this out, through IBAC, and through the oversight of the Council.

The United Nations declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples

The declaration is the foundation of Council’s work and supports the survival, dignity and wellbeing of Our People. In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the significant Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, however there is still much to be done in realising this commitment. Council calls for all Victorians to join it in affirming that:

Indigenous Peoples are equal to all other Peoples, while recognising the right of all Peoples to be different, to consider themselves different, and to be respected as such. We all have a part to play. Council asks that each of us recognise in ourselves, our workplaces and our institutions, that Indigenous Peoples have the Right to:

  • self-determination
  • self-government in matters relating to their internal affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions
  • not be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their Culture
  • not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories.
  • practise and revitalise their cultural traditions and customs
  • manifest, practise, develop and teach their spiritual and religious traditions, customs and ceremonies
  • maintain, protect, and have access in privacy to their religious and cultural sites
  • the use and control of their ceremonial objects.
  • the repatriation of their human remains
  • revitalise, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures
  • designate and retain their own names for communities, places and person
  • participate in decision-making through representatives chosen by themselves, in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to their own decision-making institutions
  • maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources
  • maintain, control, protect and develop their Cultural Heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions.
  • the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts

Reviewed 22 December 2020

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