Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council
20 Dec 2020

Chairperson's introduction

An introduction to the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council Annual Report on RAPs 2019-2020 by Chairperson, Rodney Carter.

The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council (Council) is committed to continuing its important work despite the current, extraordinary environment in which it is undertaken. Walking side by side with Traditional Owners, across the vast grasslands, mountains, coast and deserts of this place now known as Victoria, allows us to support each other during this time of uncertainty.

During the reporting period, Victorians have experienced disasters from bushfire and pandemic. As a Council of Traditional Owners, the damage to Country and Community has been profoundly difficult to bear. We have tried, as individuals and Council members, to be leaders and provide a voice of strength and unity for our People. Council’s work has continued and, indeed, increased in amplifying the voices of our People.

Working with Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs), Council’s new initiatives aim to have the voices of Traditional Owners heard across the community and to strengthen their statutory ownership of Culture and Country. Two new programs have broadened Council’s engagement reach and community understanding of the responsibilities of Traditional Owners.

The Taking Control of Our Heritage initiatives include Council’s Indigenous Cultural Heritage Conference (Conference), in March 2021 and Discussion Paper on legislative reform of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (Act). Together, these projects explore the way state and national legislations can provide better protections for our Heritage and greater support for our People to care for it.

The Discussion Paper considers key sections of the Act that need strengthening to enshrine both self determination and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Declaration), in Victorian Aboriginal Cultural Heritage legislation. The Act and Declaration, together, provide some of the greatest protections for Traditional Owners in the country. However, there is still much to be done in realising a fundamentally self-determined and tangible ownership of our Culture, Heritage, History and Country.

Later in this Report, Council details 35 concerns and recommendations that are impacting most on Traditional Owners’ capacity to care for Country. Alarmingly, 57% of concerns are of significant concern and need to be addressed within the next two years whilst 37% of concerns are now a critical stage and must be resolved as soon as possible to prevent further loss of irreplaceable Cultural Heritage.

We all have a part to play in ensuring our Peoples’ rights to self-determination, our Culture and Country. We seek the support and contribution of everyone to work with us on ensuring that the statutory protections our Peoples have for their Culture is commensurate to over 40,000 years of connection to Country.

The way we care for this Country, inherent in our Spiritual and Cultural wellbeing, is explored in Council’s Caring for Country initiatives. These projects provide a platform for Traditional Owners to discuss their Cultural Heritage and broader community responsibilities. They inform both community and stakeholder understandings and support the Taking Control of Our Heritage projects.

Central to these have been the partnership with Melbourne’s only Indigenous Radio Station, 3KND Kool N Deadly. On the last Wednesday of each month at 8.30am, Council hosts a segment on Caring for Country on the Big Big Brekky program. Each segment is an interview with a Traditional Owner on how they protect their Country and Cultural Heritage. Our People yarning about our Country is integral to the way we manage Country and Culture.

Supporting all these new initiatives was the Caring for Country live digital event for legislative reform at the Deakin Edge, Fed Square on 24 June 2020. This digital forum was hosted by Racquel Kerr with a panel of esteemed Traditional Owners including Hans Bokelund, Rodney Carter, Jamie Lowe and Rachel Perkins. As First Peoples, we must navigate the imposed legislations that govern our Cultural Heritage, we must contribute, and we must be part of the process to ensure we are accorded respect as the custodians of the oldest living Culture on earth. Talking publicly and asking questions is fundamental to this. The panel discussed caring for Country through a consideration of the current legislations protecting Aboriginal Cultural Heritage. During the event, Council launched the Taking Control of Our Heritage Discussion Paper on legislative reform of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006. With 750 people watching the event live and 1,400 views of the event online, we have shown the huge interest in and support for Traditional Owners in managing Culture.

On Saturday 6 July 2019, a significant milestone in realising Traditional Owner led management, protection, education and enjoyment of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage was made by the Gunditjmara Peoples. Their relationship to Country, their innovation and their custodianship was recognised at a global level with the inclusion of the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. As Aboriginal People, we live in a modern context and we apply our understandings of cultural identity to a modern world. With this inclusion on the List, the modern world has acknowledged our ancient lineal connection to Culture and Country, forged over tens of thousands of years.

As a Council of Traditional Owners, we understand the work and commitment made by the Gunditjmara Peoples to have their ancient lineal connection to Country recognised. We applaud their strength and resilience in succeeding and encourage all Traditional Owners to follow in their footsteps and let the world look with awe on our Culture.

Let us never forget that we stand together as a Community, side by side as Traditional Owners and in the footprints of our Ancestors.

Rodney Carter

The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council

Members of the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council.

Council was created under the Act to ensure the preservation and protection of Victoria’s rich  Aboriginal Cultural Heritage. With important decision-making responsibilities and as an independent expert body of Traditional Owners, the Council is the only statutory body of its kind in Australia.

As Traditional Owners themselves, Council brings to its decision making a profound understanding of the responsibilities and breadth of Traditional Ownership. It is the application of this unique knowledge of Council, with membership eligibility and Apical Ancestry, that enables robust decision-making processes.

Council’s vision is of a community that understands and respects Aboriginal Cultural Heritage and the cultural responsibilities of Traditional Owners. Council recognises Traditional Owners as the primary guardians, keepers and knowledge holders of their heritage.

Comprised of up to 11 Traditional Owners, Council is appointed by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (the Minister). Members of Council must reside in Victoria and have demonstrated traditional or familial links to an area in Victoria. They are also required to have relevant knowledge or experience in the management of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in Victoria.

Since the end of the reporting period, Council has welcomed new members Liz Allen, Dr Doris Paton, Dan Turnbull and welcomed back Mick Harding. Council would like to acknowledge the enormous contribution made by Aunty Geraldine Atkinson, who has made the difficult decision to resign from Council, to better allow her the time and space for her important work as Co-Chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.

As a Council, we speak with one voice, strengthened by the Elders and leaders that inform it.

Council members

Geraldine Atkinson

  • Current term 6 November 2019 – 6 November 2022

Jennifer Beer

  • Current term 14 August 2017 – 13 August 2020

Rodney Carter (Chairperson)

  • Current term 1 September 2018 – 31 August 2021

Bonnie Chew

  • Current term 1 September 2018 – 31 August 2021

Racquel Kerr

  • Current term 1 September 2018 – 31 August 2021

Sissy Petit (Deputy Chairperson)   

  • Current term 6 November 2019 – 6 November 2022

Kenny Stewart

  • Current term 1 September 2018 – 31 August 2021

Statutory Functions

The Statutory Functions the Aboriginal Heritage Council undertakes.

Council plays an important role in the implementation of the Act; its principal
functions are:

Making decisions on RAP applications

Since its establishment in 2006, Council has appointed 12 RAPs. Currently, there are 11 RAPs which collectively cover 74% of Victoria. RAPs are organisations that hold decision-making responsibilities for protecting Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in a specified geographical area.

Monitoring RAPs

The Council is responsible for overseeing and supervising the operations of RAPs. With RAPs themselves, Council undertakes a collaborative approach to this function. It has established a Legislative Review and Regulatory Functions Committee (LRRFC) with RAP members and a suite of processes and policies to support this work.

Protecting Ancestors’ resting places and returning Ancestors to Country

Council is the central coordinating body responsible for Ancestral Remains in Victoria. With the implementation of a new Ancestral Remains Policy and Repatriation Support Committee with RAPs, this fundamental work will strengthen the protection of Aboriginal burial places and deliver better support to Traditional Owners returning Ancestors to Country.

Secret (or Sacred) Objects in Victoria

Council is responsible for the care of Secret (or Sacred) Objects whilst they are returned to their Traditional Owners. Council’s custody of Objects is a profound responsibility to support Traditional Owners manage and retain their Cultural Heritage.

Managing the Victorian Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Fund (the Fund)

The Council is responsible for managing the Fund for initiatives to protect Aboriginal Cultural Heritage and to promote understanding and awareness of this unique heritage managed by Traditional Owners for all Victorians.

Measures to promote understanding and awareness

Council’s work includes promoting understanding and awareness of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in Victoria. The Council achieves this through establishing partnerships and consulting with key rightsholders and stakeholders, making submissions to reviews of legislation, investigations and inquiries that impact on Aboriginal Cultural Heritage and participating in external committees and reference groups.

Working with Registered Aboriginal Parties

Our work with Registered Aboriginal Parties is extensive.

Caring for Country Projects

These projects support Traditional Owners in undertaking their responsibilities for Country. They provide a space for Traditional Owners to talk about why it is important to protect Cultural Heritage and discuss how it is managed on Country.

Our Places Our Names Projects

These projects support Traditional Owners to reinstate their traditional names for places on Country into the current, formal frameworks of placemaking.

Taking Control of Our Heritage Projects

These projects support Traditional Owners to reinstate their traditional names for places on Country into the current, formal frameworks of placemaking.

Making Change Projects

These projects provide environments for Council and RAPs to genuinely engage and discuss their work.

Victoria's Registered Aboriginal Parties

Reports from Victoria's registered Aboriginal parties.

Supporting Registered Aboriginal Parties

The 35 concerns and recommendations identified pose a comprehensive description of areas of risk to the destruction of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage.

The 35 concerns and recommendations identified here pose a comprehensive description of areas of risk to the destruction of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage; and limitations imposed on Traditional Owners for self-determined ownership and management of that Cultural Heritage in Victoria. The stark image is of a state whose statutory responsibility to support Traditional Owners is failing to protect Cultural Heritage and significantly impacting the wellbeing of communities. Council has made recommendations for the resolution of these concerns, often reinforcing the recommendations made in the 2012 Inquiry into the Establishment and Effectiveness of Registered Aboriginal Parties (Inquiry). The longstanding repetition of concerns and solutions demonstrates that the voices of Traditional Owners are still not being heard. After such long periods of time, 57% of concerns are of signifi cant concern and need to be addressed within the next two years whilst 37% of concerns are now at a critical stage and must be resolved as soon as possible to prevent further loss of irreplaceable Cultural Heritage.

Many of these concerns are addressed through Council’s Taking Control of our Heritage, a Discussion Paper on legislative reform of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006. The Discussion Paper was developed with RAPs, based on concerns raised by RAPs and Council about impediments to the efficacy of their collective protection of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage under the Act.

The impetus for the review was the perceived inadequacies of protection of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in Victoria, identifi ed through four years of working with the Amended Aboriginal Heritage Act. Council has consulted extensively with RAPs about their concerns raised directly with Council, to Aboriginal Victoria (AV) through their bi-annual reporting and in group engagement such as Council’s RAP Connect, the annual RAP Forum and the RAP Working Group.

On consideration, concerns raised have fallen naturally into four broad themes:

  1. Furthering self-determination for Registered Aboriginal Parties.
  2. Increasing the autonomy of the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council.
  3. Recognising, protecting and conserving Aboriginal Cultural Heritage.
  4. Implementing the recommendations from the 2012 Inquiry.

Some concerns have been raised in previous reporting periods, so a ‘traffi c light’ matrix has been developed to better identify the imperative of each concern. The issue is labelled in relation to the length of time over which the concern has been raised and its impact on the preservation/destruction of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage.

Theme 1 - Furthering Self-Determination for Registered Aboriginal Parties

Theme 2 - Increasing the Autonomy of the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council

Theme 3 - Recognising, Protecting and Conserving Aboriginal Cultural Heritage

Theme 4 - Implementing the recommendations from the 2012 Inquiry into the Establishment and Effectiveness of Registered Aboriginal Parties

Registered Aboriginal Party reporting

Through a range of communication channels, RAPs engage with Council and advise of both their achievements and challenges.

Council is committed to ensuring that the reporting required of RAPs to Council is neither onerous nor duplicates other reporting. To this end, RAPs authorise the distribution of their Aboriginal Victoria Registered Aboriginal Party Operations Performance Reports to Council. Council is not responsible for the AV administered base funding attached to this reporting process. It should be noted however that data received through this reporting does not undergo a process of cross-referencing through the Natural Resource Management System from which AV draws much of its own reporting data. Although it is considered appropriate in terms of self-determination that RAPs are trusted by government to report accurately, it should be noted that it provides an opportunity for reporting discrepancies.

The information that is provided to Council through these reports is extensive and can provide a strong comparative base from which Council can identify areas of concern, growth and achievement across the state and provide targeted advocacy and recommendations.

Achievements and challenges

Through a range of communication channels, RAPs engage with Council and advise of both their achievements and challenges. Council’s capacity to adopt a state-wide analysis of these challenges and the broader impacts of large projects and relationships, has enabled it to incorporate many recommended challenges into their legislative review discussion paper. Additionally, much work has been undertaken throughout the year to address concerns as they arise. One example of this is the communication Council made both public and in letters to individual Local  Government Authorities (LGAs) about the inappropriate use of Due Diligence reporting in the preparation of CHMPs.

Use of a due diligence approach

Concerned at reported problems arising from LGAs’ use of the ‘Due Diligence’ approach, to assess the requirement for a CHMP for specifi c activities, the reported harm to Aboriginal Cultural Heritage caused by the resulting activity is an issue that RAPs are facing regularly and is something Council feels strongly about addressing.

The regulations to the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006, the Aboriginal Heritage Regulations 2018, clearly set out the type of activities and the circumstances in which a CHMP is required. It is only through the preparation, approval and implementation of a CHMP that a defence can be raised to the offence of harming Aboriginal Cultural Heritage. Completion of a ‘Due Diligence’ approach will not create such a defence.

The Council contacted LGAs and posted on its website that Victoria’s RAPs and Traditional Owners are the primary knowledge keepers of all matters relating to Victorian Aboriginal Cultural Heritage. This is not only true for physical, tangible Aboriginal Cultural Heritage, but also for Intangible Heritage. Council encouraged all LGAs to ensure all planning applications are subject to the legislated processes necessary to ensure the protection of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage. One method of achieving this is to ensure that any development proposal that has relied on a ‘Due Diligence’ approach to an assessment of risks to Aboriginal Cultural Heritage has at the very least involved consultation with the relevant RAP.

Challenges and concerns

Across the reporting period, RAPs have identified in their reporting the following challenges. The table on the following page notes these identified challenges and the percentage of concerns raised in the overall reporting issues reported. As the reporting format changed between the 2018-19 and 2019-20 reporting periods, a targeted question relating to RAP challenges was not included prior to the current cycle and so previous fi gures are unable to be included.

From the reported fi gures on the following page, it is clear that a lack of suitable resourcing impacts the day to day management of RAPs’ responsibilities for Cultural Heritage. This issue has been raised by RAPs on many occasions at public forums, to Council, AV and directly with the Minister. Whilst the Act provides for some income streams through the consideration of functions, and some ongoing base funding is provided by the Secretary through the Fund, this is not appropriate for some RAPs. A broader consideration of requirements and funding models needs to be undertaken, as Council discusses in the above recommendations.

Challenges Reported 2019-20

Access to VAHR in non-RAP areas


Lack of Heritage Advisor accountability


Boundary negotiations


Capacity to monitor broader compliance issues


Communication/engagement with LGAs


Developing strategies and processes


Insurance for VCAT cases


Lack of licensed drivers and cars and distance for TOs


Receiving recognition in Cultural Heritage management during fi re emergencies


Respect as Cultural authorities from government departments


Building skills and capabilities


Use of Due Diligence




Need more resources (fire recovery, staff, recording/registration of Cultural Heritage, general, community engagement)



Supporters and stakeholders

Across the reporting period, RAPs have identified in their reporting the following stakeholder engagement. The below table notes stakeholders and the engagement as a percentage of the overall reporting and details both the current and previous reporting periods to enable direct comparison. Due to the reporting format change between the 2018-19 and 2019-20 reporting periods, the differences in fields are noted as not applicable (N/A) when the field was not previously included in the reporting framework.

From examination of the 2018-19 and 2019-20 reporting figures below, we can note a significant increase of 211% with ‘other government’, relating largely to the Department of the Environment, Land, Waters and Planning (DELWP), Parks Victoria and infrastructure projects. The increase can be attributed to a significant shift in the range and scale of projects being undertaken by government and the increasing willingness to include RAPs in projects that may not necessarily have requirements under the Act.

A notable decrease in consultation can be noted with industry (15%) and local government (30%). Whilst the increase above relates to government bodies that have been largely unaffected by COVID-19 restrictions, such restrictions have significantly impacted industry and local government. It can be seen as a direct consequence then that consultation and engagement with these stakeholders has decreased during this period. It would be expected that, with an easing of restrictions and significant work Council and RAPs are currently undertaken in relation to engagement with LGAs, these figures will present a drastic upswing in the next reporting period.

Stakeholder 2019-20 2018-19


0% 0%
Minister 1% 0%
Industry 3% 19%
Aboriginal Victoria 5% 4%
Other 11% N/A
Community 13% N/A
Local Government 14% 45%
Landowners 15% 15%
Other Government 38% 18%


Managing sensitive cultural heritage

Of note in the reporting is the significant decline in nominations of Intangible Heritage to the register. Since the capacity of the Register was enabled to include Intangible Heritage under the Amendments of 2017, only one registration has been made. Council has been informed that the reticence of Traditional Owners to nominate Intangible Heritage for inclusion on the Register is largely due to the process of registration and in some part to management of the Register by non-Traditional Owners. In addressing this concern, Council has recommended that the Register be managed by Traditional Owners through the Council.

The decline in applications to access sensitive information on the Aboriginal Heritage Register can be attributed to the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 and the decrease in academic and nondevelopment based access requests.

Managing Sensitive Cultural Heritage 2019-20 2018-19
Receipt of Secret (or Sacred) Objects 0 0
Intangible Heritage Management Agreements 0 2
Applications for access to the Register considered and supported or declined 1 11
Repatriation of Cultural Heritage 2 0
Receipt of Ancestral Remains 3 0
Intangible Heritage nominated fir registration on the VAHR 7 1

Governance and compliance

During the current reporting period, all RAPs have identified appropriate decision-making delegations and an absence of operating conditions imposed on them by Council. Although some organisational skills development has been undertaken, RAPs have identified through other channels that the absence of previously provided AV governance training is still sought.

Enforcement and compliance with the Act

RAPs are critically involved with the enforcement and compliance aspects of the Act through their own AHOs and working with Aboriginal Victoria’s AOs. The significant increase in actions across all reporting fields can be seen to reflect the increase in development across the state.

Enforcement and Compliance with the Act 2019-20 218-19
Compliance Actions 12 N/A
Reports of non-compliance (breaches of the Act) 16 5
Compliance and Enforcement Training 20 N/A
Reports of other enforcement matters 20 15
Provision of expert advice and assistance with compliance and enforcement matters 80 1
Compliance inspections undertaken as required by the Act 200 41

Statutory services

The impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the day to day work of RAPs can be seen through the decrease across all statutory service reporting fields, bar one. The 129% increase in heritage assessment activities, including archaeological surveys, can be seen to better identify the broader range of fieldwork undertaken by RAPs not necessarily previously reported on.

The significant work being undertaken by RAPs to monitor CHMPs should be noted and that works are being undertaken per these plans. However, for those CHMPs approved in non-RAP areas, there are significant concerns for the ongoing monitoring of management conditions for archaeological salvage and non-compliance with the CHMPS. RAPs have raised concerns with Council about the potential for outright destruction of Cultural Heritage under approved CHMPs through noncompliance, in instances where ongoing monitoring and review is not undertaken in non-RAP areas. Identified as a concern by the Minister through the SoE, Council concurs with this being set as an identified expectation and would seek to have a more signifcant target attached to this regulatory performance.

Statutory Service 2019-20 218-19
Cultural Heritage Agreements developed with private landowners 0 0
Preliminary Aboriginal Heritage test surveys participated in 0 3
Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Land Management Agreements (ACHLMAs) developed with public land managers 9 4
CHP applications approved/declined 66 129
CHMPs evaluated 352 421
Notices of intent responded to 424 487
Heritage assessment activities undertaken 708 546