NSW would crackdown on inappropriate commercial use of Indigenous culture and appoint an entirely-Aboriginal body to oversee cultural heritage under proposed reforms tabled in parliament.
The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage (Culture is Identity) Bill 2022 was last week introduced to New South Wales parliament by Seniors United Party MP Fred Nile.
New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council described the legislation as a substantial improvement on current laws which largely incorporated the Council’s key reform principles
NSWALC has urged all political parties to support the Bill.
The Bill is due to be debated by the NSW parliament in the coming months, and, if passed in its current form, would commence operation on July 1, 2023.
In its summary analysis of the Bill, the NSWALC said the legislation would place management of Aboriginal heritage in the hands of Aboriginal people.
“A new state-level Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Council will be appointed, with equal composition of native title holders, Aboriginal Land Councils and Aboriginal Owners,” it said.
“The ACH Council is not subject to the direction and control of the Minister.
“Key functions of ACH Council include to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage, make key decisions, develop guidance materials, compliance and enforcement, and appoint local Aboriginal cultural heritage services.”
Local Aboriginal land councils would have consultation rights under the reforms.
NSWALC said the proposed law improved conservation agreements and management of repatriations and strengthened the approvals process for planning decisions.
The Bill also provides new powers to investigate where harm to Aboriginal cultural heritage is suspected, including the authority of the ACH council to issue stop work, remediation and prohibition orders.
Maximum fines for serious harm by a corporation would be bolstered to almost $20 million, plus $1.1m for each day offence continued.
Inappropriate use Aboriginal cultural heritage for commercial gain would also be made an offence.
Mr Nile said the Bill would not have been possible without the efforts of co-chair of the Uluru Dialogue Leadership Group, Roy Ah-See.
“I note with pride that the Australian Aboriginal flag flies outside the Parliament and accompanies the Prime Minister at all press conferences,” he said.
“We need to do more, as symbolism alone is not sufficient.
“There are no members of the State Parliament, in either place, who are of Indigenous heritage – this is a disgrace.”
Mr Nile said Aboriginal communities who he had listened to for more than 40 years wanted self-determination.
The veteran MP said the “flawed approach” of successive NSW governments placed custodianship of Aboriginal cultural heritage in the hands of government rather than the local Aboriginal community.
“Aboriginal cultural heritage is still managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service,” Mr Nile said.
“This is the very height of disrespect to a community that is still healing from generational trauma.
“My bill empowers local Aboriginal communities right across New South Wales to make decisions about their heritage for their present living culture and for their future.”
The ACH Council would be 100 per cent Indigenous, which six ministerial appointees and five appointees from the Aboriginal community.