A new Aboriginal heritage alliance will advise the Morrison government on possible law reform, a month on from a parliamentary report which found “countless instances where cultural heritage has been the victim of the drive for development and commercial gain”.
The new group held its first roundtable meeting with environment minister Sussan Ley and the minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, on Monday.
It will look at ways to reform legislation, and at how to set standards for states and territories to follow, according to the chairman of the National Native Title Council and co-chair of the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance, Kado Muir.
“This gives us Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples around Australia a brief pause for hope that, together with the federal government, we can come up with a set of legislative reforms that protects sacred sites to a national standard,” Muir said.
He said he was hopeful the group would look at ways to put an end to “black tape” – the process whereby Aboriginal heritage has legal status when companies wanting to do business on Aboriginal land seek permission to destroy sites as part of development applications.
Muir said he wanted to uncouple Aboriginal heritage from development so sites could be protected and valued as places of cultural and religious significance.
“And then hopefully, through this process … we can identify a legislative reform package that takes Aboriginal heritage away from the development approvals framework and really looks at it from the enjoyment and benefit of cultural heritage that we as Aboriginal peoples inherit from our ancestors, that we share not only with other Australians, but other people around the world,” he said.
“For me as an Aboriginal person who engages with my heritage and culture as a part of my spiritual awareness and my religion, I will be looking at aligning more with the new religious protections that the federal government is introducing at the moment.”
Announcing the partnership, Ley said Indigenous heritage protection was an “all-too-complex interaction of state, territory and commonwealth law and it needs to be addressed through a national conversation”.
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