Historic partnership to empower First Nations self-determination over cultural heritage legislation

The Federal Government and the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance have joined forces in a historic partnership to ensure strengthened safeguards for First Nations cultural heritage.

Announced on Monday, the partnership was forged by the Alliance, with Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt and Environment Minister Sussan Ley and seeks to place First Nations People at the centre of decision-making.

National Native Title Council (NNTC) Chair and Co-Chair of the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance, Kado Muir welcomes the partnership saying it was both a “historic and exciting day”.

“This is unique because we’ve essentially signed a partnership agreement which means at the highest level, we’re able to engage and be part of law reform,” he said.

“This encourages full protection as a national standard, at a federal level. We hope that through this process the federal government will also align to international standards for cultural heritage.”

Muir, a Ngalia Cultural and Community leader, noted the importance of all Australians supporting full protection of cultural heritage.

“This heritage is the history of Australia,” he said.

“Our long-term vision is a framework in Australia that recognises, celebrates and protects our cultural heritage. It’s part of the fabric of Australian society, it isn’t an appendix – this is the core of what Australia is about.”

Made up of thirty Indigenous stakeholder groups, the Alliance will lead formal consultations which will guide Government decision-making and legislative reform.

Minister Ley said the key to achieving success is engaging all parties to “lift the standard of Indigenous cultural heritage protection”.

“Indigenous Heritage Protection remains an all too complex interaction of state, territory and commonwealth law and it needs to be addressed through a national conversation,” she said.

“This is about the Government working with Indigenous Australians and recognising their right to determine what is important to them.”

Minister Ley said all consultations she and Minister Wyatt have taken part in paved the way to the partnership which will continue Indigenous-led decision-making.

“Indigenous Australians should have the right to determine the heritage that is important to them, the ability to access applicable policies and laws to safeguard that heritage, and the choice of how they generate revenue on their land,” said Minister Wyatt.

“As we look to modernise Indigenous protection, it is fundamentally important that we are working in partnership with Indigenous Australians and recognising the rights of Traditional Owners to manage their land and heritage as they deem fit.”

The partnership is announced at a time when Aboriginal leaders, Traditional Owners and land councils in Western Australia are fighting to stop the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill from becoming enshrined in law.

The bill has been strongly opposed since its drafting, with issues outstanding including the revoked right of appeal for Traditional Owners.

Muir noted that the Western Australian Government, led by Premier Mark McGowan has “completely ignored the two reports” of the Juukan Gorge Parliamentary Inquiry.

“They’ve completely ignored them and charted their own course which is the bulldozing approach of McGowan and his government,” he said.

Muir said that the Alliance had offered “McGowan and his Minister” throughout the drafting process, the opportunity to work with them – but it was declined.

“They co-design regulations with us, but they weren’t going to partner up with us to design legislation,” he said.

“We lifted [the opportunity] up the federal government, a liberal government, and they’ve partnered with us.

“They have partnered Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, First Nations People, to design legislative reform that protects cultural heritage.”

By Rachael Knowles

National Indigenous Times