The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 is the key piece of Commonwealth legislation relating to cultural heritage protections. The purpose of the ATSIHIP Act is to preserve and protect places, areas and objects of a particular significance to First Nations people and for related purposes. It enables the Minister to make short term and long-term declarations to protect areas, and objects with significance.

The ATSIHP Act is legislation of last resort, available where State or Territory laws have failed to provide protections. It is also only activated when an application is made, placing the onus on First Nations people to take action against a known threat, rather than creating protection from the outset and without application. There are opportunities to modernise the legislative approach to provide the avenue for seeking protection of First Nations cultural heritage prior to a threat being imminent.

The ATSIHP Act was designed as interim legislation with a proposed life of two years with the view that it would be replaced by more comprehensive legislation dealing with Aboriginal land rights, native title and cultural heritage.

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