The First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance (The Alliance) welcomes Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek’s announcement that delivers Australia’s most comprehensive reform of environmental law since the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) was first introduced.

The Australian Government’s response builds on Professor Graeme Samuel AC’s recommendations in the Nature Positive Plan: better for the environment, better for business, as well as new information and opportunities, including the findings of the 2021 State of Environment report, outlining fundamental reforms to national environment law.

Centre to the reform for the Alliance is the Government’s commitment to strengthening the EPBC, which operates to protect select Indigenous Cultural Heritage (ICH) through National and World Heritage listing process and introducing an enforceable First Nations Engagement Standard for proponents under EPBC.

The Alliance Co-Chair Kado Muir says, “We applaud Minister Plibersek’s direction to overhaul the country’s broken environment laws, by introducing national environmental standards and an Environmental Protection Agency with enforcement powers, inclusive of engagement and participation in decision making with First Nations peoples

There is a real and urgent need for national environmental standards and an Environmental Protection Agency with enforcement powers.” Mr Muir continues, “It is particularly heartening to see the Minister is backing Professor Samuel’s recommendation that a First Nations Engagement Standard is one of these national environmental standards.

We are incredibly pleased the Minister is once again leading the way for inclusive engagement and participation in decision making with First Nations peoples.

The standards for First Nations engagement making will ensure that First Nations interests and cultural heritage are identified early and can be protected for all time.”

In 2022, the Minister for the Environment and Water extended and expanded our Partnership Agreement with the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance, to work in a genuine co-design partnership with the Alliance and communities to reform our cultural heritage laws.

“To First Nations Peoples the distinction between culture and heritage and the distinction between the environment and culture is non-existent,” says Mr Muir “To us our environment is our culture, and our culture is our heritage.

For this reason, the recommendations in the 2020 Samuel Report were crucial. While the report drew a distinction between cultural heritage and the environment, it also recognised the importance and centrality of both to First Nations peoples”

The Alliance understands the Government has a proposed legislative timeframe seeking to have the EPBC reform legislation introduced in late 2023.

“The commitment to take swift action to resolve this long-standing problem with outdated Commonwealth environment laws is to be commended. We look forward to an equally swift approach from all parties to fixing this country’s equally broken First Nations Cultural Heritage laws,” states Mr Muir.