This report summarises the comments, suggestions and ideas outlined in the public submissions received in response to the Discussion Paper: Statutory Review of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1975. Some of the suggestions and responses contained in this Report were made and/or supported by multiple submissions, others were made in a single submission. Where similarly themed comments are reiterated in multiple areas within a single submission, or are common to a number of submissions, the comments are summarised and presented in this Paper within the Topic area deemed most relevant for the reader. This Report does not seek to support any particular idea or proposal, nor does it aim to show any preference for specific ideas.
- The Act needs to contain clear statements of its objective and purpose, and needs to be brought up to a contemporary standard, consistent with modern Aboriginal heritage legislation and legislative processes in other Australian jurisdictions.
- Submissions noted that in its current form, the Act does not contain any specific information or overarching principles to clarify its purpose and objectives. This is in contrast to Aboriginal heritage legislation in most other Australian jurisdictions. Respondents noted that objectives are a common feature of most modern legislation enacted by parliaments around Australia and are an important tool to help interpret the provisions of the Act. Feedback suggested that the absence of such provisions has contributed to ambiguity and uncertainty on what the Act is seeking to achieve.
- Respondents indicated that the Act’s focus on the definition and terminology of a ‘relic’ does not adequately reflect the full extent of matters that should be protected by the Act. Respondents also indicated general support for expanding and improving the definition of Aboriginal heritage to include elements that are of physical, cultural, spiritual, aesthetic and historical significance to Aboriginal people. Many submissions questioned the appropriateness of the current definition of a relic, which confines the definition of Aboriginal heritage to being made by, or bearing signs of, the activity of Aboriginal people. Some respondents also suggested including broader cultural landscapes and ‘Aboriginal places’ in the definition of Aboriginal heritage. These views were unanimous among Aboriginal respondents.
- A number of submissions asserted that the notion of ownership is a European construct and there should be no owners of Aboriginal heritage. These respondents suggested that the Act should reflect a contemporary understanding of Aboriginal people’s view of themselves as custodians of Aboriginal heritage and cultural landscapes. Approaches to recognising and defining ‘ownership’, ‘custodianship’ and ‘possession’ in other jurisdictions, such as in Queensland, were cited by some respondents as representing a desirable approach. The Victorian approach, which establishes ‘principles of ownership’ where ownership clearly rests with the local Aboriginal people with traditional or familial links to the cultural heritage, was also highlighted.
- The majority of Aboriginal respondents suggested the current decision-making provisions in the Act are unsuitable. In general, submissions suggested the current provisions are not consistent with contemporary national and international principles for managing Indigenous heritage, which generally empowers traditional owners/custodians to be the decision makers through management plans or land management agreement models. There was broad support for improvements in the role of Aboriginal people in the decision-making processes by nonAboriginal respondents.
Feedback received through the first stage of consultation will be used to inform the second stage of the review where further, more targeted, consultation will be undertaken to explore views on specific issues in more detail, and to identify potential pathways to resolve specific concerns and suggestions. The second stage will commence in early 2020. Following the second stage of consultation, a Review Report will be prepared presenting the findings of the Review and recommendations relating to options for change. The Review Report is expected to be tabled in each House of the Tasmanian Parliament before the end of the Parliamentary year in 2020.