Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 Ineffective and Out of Date


Thu, 27/02/2014

Serious concerns have been raised by a recent intern report about “The Effectiveness of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972”.

“Motivated by anecdotal evidence about issues with the functioning of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 I submitted this theme for detailed research in the annual parliamentary Intern program”.

Ms Madisson Barnsby recently completed her report under supervision from Murdoch University. It made the following findings:

  • The responsible authorities do not seem to be consulting with the relevant people in order to provide Aboriginal sites with the appropriate protection.
  • The appeals process involved is not effective enough in order to maintain an efficient system within the Department.
  • Section 18 is the most contentious part of the Act, and the Department has time and again approved the majority of Section 18 applications that are sent to them, regardless of the recommendations made by the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee (ACMC).
  • The ACMC has a complicated job, which is complicated further by its lack of membership.
  • The Site Recording Forms used by the ACMC are no longer effective, as they can actually inhibit the registration of Aboriginal sites.
  • Problems within the Department have been shown to come down to Ministerial discretion, as well as the staff and their possible lack of relevant qualifications.
  • The DAA does not effectively monitor or enforce the Act, and
  • The use of the ‘Special Defence of Lack of Knowledge’ can be reduced with increased accessibility to the Act’s Due Diligence Guidelines.

To remedy the lack of process the report also suggests six recommendations:

1.    More resources need to be put into the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in order for it to improve its appeals, monitoring and enforcement processes.

2.    The Site Recording Forms need to again be amended so that they are simpler to use, and no longer inhibit the registering of Aboriginal sites.

3.    Decisions regarding Section 18 applications need to involve the Department, and not just the Minister. These decisions should also be made after detailed consultations with the relevant groups of people have been sought and carried out.

4.    The Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee needs to increase its membership as recommended by Dawn Casey, especially to statutorily include at least one specialist anthropologist, as the Aboriginal Heritage Act dictates.

5.    Senior positions within the Department that deal with Aboriginal sites and their assessments should have the relevant qualifications in the fields of Archaeology and Anthropology.

6.    The Aboriginal Heritage Act’s ‘Due Diligence Guidelines[1]’ should be more widely distributed and promoted.

“The findings of this report match the anecdotal evidence I and others have received in the past years. Aboriginal heritage is precious and needs to be better protected. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs must become more effective at monitoring, protecting and implementing the Act.”

The report was tabled in Parliament yesterday, access it here: http://www.robinchapple.com/effectiveness-aboriginal-heritage-act-1972-maddison-barsnsby

[1]Aboriginal Heritage Due Diligence Guidelines, 30 April 2013, Version 3.0 http://www.daa.wa.gov.au/Documents/HeritageCulture/Heritage%20management...

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