EPBC Review highlights the need for stronger First Nations heritage protection

Published on Mon 20 July 2020 8:43am

It is imperative that all governments to do more to ensure that the cultural heritage of First Nations Australians is respected and protected, through processes that ensure full and proper First Nations participation and self-determination.

Labor notes the interim findings of the independent review into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) in relation to the critical need to improve national protections for First Nations culture and heritage. The findings reinforce the value of Labor’s recent decision to extend the hand of bipartisanship to the Morrison Government in establishing a joint parliamentary inquiry into the awful and unacceptable destruction of the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara back in May.
 
The review has found the current protections within the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island Heritage Act 1984 are unsatisfactory and do not operate effectively with the EPBC Act. The report written by Dr Graeme Samuel AC has not minced words in concluding that “the EPBC Act is not fulfilling its objectives as they relate to the role of Indigenous Australians in protecting and conserving biodiversity, working in partnership with and promoting the respectful use of their knowledge.”
 
The findings announced today are not surprising. A succession of reviews has highlighted the need to improve the quality and consistency of First Nations heritage protections across state and territory jurisdictions, and at the national level. For example, the Coalition committed to a review of the ATSIHP Act by the end of 2017, which never occurred.
 
While we welcome the decision by Ministers Ley and Wyatt to begin consultation with states and territories on a path forward, it is disappointing that in so many areas this Government needs to be dragged reluctantly and belatedly to take action. Labor will consider all and any reasonable changes to legislation that will deliver proper protection of First Nations heritage, stronger consultation with First Nations people, and greater clarity for all stakeholders.
 
As part of this process both Ministers must be clear about the proposed plan and timetable for reform so that today’s finding does not wind up in yet another cul de sac of inaction.
 
It is imperative that all governments to do more to ensure that the cultural heritage of First Nations Australians is respected and protected, through processes that ensure full and proper First Nations participation and self-determination. 

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