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What could a reformed Aboriginal Heritage Act look like?

Traditional owners and knowledge holders could have a greater role in decision-making for heritage places to which they have a connection, with proposed changes to the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act released by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt last week.

New definitions for heritage and a clearer framework for land use proposals are just some of the changes discussed in the paper, which would likely see the 47-year-old Act repealed and replaced with a new approach to protecting and preserving heritage. It is a move that has been widely supported within Aboriginal communities.

The role of traditional owners would increase through the establishment of local Aboriginal heritage services and an Aboriginal Heritage Council.

The discussion paper reflects what Aboriginal people and other stakeholders voiced in the first round of consultations for the State Government’s review of the Act, which has remained largely unchanged since 1972.

Minister Wyatt believes the new approach would better define Aboriginal heritage and provide a transparent process for assessment and decision making on proposals where the potential impacts to heritage could be significant. For other proposals, where the impacts are likely to be minimal, a more streamlined process would apply.

“Caring for Country and passing on cultural knowledge to protect sacred and important places for future generations is central to the wellbeing of Aboriginal communities,” the Minister said.

Among the recommendations are changes to how heritage would be defined, with the aim to reflect a living culture that is connected to country, sacred sites and access.

The new approach seeks to create a modern system that is culturally appropriate, transparent, and reflective of developments in heritage management practice that can be understood clearly by all types of land users.  Swifter penalties for breaches of the Act have also been recommended.

Information sessions and community meetings for Aboriginal people will be held across the State to seek feedback on the proposed new Act. Feedback will be used to prepare a Green Bill that will be released for public comment.

The discussion paper and opportunity for feedback can be found HERE.

A sociologist and our Senior Consultant in Corporate Affairs, Jordin Payne specialises in strategic communications and relationships with the community. She is a proud Nimanburr woman and traditional owner from Broome Western Australia with ancestral ties to Yarwuru, Djugan, Nyul Nyul and Bardi groups on the Mid Dampier Peninsula. You can contact Jordin directly at  jpayne@canningspurple.com.au.

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Main photo by Philippe Wuyts on Unsplash.com.