Ministerial Indigenous Heritage Roundtable

Communique—21 September 2020

Modernisation of Indigenous Heritage Protection Regimes

Meeting today by videoconference, Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers with responsibility for Heritage and Indigenous Affairs, affirmed the fundamental importance of Indigenous heritage to the Australian nation.

The Roundtable was jointly chaired by the Hon Sussan Ley MP, Commonwealth Minister for the Environment, and the Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP, the Commonwealth Minister for Indigenous Australians.

Ministers expressed deep sorrow at the destruction of the nationally significant Indigenous heritage sites at Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara Region of Western Australia and resolved that this incident must be the launching pad for the modernisation of Indigenous heritage protection laws in Australia.

Ministers agreed that the work of lifting the standard of Indigenous heritage protection must be done in partnership with Indigenous Australians.

Over the past 12 months the Chairs of Australia’s national, state and territory Indigenous heritage bodies, with support from peak organisations representing every major land council and native title representative bodies, have developed Dhawura Ngilan: A Vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage in Australia and Best Practice Standards for Indigenous Cultural Heritage Management and Legislation.

The Chair of the Australian Heritage Council, the Hon Dr David Kemp AC, and Ms Rachel Perkins, an Indigenous heritage expert member of the Council, presented the Vision and Best Practice Standards to Ministers on behalf of the Indigenous Chairs.

They conveyed the significance of the Vision and Best Practice Standards as a unifying expression of the expectations of Australia’s Indigenous peoples for the protection of their heritage, their custodianship of it, and their desire for it to be recognised and celebrated as deeply important to Australia’s heritage and identity as a nation.

Ministers noted the following as recommended by the Heritage Chairs and Officials of Australia and New Zealand:

  • the Vision and the Standards are important documents produced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage leaders that recommend a roadmap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage in Australia;
  • the practicality of the recommendations for how this Vision can be realised;
  • the wide support for the Vision and the Standards from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community and the Cultural Heritage sector, including support from the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance and the National Native Title Council.

Ministers noted the Vision and Best Practice Standards as being valuable to the process of modernising Indigenous heritage protection laws and committed to take them back to each of their governments for active consideration and response (noting that the Victorian Government endorsed the Vision and Best Practice Standards prior to the meeting).

Ministers also recognised that climate change is a growing threat to Indigenous heritage.

Professor Graeme Samuel AC briefed Ministers on the interim report of the Independent Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and its key findings, including that a review of national Indigenous heritage protection laws was needed to provide best-practice protection and ensure they work in concert with protections afforded under state and territory laws.

Ministers noted the Commonwealth’s intention to address Indigenous heritage protection reform opportunities as part of its response to the final report of Professor Samuel’s EPBC Act Review and welcomed the Commonwealth’s intention to engage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in a national reform process. Ministers noted the Commonwealth’s commitment to develop a national standard on best practice Indigenous engagement.

The Ministers of each jurisdiction shared information about their Indigenous heritage protection regimes, current review and reform processes and their aspirations for Indigenous heritage.

Ministers agreed to reconvene at a later date to review progress towards the modernisation of Indigenous heritage protection laws and indicated that Indigenous representatives would be invited to join them at the table.