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(NEW SOUTH WALES) NAIDOC REPORT: As the week celebrations continue with the theme “Heal Country”, the government is being urged to improve laws that protect Aboriginal sacred sites and cultural heritage #AceNewsDesk report

#AceNewsReport – July.17: The NAIDOC Committee selected the Heal Country theme as a call to the nation to continue to seek greater protections for lands, waters, sacred sites and cultural heritage from exploitation, desecration, and destruction.

#AceDailyNews reports that NSW to pay more than lip service to NAIDOC’s ‘Heal Country’ theme, says Aboriginal Land Council according to chairwoman Anne Dennis said the theme gives the community a focus to re-examine the current laws

Saturday 10 Jul 2021 at 3:58am

“It’s not only a place in time for Aboriginal people but it is a political point in time as well,” she said.

“Heal Country is so important to everyone. There is no time like now that we actually reflect on it.

“Really, the planning laws at the moment protect development and destruction of Aboriginal sites and country and really don’t allow Aboriginal people to have decision-making rights.”

Under the existing regime, the government allows proponents of significant infrastructure, like mines or major housing developments, to set aside heritage protection laws.

Inside a sandstone cave, the roof held up with timber posts and, the back of the cave has recently fallen, a lot of cracking.
There are concerns for rock art in “Whale Cave” in the Illawarra escarpment, where mining subsidence is causing damage.(ABC Illawarra: Tim Fernandez)

In a submission to the federal government’s Juukan Gorge inquiry, the Land Council provided evidence of the “outdated” and “inadequate” laws governing cultural protection in NSW while they are contained within the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

It found:

  • Despite the hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal sites across NSW, only about 100 are formally protected under the current National Parks and Wildlife Act. 
  • Approaches under the Act prioritise physical evidence of previous occupation and do not view country holistically, recognising cultural values.
  • For the first half of 2020, about four Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permits (AHIPs) to destroy Indigenous heritage were issued every week by the state government.

Ms Dennis said the government had to introduce standalone legislation to protect heritage.

“The new laws must be based on self-determination and free, prior and informed consent,” she said.

“We’ve been working with the NSW government around standalone legislation for over three decades now and that hasn’t come.

“And us as Aboriginal people having that voice to say, ‘No’, or, ‘How can we do it better?’, that would be a better way to protect what little we have left.

“The cries of Aboriginal people go unheard.

“The amount of development and applications that are granted are quite constant.

“There can be thousands of applications. A lot of the sites are not recorded or identified because of destruction.”

Reform stalled

There has been bipartisan commitment to reform since 2010, but it has not delivered.

The NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Don Harwin is working on standalone legislation expected to be introduced to Parliament by the end of the year.

But he’s under intense pressure from industry and his party’s Right not to unwind privileges provided by State Significant Infrastructure.

The Minister was contacted for comment but did not provide a response.

A spokesperson for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs said the government was committed to improving the process of Aboriginal cultural heritage management.
“The NSW Government has committed to removing Aboriginal cultural heritage regulation from the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and is undertaking a co-design process as part of the Aboriginal cultural heritage reform,” the spokesperson said.

“As part of this process, the NSW Government is working with peak Aboriginal stakeholders, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, NTSCORP, and the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee to progress legislative reform.”

Delays cause daily destruction

Shadow minister for Aboriginal Affairs, David Harris, said every day the government delayed a new law, sites were being destroyed.

“It’s quite tragic,” he said.

“Under the current process the Aboriginal community is pretty much left out of the process.

“They are not properly consulted, but even more than that we have to get past consulting Aboriginal people and we have to have them involved in the decision making.”

#AceNewsDesk report ……Published: July.17: 2021:

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