The purpose of the guidelines is to provide guidance to proponents proposing to undertake activities in Australian waters which may affect underwater cultural heritage (UCH). The draft guidelines reflect the legal framework created by the Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018 (Cth) (UCH Act) and advise proponents on their obligations created under that Act.

The UCH Act has a relatively narrow objective to protect post-colonial history, whereas the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (UNESCO 2001 Convention), which the government has committed to through its UCH Intergovernmental Agreement, has a wider scope for the protection of First Nations UCH. EDO sees the need for wholesale reform of how First Nations UCH is identified, defined, and protected, in line with best practice and Australia’s international obligations.

However, where First Nations UCH may be identified under the UCH Act scheme, it is critical that the guidelines provide clear and culturally appropriate advice to proponents undertaking activities which may affect First Nations UCH. The draft guidelines are clearly insufficient, and further consultation should be undertaken with First Nations groups and affected communities before they are adopted.

However, this submission makes 8 recommendations to improve on the draft guidelines in relation to several matters which need to be addressed in further consultation.