First nations justice must be central to reform of Queensland’s Cultural Heritage Acts

EDO, in consultation with our First Nations clients and other First Nations peoples, has provided a submission on the last stage of the Queensland Governments’ review of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003 (Qld) and the Torres Strait Islander Cultural Heritage Act 2003 (Qld) (Cultural Heritage Acts).

View more on this review process of Queensland’s Cultural Heritage Acts on the Queensland Government’s website here. This review commenced in 2019, however progress has been delayed until now.  EDO’s submission to the 2019 consultation process can be accessed here.

It is clear from the experiences of EDO’s First Nations clients, described throughout case studies in EDO’s submission, that the Cultural Heritage Acts are not achieving their purpose of providing effective recognition, protection and conservation of cultural heritage. Meaningful reform of the Cultural Heritage Acts and a full-scale review of the relevant Department’s administration is necessary to ensure that the Acts meet their purpose and provide for First Nations justice.

If the Queensland Government is serious about providing First Nations justice and meeting its Statement of commitment to reframe the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the Queensland Government, the Cultural Heritage Acts must provide for decisions and processes that empower First Nations to protect their cultural heritage and which uphold the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, especially the rights of free, prior and informed consent and self-determination.

EDO’s key recommendations include that:

  • The definition of Aboriginal Party should be amended so that all First Nations with cultural knowledge of and connection to an area are always involved in consultation and negotiation processes, regardless of their status as a native title party.
  • Provide more accessible enforcement powers for First Nations, so that First Nations are not reliant on the State to protect their cultural heritage if it is in imminent danger of harm or destruction.
  • Replace the Duty of Care Guidelines with a new framework, developed in direct consultation with First Nations, which is underpinned meaningfully by principles of free, prior and informed consent and self-determination, which provide for:
    • culturally appropriate time periods for negotiations;
    • resourcing for First Nations to map their heritage in culturally appropriate ways; and
    • a requirement for check ins and triggers for renegotiations of plans and agreements as projects move across landscapes, particularly if new cultural heritage is uncovered, to avoid scenarios like Juukan Gorge from re-occurring.  
  • Full scale review of the Department of Seniors, Disability Services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, to ensure that the Department is administering the Acts in a way that is culturally appropriate and provides for First Nations justice, with public reporting and auditing requirements to ensure it is achieving protection of cultural heritage.

You can view EDO’s submission below.