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Legislative Assembly
Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Bill 2015

09 February 2016
Second reading


Mr T. BULL (Gippsland East) — It is a pleasure to rise to make a contribution on the Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Bill 2015. I would certainly like to commence my contribution by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which the Parliament sits, the Wurundjeri and Bunurong people of the Kulin nation. I pay my respects to elders past, present and also future.

The preservation of our Aboriginal cultural heritage, not only in this state but right across our country, is very important. It was a pleasure in my relatively short time as the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to release an exposure draft in relation to a bill seeking comment from a lot of agencies and stakeholders within the Aboriginal community.

The very basis of this bill is making sure we not only preserve our Aboriginal cultural heritage in this state and pay it the respect it deserves but also deal appropriately with those people who do not observe that and make sure that they are educated at the same time as being held responsible for their actions. This bill will improve the reporting requirements in relation to Aboriginal cultural heritage. It includes provisions regarding Aboriginal intangible heritage, which I will talk a little bit about later, it establishes an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Fund and, as I said, it generally improves the preservation of our cultural history.

This bill is essentially a revised version of the exposure draft that was released in 2014. There are some changes, and I know the previous speaker from this side gave credit and thanks to Angela Singh; I certainly endorse those comments. Credit also goes to all the other members of the departments, some of whom are in the gallery, who did an extraordinary amount of work in what is a very, very sensitive area. I think that what we have before us today, as the member for Yan Yean spoke about, is certainly a step in the right direction, but there is also a lot of educating to be done within our community groups and a lot more to be done to make sure that our Aboriginal cultural heritage receives the respect and recognition it deserves across all elements of the community.

Having said that, there are a couple of elements of the bill that I think require further explanation from the minister in time. Perhaps one that leaps off the page from my perspective is that the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council (VAHC) needs adequate resourcing and funding now that additional powers and functions have been placed upon it as part of the bill. I have met with VAHC members on a number of occasions, and I am sure a discussion will take place around the additional resourcing and support they will need to undertake these duties. If that has not already happened, I would certainly like to think it will happen very soon. The minister spoke of these increased duties in her second-reading speech, and I certainly hope that backup resourcing has been a strong consideration.

There also needs to be some clarity around how the proposed Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Fund will be distributed, and I know there was some brief explanation given about that in the second-reading speech. We were advised that this fund will work similarly to the Victorian Heritage Fund, established under the Heritage Act 1995, and that the fees and charges collected under the bill will be deposited into this fund for use by the department in consultation with the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council, but I think we need some more detail around that in relation to the types of projects that will be supported and how the fund will be distributed evenly across the length and breadth of the state, particularly in areas where we do not have registered Aboriginal parties (RAPs) or perhaps a united voice in relation to some aspects of cultural heritage.

Some of the changes proposed in this amendment bill were the work of the previous government, and I would like to recap a couple of those. I take on board what the member for Yan Yean said — that this is a bipartisan contribution — but there was a lot of work done by the previous government that needs to be recognised. Included in that are a number of new offences that are being created by the bill to allow greater enforcement in relation to those who do not respect Aboriginal heritage and those who do not comply with the cultural heritage management plans.

There is a new preliminary Aboriginal heritage test that will be available to allow industry to have greater certainty about when a cultural heritage management plan is required. I think this step will be of great assistance to all parties. It will allow them to sit down and determine more quickly and more readily whether that next step in the process has to be taken. Public landowners will now be able to enter into land agreements with registered Aboriginal parties rather than having to apply for a permit for what might be deemed to be low or medium-impact land management activities. This will achieve, hopefully, some good outcomes where all parties are in agreeance without having to go through this additional step of red tape that has been frustrating for many. The bill also allows for cultural heritage management plans to be amended rather than whenever there is recognition that change needs to be made having to scrap all the work that has been done and go back to square one. To allow these plans to be amended with the agreement of all parties working towards an appropriate resolution and allow the process to continue I think is something that will be welcomed by all parties.

Another aspect is that the secretary will be provided with the opportunity to establish an activity advisory group in areas where registered Aboriginal parties currently do not exist. This will enable sponsors to meet with the various stakeholder groups and work out the appropriate outcomes. It is a point that I very strongly support. Where there is no RAP in place — and that is still the case in a large percentage of our great state of Victoria for various reasons — this process allows stakeholders to come to the table to discuss their Aboriginal cultural heritage but it also gives the sponsors or developers or whatever you want to call them the opportunity to sit down with that one group and sort through any issues. The bill provides a lot more clarity by both sides being able to come together and find a way forward.

Aboriginal people have lived in Victoria, as previous speakers have recognised, for 50 000 years. It is a very, very proud history that needs appropriate recognition. My electorate of Gippsland East, down the pointy end of the state, is Gunaikurnai country, and it is one such area of our state that is extremely rich in Aboriginal history. To correct one small point the previous speaker made in relation to the governance of Lake Tyers, that has been progressed and the governance of Lake Tyers is now back in the hands of the local shareholders and the residents of Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust. It is something that has been welcomed by that community.

Over the years the fact is that we still hear stories about the mistreatment of Aboriginal cultural heritage where the right thing has not been done. This bill takes a very important step to not only contribute to the increasing recognition that is already there but also open the door for a better level of consultation between parties. It also takes a step towards making those who do not do the right thing, who do not abide by the rules, who do not show appropriate respect, accountable for their actions. For that reason this bill takes another step in the right direction.

As I said, the exposure draft was released by the previous government. There have been some changes made. It came about largely as a result of an inquiry into the establishment and effectiveness of registered Aboriginal parties of which I was a part. A whole range of submissions were received, and the exposure draft was largely born out of a lot of those recommendations. There have been some changes made — some very slight changes — and I would like to see some clarity from the current minister around those so that everybody and all involved have a clearer understanding.