Western Australian Aboriginal Affairs Minister and Treasurer, Ben Wyatt, recently released a consultation paper on significant amendments to WA's Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972. The consultation paper is the initial opportunity to contribute to the review of the Act.

In releasing the consultation paper, Mr Wyatt described the Act as being " out-of-date, inefficient and ineffective" and noted that "Aboriginal people, local government and industry have all advocated for change in recent years".

The consultation paper, which was released on 9 March 2018, is the first stage of a three-phase public consultation process. Mr Wyatt plans for the resulting amendments to be introduced into, and passed by, Parliament in this term of Government.

The consultation paper examines every aspect of the legislation. Topics canvassed include:

  • the purpose of the Act;
  • the roles played by the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee, the Registrar of Aboriginal Sites and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs ‒ and, indeed, by Aboriginal people generally ‒ in identifying and protecting Aboriginal heritage places and objects;
  • the definition of Aboriginal heritage sites and objects;
  • the proper acknowledgement and care of Aboriginal Ancestral (Skeletal) Remains; and
  • enforcement and penalties.

As the Minister makes clear, it’s intended to be a wholesale review.

The consultation paper sets out 21 questions to provide a framework for submissions. The Minister is strongly encouraging everybody with an interest in Aboriginal heritage to participate in the review by providing feedback throughout the consultation process.

Submissions on the consultation paper, which will be made publicly available, are due by 1 June 2018.

As part of phase one of the public consultation process, the Government is also organizing a series of community meetings and stakeholder workshops to be held in Perth and across regional WA. Plans include 30 culturally appropriate workshops designed to enable Aboriginal people to have their say in the review (called "My Heritage, My Voice"), and a series of separate workshops for all other stakeholders (called "Working with our Aboriginal Heritage").

Expressions of interest in attending a workshop should be emailed to AHAreview@dplh.wa.gov.au by 4 April 2018.

Following phase one, a discussion paper will be issued setting out proposals on potential amendments to the Act. After this second round of public consultation, phase three will involve releasing for public comment an Exposure Draft Bill (Green Bill) setting out the actual amendments.

Judging from the consultation paper, this will be a major overhaul of WA's Aboriginal heritage legislative framework, which has been in place for over 45 years. As Aboriginal heritage affects everyone who deals with land in Western Australia, this exercise has wide implications.

If you wish to make a submission, or simply want to better understand the Act and the proposed changes, please contact us.