MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia will strengthen laws to better protect Aboriginal cultural heritage following an enquiry into Rio Tinto’s destruction of historically and culturally significant rock shelters at Juukan Gorge.
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek published a government response to the 16-month enquiry on Thursday.
* Australia is developing a new legal framework in partnership with Aboriginal group the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance that will include the right of Indigenous people to be top decision makers on developments that could impact their heritage.
* The new laws will set out minimum standards for state and territory heritage protections consistent with the relevant international law, such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.
* The response promises to make financing available for Aboriginal groups to negotiate agreements with developers and miners on their lands. It will consider how miners and developers can provide contributions to these groups.
* The Australian government will review the Native Title Act as part of the reforms.
* The federal government will retain the power to override decisions made under inadequate state or territory protections that would harm sites contrary to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ consent.
* It also vows greater protection for intangible cultural heritage such as stories and songs.
* The government did not provide a time frame for when it expects the legal reform to be completed.
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Tom Hogue)
Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.