Page 712 - Week 03 - Tuesday, 5 April 2022

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Elder and Heritage Council member Caroline Hughes. This is such important work and, while we have a long way to go, and further to go, I am committed to walking this journey in recognising, celebrating and protecting our First Nations heritage.

As we engage with First Nations heritage, we must confront the reality that colonisation has triggered a process of dispossession, of destruction of cultural connection and of systemic discrimination that continues to this day. We must ensure that our engagement with heritage does not continue the process of denial of the experience of our First Nations people but works to contribute to the healing process, rather than reinforce intergenerational trauma.

This means working with groups such as the Dhawura Ngunnawal Caring for Country Committee to ensure our heritage laws and approach appropriately recognise the role of traditional custodians and ensure that understanding and responding to First Nations cultural heritage are front and centre in our approach. It means working with traditional owners to ensure that our cultural heritage protections reflect contemporary understanding and are a positive contribution to our reconciliation journey.

While this journey is long, we have knowledge and progress that we can share. As one example, I was proud to see that the draft planning bill in the ACT substantively elevates the traditional owners of this country we meet on, the Ngunnawal people.

We are not alone; change is happening across the country. Last week I participated in a national ministerial roundtable on improving protections for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage, which was co-chaired by the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance. Initiated by the tragedy which occurred nearly two years ago—the destruction by Rio Tinto of Juukan Gorge, a vital piece of living heritage of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people and 46,000-year-old evidence of the link between all Australians and this land—this meeting brought together people from across the country to progress discussions to modernise and strengthen First Nations cultural heritage protections. It was heartening to see the unified commitment to this work from all ministers and jurisdictions across Australia, and the ACT will continue to engage in this important work.

Going back to the Heritage Festival, another thing that gets me excited is its potential to leverage significant tourism and economic benefits. Events such as this help visitors and locals to understand and appreciate others’ cultural heritage. I recently learned that research conducted by Tourism Australia found that “rich history and heritage” was the fourth most important factor for the domestic market when choosing a holiday destination, and the sixth most important for international markets.

The festival provides a platform for small businesses—for example, Endangered Heritage, Localjinni and other tour operators—and community groups to prosper. Awareness of services and products as well as gaining new members to community groups are positive legacies.

Last year the ACT government brought on the heritage-listed Mercure hotel, established in 1927, as a partner. As the accommodation sector continues to recover,

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