Page 1492 - Week 05 - Thursday, 7 May 2015

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of legislation. It is not a practice that is common here in the ACT. It tends to be more common in other jurisdictions. I think there is value in committees looking at pieces of legislation and providing further oversight in cases where members believe that is warranted. If the committee is able to do that in a timely manner, that will be a positive addition to this process. So I will be supporting this in principle today and watching with great interest the deliberations of the committee.

DR BOURKE (Ginninderra) (11.45): The government has proposed a number of reforms to the Human Rights Act 2004, including amendments to include recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural rights. These amendments, as we have heard, acknowledge the unique and distinct culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The wider Canberra area was part of the range of the Ngunnawal people and was also visited by adjacent peoples, including the Gundungurra, Wiradjuri, Wolgalu and Ngarigo. The extensive Aboriginal occupation of the area is reflected in the more than 3,500 known Aboriginal heritage sites across the ACT. The diversity and number of Aboriginal heritage places and objects attest to that relationship between Ngunnawal people and the land of the ACT.

Traditional owners and the ACT Heritage unit mark the importance of lowland hills such as Black Mountain as well as the mountain ranges surrounding the ACT, including Tidbinbilla and Gibraltar ranges for lore, initiation and ceremony. The Birrigai rock shelter in the Tidbinbilla nature reserve has strong evidence, both cultural and scientific, of continuous occupation of the southern tablelands by people for almost 20,000 years.

The Territory and Municipal Services Directorate’s Guide to Aboriginal Cultural Heritage of the ACT shows these Aboriginal links to the ACT region, cultural artefacts of locations and self-guided walks to explore sites of Aboriginal heritage and is a practical example of how this cultural heritage and the relationships of Aboriginal people can be recognised and valued by public authorities. The amendments in this bill are about recognising and valuing Indigenous cultural heritage. They are special measures that formally recognise the real significance of human rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples, the first owners of this continent, members of its most enduring cultures and individuals for whom the issue of rights protection has continuing and great importance.

This significance is already acknowledged in the preamble to the Human Rights Act. Whist it is common knowledge that relationships with land and waters are central to the notion of culture for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the Human Rights Act does not formally acknowledge this important dimension of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. However, international law recognises the spiritual, economic and material aspects of existing rights in their application to indigenous peoples around the world.

This amendment does not provide the right to own land, nor does it aim to create or confer new property rights or impact existing property rights; it simply formalises and clearly acknowledges those relationships making up the great cultural heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people. In practice, the amendments will require consultation with and collaboration between public authorities and Aboriginal peoples

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