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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2015 Week 05 Hansard (Thursday, 7 May 2015) . . Page.. 1493 ..

about matters to do with the management and custodianship of cultural artefacts, heritage sites, areas of land and water holding traditional or enduring importance to the Aboriginal community of the ACT.

These amendments formalise mechanisms by which the government already consults and respects the Aboriginal community, and in doing so recognise and value the relationships that they have with the land, water and resources to which they have a traditional connection. Currently, the Heritage Act 2004 makes provision for the cultural significance of land of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and consultation with their community representatives. Under the Heritage Act all Aboriginal places and objects in the ACT are protected and are recorded in a centralised database maintained by the ACT Heritage unit. ACT Heritage makes provision for the declaration of representative Aboriginal organisations after consulting with Aboriginal peoples with traditional affiliation with land.

The amendments, such as the provisions for consultation with representative Aboriginal organisations about heritage matters and structures such as the elected body or the Galambany Circle Sentencing Court, provide a strong foundation for continuing promotion of the cultural rights of Aboriginal peoples in the ACT. The policy development, scrutiny of bills and interpretation of laws will all be undertaken with reference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights, which will increase awareness of policy issues that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

As with all rights in the Human Rights Act, the cultural rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are not absolute and can be subject to reasonable limitations set by laws that can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. The government would have to justify any limitations according to the criteria in section 28. The limitations process allows for the balancing of individual and community interests and for proper debate and dialogue about the extent and application of rights, including cultural rights.

Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ right to express their identity and culture, maintain kinship ties and maintain a material and economic relationship with the land and waters is a part of moving forward towards national reconciliation. Making this amendment to the Human Rights Act is one of the foundations underpinning the ACT legal and justice system that will recognise the special relationship of traditional owners to this land, and it will reflect the spirit of the ACT government’s reconciliation action plans, the whole-of-government agreement and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice partnership.

MR CORBELL (Molonglo—Deputy Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Health, Minister for the Environment and Minister for Capital Metro) (11.51), in reply: I thank members for their contribution to the debate today on the Human Rights Amendment Bill 2015. Although the changes in this bill are small in number, their beneficial impact is significant. As members have outlined in their comments, there are changes to the obligations of public authorities in relation to the right to education, the inclusion of a note to clarify the rights of children, and the recognition of the cultural rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this bill.

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