Rights afforded to traditional owners and custodians are not being upheld due to deficiencies in the legislation, an inquiry has heard.
Consultancy group Australian Heritage Specialists (AHS) provided submissions to a parliamentary inquiry into the destruction of Indigenous heritage sites at WA’s Juukan Gorge sitting in Queensland on Tuesday.
In Queensland, the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act recognises that groups who have been shown by the Native Title process to have no traditional connection still have standing to give advice on traditional knowledge.
The AHS believes the Act contains gaps in basic rights and equality and has identified where it says certain upgrades are necessary.
AHS managing director Benjamin Gall says traditional custodians are resource-depleted when facing large companies who use the Act’s guidelines as “weapons against Aboriginal people” on Native Title sites.
“The conduct by a very small number of players in our profession who are experts at using the deficiencies in the Act and the guidelines, and the connection through the federal acts such as the native title, that are expert at using this as a loaded weapon against Aboriginal people,” he said.
Ann Wallin, cultural heritage advisor to AHS, says native sites are vulnerable until Aboriginal people are consulted properly under stricter guidelines .
“We’ve seen very significant places that have been destroyed, because the duty of care guidelines were inappropriately applied,” she said.
Under the Act, Aboriginal cultural heritage is considered anything in Queensland that is a significant Aboriginal area, or object, or where there is evidence of archaeological or historical significance of Aboriginal occupation.
Those definitions take into account tangible and intangible traditional heritage, but the AHS wants the guidelines to express an equal emphasis on both.
In what is known as the Nuga Nuga decision in 2017, a central Queensland Aboriginal group took the state to court and showed the Cultural Heritage Act was deficient.
The case in the Supreme Court highlighted deficiencies in the Act, but only upgraded one particular provision.
“The (government) promised a review and nothing concrete has come out of it,” Ms Wallin said.
“There have been reviews, we’ve done endless submissions for reviews, but it has not been finalised in a way that fixes the problem.”
The Cape York Land Council had been expected to provide evidence on Tuesday but withdrew.