Message from the Chair
Thank you to all Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania staff for their work to support the Aboriginal Heritage Council in 2022-23. It is not an easy job and they do it well. I also wish to thank all Councillors for their expertise and dedication to the protection of Aboriginal heritage. I look forward to working with continuing members in the year to come.
Throughout the year, the Council has navigated significant challenges in the inadequacy of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1975, issues regarding the eligibility of those in positions to provide advice relating to Aboriginal heritage and the fact that the Council does not have decision-making power within current regulatory processes. Despite these challenges, I am proud of the Council’s professionalism, resilience and continued heartfelt commitment to its role in protecting and promoting our heritage.
The development of the new Aboriginal Heritage Act is taking more time than we can afford. Going into the new year, as Aboriginal people we need to make sure that we stay strong, on track and continue to protect heritage in all our capacities.
The statutory Aboriginal Heritage Council was established under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1975 in August 2017. The Council replaced the non-statutory Aboriginal Heritage Council that had been in place since 2012.
The Act allows for the Council to:
- make recommendations to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs on any matter in respect of which the Act provides;
- advise, and make written recommendations to the Minister in relation to any object, site or place alleged to be a relic under the Act;
- advise, and make recommendations to the Minister on such other matters in relation to the administration of the Act as it thinks fit;
- make recommendations to the Director of National Parks and Wildlife on any matter in respect of which the Act provides; and
- advise, and make recommendations to, the Director of National Parks and Wildlife in respect of any other matter relating to the exercise of the Director’s functions under the Act.
The Aboriginal Heritage Council provides advice and recommendations to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the Director of National Parks and Wildlife and stakeholders on the protection and management of Aboriginal heritage in Tasmania.
The Council also provides advice to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment Tasmania (NRE Tas) on the recognition and management of cultural heritage values in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA).
Membership changes in 2022-23 included welcoming new members Lyndon O’Neil, Theresa Sainty and Dave mangenner Gough to the February 2023 meeting. Members were sad to note the resignation of Mr Greg Brown in April 2023. Members also farewelled and thanked outgoing members Rob Anders and Merv Gower at the December 2022 meeting.
Going in to 2023-24 the AHC members are:
Council proceedings are supported by a suite of governance documents detailing member roles and responsibilities, meeting procedures, membership arrangements and the scope of Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania’s support role. These are updated as required by agreement of Council.
Council members and staff from Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania work together respectfully and collaboratively to support the effective administration and implementation of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1975.
It is the role of the Council to:
- provide considered advice and recommendations on the management of Aboriginal cultural heritage values that fall within the scope of the Council;
- promote awareness and education of Aboriginal cultural heritage values; and
- promote, strengthen and support partnerships and collaborative processes between the Council, the Department and Tasmanian Aboriginal people.
The appointed Chairperson is responsible for:
- presiding over the Council and Council meetings;
- representing and making public statements on behalf of the Council; and
- acting as the key contact point with Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania staff on behalf of the Council.
It is the role of Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania to support the Council to make informed decisions and perform its functions under the Act through the provision of:
- governance policies and procedures;
- information, advice and recommendations; and
- executive support.
Council Business 2022-23
The following AHC meetings were held in 2022-23:
- 22 July 2022
- 26 August 2022
- 29 September 2022
- 28 October 2022
- 25 November 2022
- 16 December 2022
- 24 February 2023
- 31 March 2023
- 28 April 2023 (not held as lacking a quorum)
- 26 May 2023
- 30 June 2023
Permit applications are the final stage in the regulatory process to protect Aboriginal heritage. Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania staff work with proponents in the early planning and assessment stages to support the identification of avoidance options that remove the need to apply for a permit to impact Aboriginal heritage. This hard work is indicated in the table below:
|Summary of how screening, assessment and AHT support reduces the need for permit applications prior to AHC consideration
|# processed in 2022-23
|Aboriginal Heritage Desktop Reviews
|Aboriginal Heritage Assessment Reports
This year the Council considered 22 permit applications under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1975. These permit applications related to proposed activities such as new dwellings, walking tracks, road upgrades, infrastructure maintenance, and revegetation. Where it wasn’t possible to completely avoid Aboriginal heritage, many of the permit applications provided sound mitigation strategies. The Council carefully considers the extent to which genuine efforts have been made by the proponent to explore and demonstrate options to avoid or mitigate impact to heritage, as well as the level of consultation undertaken with the Aboriginal community and how its feedback has been incorporated into the final proposal.
The Council opposed 4 of the permits. Of these, 1 permit (for a private residential development) opposed by the Council was subsequently approved by the Minister and 3 were withdrawn.
Council business in 2022-23 has also included briefings and consultation on a range of matters relating to the protection and promotion of Aboriginal heritage, including:
- consultation by the federal Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water on the draft retrospective Statements of Universal Value (rSOUVs) for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, for tabling at the World Heritage Committee in September 2023;
- clarifying community consultation expectations for proponents and consultants undertaking Aboriginal Heritage Assessment Reports and permit applications;
- briefings and advice regarding early stages planning for significant projects such as the Northern Midlands Irrigation Project, the Bridgewater Bridge, the Parks and Wildlife Reserve Activity Assessment reform project and the Tarraleah Hydro Power Scheme Redevelopment Project;
- commencing a closer working relationship with Heritage Tasmania on the Dhawura Ngilan initiative, which highlights opportunities for Aboriginal and Historic heritage values to be mutually progressed;
- updates from Rodney Dillon, Chair, from his attendance at the meeting of Heritage Chairs and Officials of Australia and New Zealand held in Fremantle 24-25 November 2022, particularly noting discussions around the development of national baseline Aboriginal heritage standards to provide stronger protection; and
- briefings and advice from the City of Hobart regarding the Crowther Reinterpreted Project.
Collaboration with Parks & Wildlife Service
The Council has sought in 2022-23 to build a closer working relationship with the Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS), to ensure ongoing discussion and understanding on areas of mutual concern. For the Council, priority areas for discussion have been:
- appropriate management of 4wd activity on the North West Coast and the protection of dune sites;
- ensuring tourism development in areas where significant Aboriginal heritage is present is low impact and ideally operated by Aboriginal people wherever heritage or culture is a focus of the tourism;
- building a greater role for Aboriginal staff and community to have a role in land management decision-making, for example cultural burning; and
- collaboration on the Reserve Activity Assessment reform project, to support the incorporation of cultural heritage values early in the assessment process.
The Council and PWS have discussed setting up regular meetings to support effective ongoing collaboration on these matters and other shared responsibilities, as they arise.
Appropriate prioritisation of Aboriginal cultural heritage values
A key concern for the Council in 2022-23 was observation that its advice (and Aboriginal community input more generally) was consistently not sought at all, overridden, or not adequately legislated for on matters with cultural heritage impacts. In particular, members noted:
- the consistent prioritisation of other interests over the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage; and
- the fact that Aboriginal cultural values at a landscape scale are not adequately recognised or accounted for in the current legislation and planning system. Aboriginal cultural landscapes hold value and meaning beyond than the specific archaeological features of discrete registered sites.
While the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1975 does not address landscape-scale values, work in this field is progressing in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and nationally and the Council supports opportunities to accommodate these values in regulatory and planning processes.
A strong example of this concern is the Aboriginal Heritage Council’s unwavering opposition to all applications for a permit to impact Aboriginal heritage under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1975 for the purpose of developing a golf course in the Gellibrand Point Nature Recreation Area (“Arm End”).
Since March 2013, the interim and statutory Aboriginal Heritage Councils have written to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs on multiple occasions, highlighting the extraordinary cultural significance of Arm End to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community and emphasising the uniqueness and rarity of this cultural landscape, which stands as a remnant amidst the widespread destruction of similar sites across the broader Hobart region. The property’s crucial cumulative cultural significance led to the Government designating it as the only registered Aboriginal heritage ‘place’ in Tasmania.
From the outset, the Council has appealed to the Tasmanian Government to acknowledge that the proposed development is incompatible with the preservation of this culturally significant landscape and to note that the proponent has not followed due process or Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania’s recommendations. Despite these significant and consistent concerns, Mary Ann’s Island Pty Ltd have been permitted to pursue the development of the golf course.
New Heritage Legislation
During 2022-23 work by the Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania legislation team to update the Aboriginal Lands Act 1995 and Aboriginal Heritage Act 1975 was progressed. The Aboriginal Heritage Council received briefing updates on a number of occasions, with the purpose of providing information to Council members, so that they could communicate back to the communities they represent. These presentations included:
- an update on the progress of both Acts was provided to the March 2023 meeting; and
- updates on the Lands Act review were provided to the July and October 2022 meetings.
Ongoing opportunities to participate in consultation and updates on progress can be found on the Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania website.
Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania Briefings 2022-23
Archaeologists and Aboriginal Heritage Advisors from Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania (AHT) regularly attend Aboriginal Heritage Council meetings to provide presentations on recent or upcoming work, as well to seek advice on relevant matters. This included the following:
- At the March and May 2023 meetings, AHT's Cultural Management Group presented a summary of projects in the work program, including Post Contact and Shared Values of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA), Rock Art in the Landscape and Seascape Project, At Risk Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Sites and Landscapes of the TWWHA Project, the Assistant Aboriginal Heritage Advisors program, and the Aboriginal Cultural and Heritage Awareness Project. The Council provided guidance regarding proposals and research in the TWWHA.
- Updates on research undertaken on scar trees in Tasmania, including those that are registered as heritage sites, methods for dating scars and identification of need to develop Tasmanian-specific criteria for identifying scar trees.
- Presentations on important stabilisation work on a site in the TWWHA undertaken by CMG together with truwana rangers between September 2022 to March 2023. The site had been impacted by wind and sea erosion and possibly wildlife was rehabilitated using local materials to 'pack' the vulnerable overhanging faces and add scrub bundles to assist with plant colonisation on the newly shaped bank. Drones were used to photograph the hut depressions and a grid method was used to map the site. This site is regarded as significant and unique. Hut depressions are rare and should be protected for future generations.
- Aboriginal Community Access Visits to the TWWHA provide opportunities for Aboriginal people to visit the TWWHA, access cultural resources and undertake cultural activities on Country. The Council noted that AHT has facilitated over 45 access trips for over 500 people since 2019 (by road and helicopter). The focus of these visits is to increase the emphasis on shared learning, cultural heritage recording and input on values management by Aboriginal people. Council members agreed that these projects have an important focus on engaging, consulting, and involving Aboriginal people in cultural heritage values management, and providing opportunities for Aboriginal people to connect to Country. In this way, these projects make a valuable contribution to achieving Closing the Gap targets and supporting Truth Telling and Treaty processes.
As stated in previous Year-in-Reviews, the Council sets out priority areas. The priorities for 2021-2023 were as follows:
- supporting the reform of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1975 to ensure better protection;
- protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage on Tasmania’s West Coast;
- improving the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs’ knowledge and appreciation of Aboriginal cultural heritage and securing a commitment to a high level of protection;
- providing effective input into the Treaty process;
- increasing recognition of the Aboriginal Heritage Council and its views;
- protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage in the North East;
- supporting an education campaign to increase the value the public place on Tasmania’s Aboriginal cultural heritage;
- achieving better enforcement of protection; and
- protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area and on Maria Island, the South Coast and Tasmania’s other coastlines.
The Council will review and update these priorities for the next cycle commencing 2024.