Legislation: The Aboriginal Heritage Act 1975
The Aboriginal Heritage Act 1975
(the Act) is administered by the Department of Premier and Cabinet. It is the primary legislation for the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage in Tasmania.
Statutory Guidelines, and defences
Since 2017, the Act has provided for two important defences:
- Action during emergency response scenarios (section 20); and
- A general defence of “compliance with the guidelines” (section 21), specifically for offences under sections 9 and 14.
To support the second defence, the Act provides for statutory guidelines which specify the actions required by a person to establish a defence in accordance with section 21 of the Act. They provide an opportunity for people and businesses to be pro-active in seeking to minimise potential harm to Aboriginal heritage, and to avoid the possibility of their actions being negligent.
The guidelines may also adopt any existing standards, rules, codes, guidelines or other documents. Anyone who acts in accordance with these adopted documents is taken to be acting in accordance with the Guidelines.
The following documents have been adopted in the Guidelines:
Aboriginal Heritage Standards and Procedures (PDF 983Kb)
2017 Amendments – other key changes
Significant changes to the legislation in 2017 included:
- The name of the Aboriginal Relics Act 1975 was changed to the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1975
- The 1876 cut-off date for what is considered Aboriginal heritage was removed, and the definitions were significantly updated
- The penalties for damage to Aboriginal heritage were sharply increased to be both in line with penalties related to non-Aboriginal heritage in Tasmania, and on par with the highest penalties in other States
- Scaled offences were introduced, including distinguishing between deliberate acts and 'reckless or negligent' acts. The ignorance defence was removed and the time available to commence prosecutions was increased from six months to two years
- A statutory Aboriginal Heritage Council was established to advise the Minister
- A statutory timeline was set for a full review of the Act
Review and Consultation Background
A statutory review of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1975 was completed in 2021.
A key response to the review has been a commitment by the Government to develop comprehensive new legislation to replace the Act and to improve protection and management of Aboriginal cultural heritage. For more on this ongoing process, see the Aboriginal Legislative Reform page.
A discussion paper was provided to inform feedback for the 16-week public consultation process that ended on 21 September 2019:
A Consultation Feedback Report was released following the 16-week public consultation period:
The Report of the Review of the Aboriginal Heritage Act was tabled in Parliament by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs on 1 July 2021, together with his Tabling Report:
Other relevant legislation