Chapter 2 - Indigenous culture and heritage
The Review considers that the EPBC Act is not fulfilling its objectives as they relate to the role of Indigenous Australians in protecting and conserving biodiversity, working in partnership with and promoting the respectful use of their knowledge.
The key reasons why the EPBC Act is not fulfilling these objectives are:
- There is a culture of tokenism and symbolism. Indigenous knowledge or views are not fully valued in decision-making. The Act prioritises the views of western science, and Indigenous knowledge and views are diluted in the formal provision of advice to decision-makers.
- Indigenous Australians are seeking stronger national protection of their cultural heritage. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 (ATSIHP Act) provides last-minute intervention but does not work effectively with the development assessment and approval processes of the Act. The national level arrangements are unsatisfactory and out of step with community expectations.
- The Act does not meet the aspirations of Traditional Owners, where they lease their land to the Commonwealth. The settings for the Director of National Parks and the joint boards means that, ultimately, the Director makes decisions for these areas.
The key reforms recommended by the Review are:
- The co-design of policy and implementation to improve outcomes for Indigenous Australians.
- The National Environmental Standards should include specific requirements relating to best-practice Indigenous engagement and participation, to enable Indigenous views and knowledge to be incorporated into regulatory processes.
- A recommended National Environment Standard for Indigenous engagement and participation in decision-making, developed in detail by the Review through an Indigenous-led process, should be adopted in full and immediately implemented.
- The role of the Indigenous Advisory Committee should be substantially recast as the Indigenous Engagement and Participation Committee. The role of this Committee is to provide leadership in the co-design of reforms and advise the Environment Minister on the development and application of the National Environmental Standard for Indigenous engagement and participation in decision-making.
- Indigenous knowledge and western science should be considered on an equal footing in the provision of formal advice to the Environment Minister. The recommended Ecologically Sustainable Development Committee should be responsible for ensuring advice provided to the Environment Minister incorporates the culturally appropriate use of Indigenous knowledge.
- The national level settings for Indigenous cultural heritage protection need comprehensive review. This process should consider how comprehensive national level protections are given effect, including how they interact with the development assessment and approval process of the EPBC Act. This review should explicitly consider the role of the Act in providing protections.
- Where aligned with their aspirations, transition to Traditional Owners having more responsibility for decision-making in jointly managed parks. For this to be successful in the long term there is a need to build capacity and capability, so that joint boards can make decisions that effectively manage risks and discharge responsibilities.