A National First For Aboriginal Heritage Protection

19 July 2016

Victoria will be the first state in Australia to protect Aboriginal cultural knowledge, artistic traditions, stories, and other cultural heritage under new intangible heritage laws.

The new provisions are part of reforms to the Aboriginal Heritage Act set to come into effect on August 1.

Currently, there are strong protections around physical Aboriginal heritage, however, this is not replicated for non-physical elements of Aboriginal cultural heritage

The announcement follows NAIDOC Week 2016 and its theme ‘Songlines: The Living Narrative of our Story’, which is central to the existence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the preservation of their cultural practices.

Victoria will be just the second Commonwealth jurisdiction, after Quebec, to create a similar level of protection for this type of heritage and one of about a dozen countries in the world with any form of explicit protection.

Aboriginal people in Victoria will be able to use the new law to protect and control the use of that culture and heritage by nominating particular elements, for example, traditional songs, stories, dance and art with significant spiritual and cultural connection to knowledge, for protection.

The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council will be tasked with making decisions about the inclusion of items of intangible heritage on the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register.

The laws will enable Aboriginal Victorians to control the use of their cultural heritage and also create opportunities for economically beneficial partnerships between Aboriginal people and industries and new Aboriginal industries based on protected traditional knowledge.

These reforms were made because this type of heritage is not adequately protected by existing intellectual property laws, patent laws or copyright laws.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Natalie Hutchins

The influence of Aboriginal culture on Victorian society has not been properly acknowledged in our past, and it is important we recognise its value in the future.”

“Aboriginal people in Victoria will now be able to shape the nature of cultural heritage and control how their cultural knowledge is used by others.”

Reviewed 19 August 2020

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