Community members protest NSW C&H laws

NEW SOUTH WALES: Aboriginal elders and community members have descended on state parliament to protest against cultural heritage reforms they say will open the door to corruption.

About 40 people, many from regional communities, marched from Hyde Park to Parliament House in Sydney on Thursday to call on the government to scrap its controversial model to enact standalone Aboriginal culture and heritage legislation.

The standalone legislation has been called for by Aboriginal groups for several years, including by the NSW Aboriginal Land Council* (publisher of Tracker). But the model proposed by Environment Minister Robyn Parker has been criticised for failing to protect precious culture and heritage.

Gomeroi woman Dolly Talbott said the proposed reforms gave too much power to too few people.

“It just opens up the door for too much corruption,” she said.

“They (government) do not … give Aboriginal people as a community a voice about what happens to our culture and our heritage.

“They take that away and give it to a minority to decide.”

Ms Talbott said the detail of the reforms showed they would be “opening the gates to opportunity for crime and misconduct by mining companies and other commercial interests”.

The concern was that an elite few on the proposed councils would be influenced by commercial interests to the detriment of the wider community.

Greens MP David Shoebridge addressed the protesters and told AAP that heritage issues should be open for widespread community consultation and final decisions left to an independent Aboriginal commission.

But Ms Talbott said that plan would not work either because “you can’t have someone from Sydney deciding what’s best for someone in the country”.

“They don’t know that country, they don’t know the people, they don’t know what they’re signing off on,” she said.

“I don’t think that’s better at all.”

Ms Talbott also called for the reform consultation period, which started this month, to be extended beyond the February 14 deadline and for mining companies to be excluded from deliberations.

Mr Shoebridge said it is important mining companies played a part in consultations but their role should be minor.

The Office of Environment and Heritage said the proposed model for legislative reform had been built on broad consultation with the Aboriginal community.

“It is now in a form where we are taking it back to the community so they can look over it and tell us what they think would improve and refine it,” it said in a statement to AAP.

“The creation of Local Aboriginal Culture Heritage Committees that are statutory organisations will result in them being both accountable and transparent to the community.”

Extra workshops on the proposed changes were being held in Charlestown and western Sydney to accommodate the high level of interest around the Hunter and Sydney regions, the statement said.

For more information on the new laws, please click here. For a factsheet on the proposal, please click here.

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