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Tuesday, 8 August 2006
Page: 1

Senator ABETZ (Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation) (12:31 PM) —The last time this matter was before the Senate I had just started the summing-up speech for the second reading debate. For those who may be interested—I am not sure that all that many are—that was on 11 May 2006. The amendments in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Amendment Bill 2005 [2006] will ensure that Australians continue to have opportunities to see in Australia significant Indigenous cultural heritage objects that are owned by institutions overseas. The amendments will encourage international cultural exchanges. They will remove an uncertainty that would discourage overseas institutions from ever allowing items from their collections to be exhibited in Australia.

The amendments to the act will also provide for the repeal of the Victoria-specific provisions of the act, including the scheme for Victoria alone that is set out in part IIA of the act. In 1987 the act was extended to include provisions that would apply only in Victoria, at the request of the Victorian government of the day. These provisions now prevent new Victorian legislation for Aboriginal heritage protection coming into effect. The Victorian government wrote to the Australian government in 2005 to explore how this obstacle could be removed. All other states and territories have legislation to protect this heritage. The amendments remove the obstacle to Victorian legislation and allow a sensible sharing of roles and responsibilities for the protection of cultural heritage in Victoria. The proposal is sensible for the Australian government and for Victoria, and for more comprehensive and coordinated administration of Aboriginal cultural heritage in Australia. Following repeal of the Victoria-specific provisions the Australian government legislation will provide the same level of protection in Victoria that it provides for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage in other parts of Australia.

Senators Carr, Bartlett and Siewert all made the point that this bill does not fully address the recommendations made by the Evatt report. The government stands by its commitment to introduce improved legislation in this area in line with many of the Evatt report recommendations. In addition, Senator Siewert proposed several amendments to the bill. Senator Siewert’s first amendment seeks to exempt some instruments in this bill from the sunsetting provisions of the Legislative Instruments Act by amending the Legislative Instruments Act. This amendment is not needed because the exemption that Senator Siewert is referring to has been sought through regulations to the Legislative Instruments Act. The Department of the Environment and Heritage has already asked the Attorney-General’s Department to include declarations under sections 10 and 12 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 in regulations to the Legislative Instruments Act so that these will be exempted from the sunsetting provisions. This is the preferred approach to exempting instruments under the Legislative Instruments Act.

The second amendment proposed by Senator Siewert seeks to provide a review of the repeal of part IIA of the act. This would in effect amount to a review of the Victorian government legislation. A review of the effectiveness of the repeal would not serve a substantial purpose. As mentioned earlier, on repeal of the Victorian provisions the act will apply in the same way to Victoria as it does to the other states and territories. Justice Elizabeth Evatt reported on a broader review of Indigenous heritage protection in August 1996, and the government sees this as a much more sensible approach. The government will continue to consult with Indigenous groups and other stakeholders about Indigenous heritage protection.

I indicate to honourable senators that my friend and colleague Senator Chris Ellison will be doing the committee stages of the bill, for which I thank him. Having said that, I urge all honourable senators to support the bill.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.