Tasmanian Government proposes amendments to the Aboriginal Relics Act

THE Tasmanian Government last week said it has decided to amend the Aboriginal Relics Act 1975, following consultation with the Aboriginal community as part of what the government described as its "broader commitment to reset the relationship."

"The Government has been consulting with the community for some time, well before the recent vandalism in the Central Highlands, but there is no doubt the recent vandalism once again highlights the inadequacy of the current penalty provisions in the Act," said Parks, Environment and Heritage Minister Matthew Groom.

Bay of Fires, Tasmania
Above: Bay of Fires, Tasmania / by Peter Gawthrop.

"In proposing to amend the Act we recognise that some in our community would prefer that the Act be replaced in its entirety. The experience of previous Governments that have attempted to do this over recent decades has not been positive," Mr Groom said.

"In consultation with the Aboriginal community, we have come to the view that the best approach is to address areas of immediate concern now while at same time recognising that there needs to be further ongoing engagement with the Aboriginal community and the broader community on other opportunities to address in full the problems with the Relics Act."

In seeking to amend the Aboriginal Relics Act, the government is proposing to address a number of the most obvious inadequacies in the existing legislation, including by:

  • Removing the 1876 date reference;
  • Penalties for damage to Aboriginal heritage to be in line with the penalties for damage to non-Aboriginal heritage;
  • The potential for scaled offences in association with the removal of the ignorance defence;
  • A statutory timeline for a further review of the Act; and
  • A change to the name of the Act to the 'Aboriginal Heritage Act'.

The government's intention is to introduce legislation giving effect to the proposed amendments before the end of this year. This will allow time for appropriate consultation and drafting.

Photo: Bay of Fires, Tasmania / Peter Gawthrop / Licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC 2.0.

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