Aboriginal Cultural Heritage


Improved protection and harsher penalties

New laws have come into force to improve the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage.In the new laws, Aboriginal cultural heritage is defined as Aboriginal objects and places. Aboriginal objects can include things which are associated with traditional societies, such as stone tools, art sites, and burial grounds, as well as contemporary things. Aboriginal places are those areas that are considered to be of such special significance to Aboriginal people that they are afforded special protection under the law.

The changes introduce two new offences of harm to or desecration of Aboriginal objects. There is also a strict liability offence of harm to declared Aboriginal places.

‘Harm’ is defined to mean to destroy, deface or damage an Aboriginal object or a place, and in relation to an object, it also means to move the object from the land.

There will be greatly increased penalties for these offences. For knowingly harming or desecrating an Aboriginal object, the maximum penalty will be up to $275,000 for individuals or one year’s imprisonment or both. Where there are circumstances of aggravation it will be up to $550,000 or imprisonment for up to two years or both. For a corporation it will be $1.1 million.

Circumstances of aggravation include those where a person committed the offence in the course of carrying out a commercial activity, or it was the second or subsequent occasion on which the person is convicted for an offence under the relevant section.

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