It is with great concern that Council has read the recent reporting on the 21 November 2019 Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission hearing. In these hearings, recordings of property developer John Woodman revealed that he had "paid off" Aboriginal groups to overlook Aboriginal Cultural Heritage.
My People’s Cultural Heritage is fundamental to their wellbeing and that benefits the whole Community. We manage our Culture and our Heritage, not just for the benefit of our own mob but for all People that come to our Country.
It is essential that we understand the context for these claims made about Aboriginal people taking lightly their responsibility for their Cultural Heritage and their Old People.
The Martha Cove Development Assessments which are the basis of the allegations, were undertaken in 2002. This was well before the implementation of the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Act in 2006 and the appointment of a Registered Aboriginal Party for this area in 2017. Concerns regarding corruption, and the wrong Aboriginal people being involved in decision making, were drivers for the creation of the current Act.
These claims are completely unacceptable, and it was rumours of this sort of behaviour that led to the legislation being changed in Victoria in 2006. The Council is pleased that Victoria is at the forefront of having Heritage legislation in place that combats this sort of behaviour.
Additionally, the payment of $300,000 recorded as having taken place to secure a development, was made to an Aboriginal group regarding a development in Tasmania.
The Act provides protection of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in Victoria in several ways. Most importantly, this is achieved through the statutory empowerment of its custodians. The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council supports Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs), Traditional Owners, custodians and First Peoples to take their rightful place as the primary guardians, keepers and knowledge holders of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage in Victoria.
This is, in part, achieved through the creation of the Council and through their responsibility to appoint RAPs. Council is proud of what it has done over the last decade to empower Traditional Owners and resolve the injustice to our people by appointing RAPs as custodians and managers of their Cultural Heritage.
The kind of behaviour revealed in the IBAC hearings impacts most on the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage, and the reputation of Traditional Owners. And that's why it's Traditional Owners themselves, through the Council, who are empowered to do something about it.
I'm happy to hear that the conversations also recorded a developer in 2018 saying "But you can't do that now". I trust that this is, in part, because of the strong heritage legislation in Victoria. And due to the oversight of the Council.
There will always be a minority of people who try this on, who try to get around properly managing and protecting heritage. But we have the means to stamp this out, through IBAC, and through the oversight of the Council.
Reviewed 29 November 2019