House debates

Monday, 27 November 2006

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Amendment Bill 2005

Second Reading

6:34 pm

Photo of Peter SlipperPeter Slipper (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity of speaking on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Amendment Bill 2005. As a nation we must from time to time remind ourselves of the unique heritage we have here through the culture of our Indigenous people. In a world that, through the advances of technology, communication, travel and the like, seems to be becoming smaller, it is not difficult to lose track of the wonderful things that we have right here at home, and Indigenous objects that have cultural and artistic significance are among them.

I have to say that I do enjoy collecting Indigenous art. I cannot pretend that I have any particularly expensive art in my collection, some of which hangs in my electorate office and some of which hangs at home. I have one friend—Ken Hinds, who happens to be the Fisher FEC chairman—who is a dedicated collector of Indigenous art. Some of the works by Possum and others that he has in his collection are most incredible. By collecting Indigenous art in this way, Mr Hinds not only recognises the uniqueness of this art to Australia but also protects this art for the enjoyment of future generations. Mr Hinds often allows his art to be placed on public display so that others are able to enjoy the beauty of Indigenous art of a very high quality. I might add that Mr Hinds has a most impressive art collection—not merely an Indigenous art collection. He has collected for many years and has possibly one of the most significant collections anywhere in Australia.

Indigenous art is a form of art that is not only beautiful but historical, meaningful and spiritual. The Australian government is committed to the protection of Australia’s Indigenous heritage and the many artefacts, sacred sites and traditions that it encompasses. By adopting these principles, we are also able to spread the word of our Indigenous history and help to educate our future generations. In fact, legislative protections for Indigenous art and artefacts will also directly aid and promote the protection of Indigenous culture, heritage and tradition, which of course are part of Australia’s history and part of Australia today.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Amendment Bill 2005 being debated today aims to update the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984, which was introduced predominantly as a legislative means of safeguarding places and objects that have significance to our Indigenous people, and for various related purposes. This bill, for example, further strengthens protections for Indigenous artefacts, in that it specifically provides for improving the safeguards for those artefacts which are legitimately held by overseas entities but which are lent back to Australia for display or exhibition. This bill allows them in due course to be able to leave the country to return to their owners hassle free. The absence of adequate safeguards for the safe return of these items has in the past been a stumbling block to having the overseas owners of Indigenous artefacts allow them to come to Australia so that they can be admired by Australians and those living here. This change being made to the legislation will mean that overseas owners of Indigenous art will be confident in lending these beautiful objects for display in Australia knowing that they will not have any problem in having them returned.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 sets out in detail the strict guidelines for dealings with Aboriginal artefacts, sacred sites, Aboriginal remains and so on. It outlines the definitions by which we can determine, for example, whether a sacred site has been desecrated, as well as definitions for sacred sites, Indigenous traditions and customs, and artefacts. The aid organisation World Vision, through its website, noted:

Contemporary Indigenous painting has emerged as one of the most significant international art movements of the late 20th century. Interest in Australian Indigenous art continues to rise, with demands from major museums and galleries across the globe.

It goes on to note that earlier this year—that is, in June—the work of eight artists of Indigenous heritage featured in the major installation in the spectacular new national museum in Paris, France and that significant sale price records have been set recently for Indigenous art. The same can be said for Indigenous artefacts such as spears and boomerangs. They are uniquely Australian and therefore command attention the world over. It is only fitting that we here in Australia be given reasonable and sensible access to those items housed overseas.

This situation has arisen as a consequence of the growing importance of Australia’s Indigenous artefacts and art overseas as well as here at home. It is in fact an encouraging development because it has come about only because of the ever-increasing international interest in Australian Indigenous art and culture. The bill also removes a portion of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 that had the unintended consequence of restricting the Victorian government’s ability to make its own changes to Indigenous protections in its state. The Victorian government had requested that change and, in the interest of sensible and effective legislative management of Indigenous heritage, those sections have been removed. This means that Victoria will be treated the same as other jurisdictions in Australia. This bill supports improvements to the protection and promotion of Indigenous heritage, and I am particularly pleased to commend it to the House.


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