Arts Law is in the unique position of having consulted with and advised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities throughout Australia. Much of that advice has focused on ways of securing protection for Indigenous cultural heritage as expressed through Indigenous art, music and performance.
On 23-24 May 2020, Rio Tinto destroyed two 46,000-year-old Aboriginal cultural sites in caves at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. In response to the outrage and distress that Rio Tinto caused, the Australian Senate announced an inquiry into the caves’ destruction. Arts Law has made a submission to this inquiry calling for greater protection of Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP). Arts Law strongly believes that the proper recognition and protection of ICIP is an issue of national and international significance and can only be achieved through the introduction of unique federal legislation.
ICIP refers to the inherent rights of Indigenous people to maintain, control, protect and develop their traditional cultural heritage, including their arts. ICIP encapsulates knowledge that is unique to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and includes both tangible and intangible cultural property, and cultural expressions such as stories, dance, languages, symbols, crafts and cosmology.
Arts Law recognises ICIP as a crucial component of intangible Aboriginal Cultural Heritage, yet it is afforded almost no protection under the current framework of state and federal laws in Australia. Arts Law also opposes any registration system for intangible Aboriginal Cultural Heritage. A community’s right to control and use its cultural heritage should not be dependent on whether or not it is registered.
This submission builds on a number of previous submissions Arts Law has made to government in regard to ICIP. No legislative protection or enforceable rights have resulted from any of these previous inquiries. It is time for Australia to enact legislation that respects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and recognises the inherent value in Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property.