Two laws together: Review of NT Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act

The Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act was one of the first laws passed after self-government was granted to the Northern Territory. It forms part of the broader framework of Indigenous rights protection embodied by the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976, from which the Northern Territory derives its power to legislate for the protection of sacred sites. For nearly three decades the Act has successfully minimised conflict through careful mediation of development and sacred site protection in the Northern Territory. However, in recent years the Act and its administering body the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority have been characterised as being anti-development, giving rise to proposals to amend the legislation and calls for an urgent review of the framework for protecting Aboriginal sacred sites in the Northern Territory.

In July 2016 the Northern Territory Government released an independent review of the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act. The Sacred Sites Processes and Outcomes Review authored by Price Waterhouse Coopers Indigenous Consulting for the Department of Chief Minister makes 39 recommendations in response to the terms of reference that seek to strengthen protection of sacred sites, reduce red tape in the operation of the Act, improve economic development, and increase efficiency and balance for all stakeholders. The Board of the Authority have welcomed the release of the Review, but recognise the ongoing need to maintain the strength of the Act to protect sacred sites as part of the cultural heritage of all Australians. The Northern Land Council has broadly criticised the Review and its genesis whilst welcoming some of the recommendations.

This seminar outlines the circumstances of the review, and provides analysis of the Review outcomes in terms of the value that is afforded to sacred sites in the Northern Territory within the context of dominant narratives of Northern Development.

About the speaker

Dr Benedict Scambary is the Chief Executive Officer of the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, a position he has held since 2008. He is an Anthropologist with twenty years' experience working with Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory. Much of this experience is associated with the use and development of land and the conduct of research, agreement negotiation, dispute mediation and more recently, the protection of sacred sites.

Dr Scambary has published broadly on heritage protection in the Northern Territory, alternate forms of Aboriginal economic development in the context of agreements with the mining industry in Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, and on issues associated with native title.