Aboriginal Communities

Aboriginal cultural heritage is protected under the law at national, State and local levels

View current opportunities to have your say about Aboriginal cultural heritage now

There are opportunities for Aboriginal people to have a say about how the environment and heritage is protected, how protected areas are managed, and how the impacts of certain developments on Aboriginal objects and places are managed. There are also opportunities to participate in government reviews of legislation protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage.

Responding to government proposals

The national, State and local governments regularly invite input from the community on proposed changes to environmental laws. 

  • To comment on proposals for and reviews of the types of activities that can be conducted in protected areas, visit the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage website. Certain activities are prohibited in some protected areas. Sometimes activities that would otherwise be prohibited can be approved by the Government following an assessment of the impacts of the activity on the environment. For more information about protected areas, see our Fact Sheet on protected areas.
  • To comment on draft plans of management for national parks in NSW, visit the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage’s websitePlans of management are important because they set out how environment and heritage will be protected in the park and how people can use the park. Draft plans of management are placed on public exhibition before they are finalised, and the public can submit comments to the Office of Environment and Heritage. For more information about plans of management for national parks, see our Fact Sheet on protected areas.
  • To comment on documents detailing how mining and CSG projects will impact Aboriginal cultural heritage, visit the NSW Department of Trade and Investment website. The types documents exhibited include environmental impact statements for mining projects, Review of Environmental Factors reports, and applications for rehabilitation projects. To read more about the types of environmental assessment required to be undertaken for mining and CSG projects, see our Fact Sheets on mining and CSG.
  • To comment on draft plans and policies regulating how development impacts on Aboriginal cultural heritage, visit the NSW Department of Planning and Environment website. The types of plans and policies made can include strategic planning for certain regions, and draft legislation. The public can submit comments to the Department of Planning and Infrastructure. To read more about plans and policies, see our Fact Sheet on LEPs and SEPPs.
  • To comment on draft Local Environmental Plans (LEPs), contact your local council – these will usually be advertised on their website. There is also a LEP tracking system on the NSW Department of Planning and Environment’s website where you can track the progress of the LEP-making process. To read more about LEPs, see our Fact Sheet on LEPs and SEPPs.
  • Contact your local council to see if you can speak at a council meeting. If you have made a submission on a proposed development, you may have a chance to have your say at the council meeting where the development is being considered. For more information about speaking at a council meeting, see How can I have my say?.

Notifications about opportunities to comment on proposals are often required to be published. The NSW Government is required to publish notices for some proposals in a locally circulating newspaper, and sometimes a newspaper that circulates throughout NSW (often The Land). You can keep an eye on the papers to make sure that you don’t miss an opportunity to comment. 

Responding to applications

Comments from the community are also invited on things like development applications and environment protection licences, which have the potential to impact on Aboriginal cultural heritage.

  • To comment on development applications that are notified in your local area, visit your local council’s website – DAs are often notified in a local newspaper and on the council’s website. Note that public comment is not invited for all developments assessed by the local council, and some types of development do not require public notification or involvement. For more information on development assessment processes, see our Fact Sheet on DAs and consents.
  • To see if you can speak at a council meeting, contact your local council. If you have made a submission on a proposed development, you may have a chance to have your say at the council meeting where the development is being considered. For more information about speaking at a council meeting, see How can I have my say?.

Notifications about opportunities to comment on proposals are often required to be published. The NSW Government is required to publish notices for some proposals in a locally circulating newspaper, and sometimes a newspaper that circulates throughout NSW (often The Land). You can keep an eye on the papers to make sure that you don’t miss an opportunity to comment. For more information about notification for mining and CSG activities, see our Fact Sheets on mining and CSG. For more information about notification of major project developments, see our Fact Sheet on State significant development and infrastructure.

Monitoring and enforcement

Both governments and proponents have responsibility for monitoring the impacts of their activities on the environment and heritage. You can also monitor the impacts of activities on the environment, such as water and air quality.

Before reporting suspected breaches of environmental laws you will require evidence. It is also important to remember that the law contains certain exceptions and defences to offences. The most common defence is that a person has a permit or licence to take the action which would otherwise be an offence, such as an environment protection licence (a licence to pollute) or an Aboriginal heritage impact permit (AHIP). If you are unsure about whether an action is an offence or not, call the Environment Line on 131 555.

National and State enforcement authorities can issue stop work notices in many cases where unauthorised activities are occurring that threaten harm to the environment or heritage.

    • Carrying out building or development work without the required approval.
    • Taking an action that is likely to have a significant impact on a place that is listed on the WorldCommonwealth, or National heritage lists.
    • Taking an action that is likely to have a significant impact on the world heritage values of a World Heritage property without approval.
  • To report a suspected breach of NSW environmental law, contact the Environment Line on 131 555. Examples of illegal activity include:

Under certain environmental laws, any person has the right to bring proceedings in a Court to remedy or restrain a breach. In NSW, this is mainly to the Land and Environment Court. For breaches of national environmental law, it is the Federal Court. See How can I have my say? for more information. You should contact the EDO NSW Environmental Law Line to request some initial legal advice if you would like to take this step. 

Shaping environmental laws

Many environmental laws merely set out the framework for protecting the environment and heritage and rely on community involvement for proper protection. You can proactively seek to improve environmental laws through these processes.

  • To nominate a place that you think is of national heritage value and should be placed on the Commonwealth Heritage List, contact the Australian Environment Department. The nomination must set out how the place meets the Commonwealth Heritage criteria. For more information, you can request a Nomination Kit from the Australian Heritage Council.
  • To nominate a place that you wish to be declared as an Aboriginal place by the NSW Minister for the Environment, contact the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage. An Aboriginal place is a place which is or was of special significance for Aboriginal culture, and which is also recognised as 'significant' by the Minister for the Environment. For more information about Aboriginal cultural heritage, see our Fact Sheet on Aboriginal cultural heritage.
  • Apply to the Australian Government Environment Minister for protection for a specified area or object in Australia or Australian waters that is significant to Indigenous people. An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person or group, or someone on their behalf, can apply.
  • Join the NSW Boards and Committees register, which is a list of people interested in serving on NSW Government boards and committees, such as reserve trusts for the protection of certain areas of environmental and heritage significance.
  • Contact your local council to speak to them about joining a committee. Many councils have community advisory and consultative committees which may act as a liaison between the council and the community, or advise the council on matters such as the environment, heritage, and building and development.

General

The national, State and local governments provide continuing opportunities to be involved in the laws designed to protect the environment.