Aboriginal Cultural Rights in Victoria

This project aims to increase the awareness, understanding and use of Aboriginal cultural rights under section 19(2) of Victoria's Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities (the Charter).

Although Aboriginal cultural rights are protected under the Charter, we found that they are rarely raised in courts, used as an advocacy tool by Aboriginal people; or used by public authorities when engaging with Aboriginal people.

As part of the project, the Commission has developed resources in consultation with the Aboriginal community and Victorian public authorities. These resources aim to assist both:

  • Public authorities (including government departments and agencies) comply with their obligation under the Charter to act compatibly with cultural rights.
  • Aboriginal people to raise cultural rights when engaging with public authorities, and help advocate for their protection.

The Commission is also undertaking other initiatives to help ensure that Aboriginal cultural rights are used in everyday interactions between Victorian public authorities and Aboriginal people. For example, VEOHRC and the Commission for Children and Young people are currently undertaking a project that aims to improve cultural connection and protect the cultural rights of Koorie youth in youth justice centres.

Please note, throughout this website and project, the terms 'Aboriginal', 'Koori', ‘Koorie' and ‘Indigenous' may be used and are inclusive of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

What does the law say?

The Charter protects the fundamental rights and freedoms of all people in Victoria, including Aboriginal cultural rights. The Charter is fundamentally about the relationship between the Victorian government and the community. It requires that all public authorities in Victoria act compatibly with human rights (including cultural rights) and consider them when they make decisions that affect people.

The Charter considers Aboriginal peoples and culture in two ways.

Firstly, it acknowledges in its guiding principles that human rights have a special importance for the Aboriginal people of Victoria, as descendants of Australia’s first people, with their diverse spiritual, social, cultural and economic relationship with their traditional lands and waters.

Secondly, Aboriginal cultural rights are protected under section 19(2) of the Charter which states that Aboriginal persons hold distinct cultural rights and must not be denied the right, with other members of their community –

  1. to enjoy their identity and culture
  2. to maintain and use their language
  3. to maintain their kinship ties
  4. to maintain their distinctive spiritual, material and economic relationship with the land and waters and other resources with which they have a connection under traditional laws and customs. 

Aboriginal cultural rights are also protected by international instruments, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Consultation findings

We feel like we can't be Aboriginal, we can't practice our culture, and we can't be ourselves. We feel like we have to hide inside.
– Community member

The Commission's consultations with Victorian public authorities and Aboriginal community organisations uncovered the need for, and strong interest in, targeted resources, training and engagement to support and promote Aboriginal cultural rights in Victoria.

Our preliminary findings show:

  • a substantial lack of knowledge, understanding and use of Aboriginal cultural rights under section 19(2) of the Charter by both the Victorian Aboriginal community and Victorian public authorities
  • fewer than half the community members who completed an online survey knew that Aboriginal cultural rights were protected under the Charter
  • most survey participants questioned whether section 19(2) has made a difference in practice, noting a lack of awareness and use of Aboriginal cultural rights by public authorities
  • community organisations only use section 19(2) of the Charter as an advocacy tool in limited circumstances – in part, due to a lack of understanding about how and when to use it
  • most Victorian government departments engage with Aboriginal culture as part of their work but do not refer to or use section 19(2) of the Charter. However, the extent of engagement with section 19(2) depends on the type of public authority and the work it does. In some cases, section 19(2) directly influences the work of public authorities.

The Commission also heard about the great work that the Victorian Aboriginal community and public authorities are already doing to protect and promote Aboriginal culture in Victoria. Some of these case studies are included in the project resources.

Contact

For more information, or if you would like copies of the resources sent to you, please contact the project manager:

Jidah Clark, Senior Adviser, Aboriginal Policy and Research
Phone: (03) 9032 3474
Email: jidah.clark@veohrc.vic.gov.au

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