Generally, Australia’s state and territory governments are responsible for protecting Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage. Learn about your state or territory’s laws, processes and protections.
The Australian Governments also has a range of laws to protect Indigenous heritage.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 (ATSIHP Act) enables the Australian Government to protect cultural heritage under threat, if state or territory laws have failed to protect it.
The Australian Government can make special orders, called declarations, to protect traditional areas and objects of significance to First Nations peoples from threats of injury or desecration.
A declaration is used as a last resort when the relevant state or territory processes have been exhausted.
The ATSIHP Act can protect cultural heritage through:
- Emergency declarations – up to 48 hours protection for a serious and immediate threat (section 18 application)
- Emergency declaration – 30 to 60 days for a serious and immediate threat (section 9 application)
- Longer-term declaration – the Minister determines the period of protection (section 10 for significant areas, section 12 for significant objects).
To protect cultural heritage from a threat, an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person (or their representative) may apply for an emergency declaration and a longer-term declaration.
To find out how you can make an application under the ATSIHP Act, refer to the ATSIHP Act guidelines and application form.
If you want to make an emergency application, you can call the Indigenous Cultural Heritage Emergency Hotline on 1800 571 242 (staffed at all times).
To make or discuss a non-urgent application, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Partnering to protect cultural heritage
In partnership with the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance, we are working to improve cultural heritage protections. Learn more about the reforms.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage is an important part of First Nations cultural identity. This includes physical sites, songlines, stories, art, dance and so much more.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage shows the unique history of Australia’s past, and its continued journey into the future as a significant part of Australia’s national identity.
Despite this, Indigenous cultural heritage sites are damaged, disturbed and displaced.
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) protects the National Heritage List. The list includes natural, Indigenous and historic places that are of outstanding heritage value to the nation.
Under the EPBC Act, there are penalties for anyone who takes an action that has or will have a significant impact on the Indigenous heritage values of a place that is recognised on the National Heritage List.
The EPBC Act also protects the Commonwealth Heritage List, which includes places on Commonwealth lands and waters, or under Australian Government control that have Indigenous heritage significance.
The EPBC Act also protects heritage on Commonwealth land and from actions undertaken by the Commonwealth.
Find out more about the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
Other relevant Commonwealth laws
Other Commonwealth laws regulate aspects of Indigenous Heritage.
These include the export of Aboriginal objects and the recognition of Aboriginal land rights and native title, including: