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CRA says current laws are not working cohesively or comprehensively (Supplied)

Catholic Religious Australia has expressed concern that current laws fail to adequately safeguard First Nations’ cultural heritage in marine areas.

In a submission to a Senate inquiry into proposed legislative amendments, CRA has called for strengthening Traditional Owners’ consultative rights when offshore energy projects are proposed that affect “Sea Country”. 

This would include the marine components of First Nations peoples’ traditional estates and their connectedness to land, as well as the cultural, social, and economic values attached to these seascapes. 

CRA president Fr Peter Jones OSA said the “current laws that protect First Nations’ cultural heritage in Australia are a disjointed patchwork of cultural heritage, native title and environmental legislation, spread across local, state, and federal jurisdictions”.

“These are not working cohesively or comprehensively to protect Sea Country,” Fr Jones said.

“This became evident when energy company Santos was given regulatory approval for its Barossa Gas Project, despite the company having demonstrated minimal consultation with Tiwi Island traditional owners about possible impacts to Sea Country, as later determined by the Federal Court.” 

CRA applauded the proposed Protecting the Spirit of Sea Country Bill 2023, a private bill introduced by Greens Senator Dorinda Cox, for seeking to enhance Indigenous rights within Sea Country but called for further protections. 

CRA national executive director Anne Walker said: “It is commendable that the proposed bill clearly stipulates that traditional owners from First Nations communities must be consulted by companies when preparing an environment plan for any offshore energy projects, and that the consultation must uphold the Indigenous right of ‘free prior and informed consent’,” 

“However, existing Australian legislation lacks an overarching identifier for who speaks for Country, as well as any provision for Indigenous groups to veto projects.” 

“This reform is imperative to ensure a more robust and cohesive legislative framework that truly protects First Nations’ cultural heritage, and we urge the Government to adopt a timely and genuine consultation with First Nations’ peoples to urgently progress this process.” 

Read CRA’s submission


CRA Calls for Strengthened Protections for Sea Country (CRA)