The Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006

The Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (the Act) aims to recognise, protect and conserve Aboriginal cultural heritage in Victoria, in ways that are based on respect for Aboriginal knowledge and cultural and traditional practices. The Aboriginal Heritage Regulations 2018 (the Regulations) give effect to the Act through procedures linked to the Victorian planning system and other land development processes. The Act is administered by Aboriginal Victoria (AV).

Recognising Objects or Places of Aboriginal Cultural Significance

The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register has a list of any recorded Aboriginal cultural heritage places or sites in Victoria, such as scarred trees, occupation sites or places of burial. This includes the location, a detailed description and the condition. 

The Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 and Aboriginal Heritage Regulations 2018 provide protection for all Aboriginal places, objects and human remains on both public and private land, regardless of whether they are included on the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Register.

The Act provides clear guidance to planners, developers, and landowners about when and how Aboriginal cultural heritage needs to be considered, and offers the following protective mechanisms, as well as dispute resolution and enforcement measures:

  • Cultural Heritage Permit (see below);
  • Cultural Heritage Management Plan (see below);
  • Cultural Heritage Agreement – a voluntary agreement between a Registered Aboriginal Party (RAP) and another party/parties regarding the management or protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage;
  • Protection Declaration – made by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs to protect places of particular cultural significance to Aboriginal people and the broader Victorian community.

Large developments and other high impact activities in culturally sensitive landscapes can cause significant harm to Aboriginal cultural heritage. Planning permits, licences and work authorities can't be issued unless the appropriate mechanisms are in place.

The Act also requires that the discovery of Aboriginal cultural heritage places or objects on any public or private land in Victoria be reported to AV. More information is available at Reporting a possible Aboriginal place or object.

Aboriginal Victoria's Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Mini-Poster Series provide more information on Aboriginal heritage places, objects and processes relating to the management of Aboriginal cultural heritage in Victoria.

Registered Aboriginal Parties

Under the Act, Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs) have responsibility for management and protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage in a specified geographical area.  RAPs are determined by the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council.

Amongst other tasks, they determine Cultural Heritage Permit applications, evaluate Cultural Heritage Management Plans, make decisions about Cultural Heritage Agreements, and provide advice or application for Protection Declarations.

There are two approved RAPs within Greater Shepparton's municipal boundaries - the Taungurung Land and Waters Council (Aboriginal Corporation) and the Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation. The vast majority of the municipality lies within the jurisdiction of the Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation.

What is a Cultural Heritage Permit?

A Cultural Heritage Permit is needed to:

  • disturb or excavate land to uncover or discover Aboriginal cultural heritage;
  • rehabilitate land at an Aboriginal place;
  • inter Aboriginal ancestral remains at an Aboriginal place;
  • carry out research on an Aboriginal place;
  • carry out an activity that will, or is likely to, harm Aboriginal cultural heritage;
  • sell an Aboriginal object (where it was not made for the purpose of sale); or
  • remove an Aboriginal cultural heritage object from Victoria.

A Cultural Heritage Permit may be required for an activity even if a Cultural Heritage Management Plan is not needed.

Applications are submitted to the RAP for the area. If there is no RAP, the application must be made to the Secretary to the Department of Premier and Cabinet, via Aboriginal Victoria.

What is a Cultural Heritage Management Plan?

A Cultural Heritage Management Plan (CHMP) is a written report designed to assess whether a project is likely to have an impact on an area of Aboriginal cultural heritage significance or Aboriginal cultural heritage values. It outlines what measures can be taken to avoid the impact, and/or recommends management techniques during and after construction to minimise disturbance or damage to the cultural heritage place. A CHMP is prepared by a Cultural Heritage Advisor (who may be an archaeologist or other heritage specialist) in conjunction with Aboriginal community representatives.

The Plan must be approved by the relevant RAP, where one exists. Where no Registered Aboriginal Party exists, Plans may be submitted to Aboriginal Victoria for approval.

The Role of Local Planning Authorities

Responsible authorities must check whether a CHMP is required prior to the determination of a planning permit application. If a Plan is required, the responsible authority cannot issue a planning permit until it receives a copy of an approved Plan. In addition, a planning permit cannot be granted for an activity that is inconsistent with an approved Plan. 

Will I need to prepare a CHMP?

AV has developed the Aboriginal Heritage Planning Tool to assist proponents to determine if a CHMP is required. This tool and further information is available from the Aboriginal Victoria website.

Some activities are exempted, but a CHMP is required if:

  1. All or part of the activity area is in an area of Cultural Heritage Sensitivity, that has not previously had significant ground disturbance; and
  2. All or part of the proposal is a high impact activity.

Exempted Activities

Under the Regulations, the following activities are exempt from the requirement to prepare a Cultural Heritage Management Plan:

  • Constructing of, or extension to, one or two dwellings on a lot, that is not part of a high impact activity (see below);
  • Construction of three or more dwellings on a lot that is less than 0.11 hectares in size, and not within 200 mt of coastal waters or the Murray River;
  • Subdivision of land that is less than 0.11 hectares in size, and not within 200 mt of coastal waters or the Murray River;
  • Buildings and works ancillary to an existing dwelling, or the construction of one to two dwellings on a lot, that is not part of a high impact activity (see below);
  • Works for connecting reticulated services from the boundary of a lot to a dwelling or ancilliary building on the lot;
  • Exterior alteration or decoration of a building;
  • Minor works, including fences or freestanding walls, temporary seating structures, stages or platforms, or that are associated with an existing high impact activity;
  • Demolition of a building;
  • Consolidation of land within the meaning of the Subdivision Act 1988;
  • Subdivision of an existing building;
  • Works authorised by an amendment to a planning permit, if the permit as granted before May 28, 2007 and the location has been subject to significant ground disturbance, or if the permit was granted after 28 May 2007 and the works comply with an approved CHMP relating to the affected area;
  • A jetty for one dwelling;
  • Works on the sea-bed of Victorian coastal waters;
  • Emergency works, necessary to protect the health or safety of a person, property, or the environment, as defined in the Emergency Management Act 1986.

Please note that exemption from the requirement for a CHMP does not mean that a planning permit may not be required for these works. Council suggests you contact the Planning and Development Branch on 03 5832 9730 to seek advice on any permit requirements for all works.

1. Areas of Cultural Heritage Sensitivity

An area of cultural heritage sensitivity is an area in which Aboriginal cultural heritage is known to be, or is likely to be, present, which has not already been subject to significant ground disturbance.

Significant ground disturbance involves the disturbance of the topsoil or surface rock layer of the ground or a waterway by machinery in the course of grading, excavating, deep ripping (60cm or deeper), digging or dredging. Ploughing, other than deep ripping, is not a significant ground disturbance despite affecting the ground.

The Regulations identify the following areas of cultural heritage sensitivity:

  • Registered Aboriginal cultural heritage places (and land within 50 metres);
  • Named waterways (and land within 200m);
  • Certain prior waterways (and land within 200m);
  • Certain ancient lakes (and land within 200m); 
  • Declared Ramsar wetlands (and land within 200m);
  • Coastal Crown land; 
  • Coastal land within 200m of high water mark; 
  • Parks (defined by the National Parks Act); 
  • High plains areas; 
  • Koo Wee Rup Plain;
  • Particular greenstone outcrops;
  • Stony rises of the Mt Eccles, Mt Napier and Mt Rouse lava flows; 
  • Volcanic cones of western Victoria; 
  • Caves;
  • Lunettes (crescent shaped dunes adjacent to existing and prior lakes and swamps); 
  • Dunes; and
  • Sand sheets.

Aboriginal Victoria provides access to the mapping relating to areas of Aboriginal cultural heritage sensitivity. These maps give indicative information only, and are intended to assist users to identify areas of cultural heritage sensitivity. Decisions about the need to prepare a CHMP in relation to a proposed activity should be made with reference to the Regulations.

2. High Impact Activities

A high impact activity is an activity that is likely to harm Aboriginal cultural heritage. These activities are listed within Part 2 – Division 5 of the Regulations, and include:

  • Buildings and works for uses specified in s.46 of the Regulations, if they are a change from the current land use, and if they result in significant ground disturbance;
  • Changes of land use to uses specified in s.46 of the Regulations where a planning permit is required;
  • Constructing items of infrastructure specified in s. 47 of the Regulations if it results in significant ground disturbance;
  • Constructing, or carrying out works for three or more dwellings on a lot;
  • Subdivision into three or more lots for dwellings (if each of three or more lots are less than 8 ha), or two or more lots in an industrial zone (as specified in the Victorian Planning Provisions);
  • Constructing a dam, if a licence is required under section 67(1A) of the Water Act 1989;
  • An activity requiring an earth resource authorisation (such as mining or quarrying);
  • Extraction or removal of sand or sandstone if extraction results in significant ground disturbance (even if an earth resource authorisation is not required);
  • Extraction or removal of stone (other than sand or sandstone) of the purpose is sale or commercial use, and the land from which the stone is removed is more than 2000 square meters (even if an earth resource authorisation is not required);
  • Extraction, removal or machine crushing of loose stone on agricultural land on the Victorian Volcanic Plain, on land which has not been cultivated, for the purpose of pasture enhancement;
  • Exploration for stone if it will cause significant ground disturbance;
  • Timber production, if land area is over 40 hectares, a permit is required under a planning scheme, and it will cause significant ground disturbance;
  • Constructing a building or carrying out works in an Alpine resort. 

In particular, the following high impact activities are common but frequently overlooked:

  • Section 46 (xxvii) - A utility installation, other than a telecommunications facility. This includes pipes to carry and transmit water and may impact upon private landholders (e.g. farmers);
  • Section 46 (xv) - A minor sports and recreation facility, which may impact upon community groups;
  • Section 47 (1) - The construction of any one or more of the following is a high impact activity if the construction would result in significant ground disturbance:
    • a bicycle track with a length exceeding 100 metres;
    • a road with a length exceeding 100 metres;
    • a walking track with a length exceeding 100 metres;
    • a fuel break where a permit is required to remove or destroy native vegetation.

What impact will the need for a CHMP have on my Planning Application?

If a CHMP is required to accompany a planning permit application to develop or use a site, the Plan must be prepared and approved by the relevant RAP prior to the planning application being submitted to Council. If it is established that a CHMP is required after a planning permit application has been submitted to Council, the planning application will be placed on hold until the approved CHMP is received by Council.

Fees and Conduct Guidelines

Please download the Fees and Conduct Guidelines for information on prescribed fees payable to RAPs for evaluating CHMPs.

More Information

To find out more information about the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 and the Aboriginal Heritage Regulations 2018, contact Aboriginal Victoria by telephoning 1800 762 003 or emailing Aboriginal.Heritage@dpc.vic.gov.au

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