The Department of Aboriginal Affairs is responsible for administering two key pieces of legislation:
The Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (AHA Act) which was introduced in Western Australia in 1972 to protect Aboriginal heritage. The Act recognises Aboriginal peoples' strong relationships to the land, which may go back many thousands of years.
The AHA Act provides automatic protection for all places and objects in Western Australia that are important to Aboriginal people because of connections to their culture. These places and objects are referred to as Aboriginal sites.
The Department maintains a Register of Aboriginal Sites as a record of places and objects of significance to which the Act applies. The presence of an Aboriginal site places restrictions on what can be done to the land. Anyone who wants to use land for research, development or any other cause, must investigate whether there is an Aboriginal heritage site on the land.
The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is responsible for the administration of the Act. Under the Act it is an offence for anyone to excavate, damage, destroy, conceal or in any way alter an Aboriginal site without the Minister's permission. The Department assists the Minister in the administration of the Act.
The Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority Act 1972 (AAPA Act) established the Aboriginal Lands Trust. This Act also established the Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority that is now known as the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. The Aboriginal Lands Trust became responsible for the administration of lands previously held by the Native Welfare Department and a number of State Government agencies. There are also lands that remain registered in the name of the Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority Act 1972. Additionally, as a part of the effective management of the estate, the Aboriginal Lands Trust undertakes strategic land acquisitions.
The Aboriginal Lands Trust provides advice to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs on Aboriginal Lands Trust land issues. The Aboriginal Lands Trust is a significant landholder with responsibility for approximately 27 million hectares or 11 per cent of the State's land mass. This land comprises different tenures including, reserves, leases and freehold properties. A significant proportion of this land comprises reserves that have Management Orders with the Aboriginal Lands Trust (generally having the power to lease), with their purposes mostly being for "the use and benefit of Aboriginal inhabitants".
Section 18 (1) of the Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority Act 1972 states that there "shall be established a council, to be known as the Aboriginal Advisory Council, for the purposes of advising the Authority on matters relating to the interests and well-being of persons of Aboriginal descent". The Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority Act 1972 also outlines that such a council shall consist of Aboriginal people. This council is now know as the Western Australian Aboriginal Advisory Council (WAAAC).
It is also governed by a number of pieces of legislation, particularly the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2003.
The Public Interest Disclosure Act 2003 came into effect on 1 July 2003. The Act facilitates and encourages the disclosure of public interest information. It provides protection for those who make disclosures and for those about whom disclosures are made. The Act provides a system for the matters disclosed to be investigated and for appropriate action to be taken.
Any person can make a disclosure under the Act if they believe something is wrong with the way a public authority, public officer or public sector contractor is acting or may be going to act, which is of public interest. The information disclosed must be specific to the following areas:
- Improper conduct;
- Irregular or unauthorised use of public resources;
- An offence under State law, including corruption;
- Substantial unauthorised or irregular use of, or substantial mismanagement of, public resources;
- A matter which the State Ombudsman has the power to investigate; or
- Conduct involving a substantial and specific risk of injury to public health, prejudice to public safety or harm to the environment.
If your information falls outside of the above areas you may be able to make a complaint to a public authority, but this will not be a disclosure under the Act.
A person who makes a public interest disclosure is protected under the Act from criminal or civil liability, dismissal or liability for breach of confidentiality. Further, the identity of the person making the disclosure is confidential. It is an offence punishable by fine or imprisonment to take or threaten to take detrimental action against a person because anyone has made, or intends to make, a public interest disclosure. A person (or that person's employer) who victimises another person for making a disclosure may also be liable to pay compensation .
The Department of Aboriginal Affairs is committed to providing assistance to members of the public who wish to make a public interest disclosure.