The remains of an Aboriginal child were exhumed by police without obtaining agreement from the Traditional Owners of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands or reporting the discovery to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, as required under the South Australia Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988 and/or Aboriginal Heritage (Miscellaneous) Amendment Act 2016.

The removal of the child’s remains in late 2016 from a burial site on the APY Lands and the lack of communication with Traditional Owners has caused considerable distress amongst Anangu communities and family members.

This sad incident has also highlighted the need to align existing legislation – in this instance, the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988 and the Coroner’s Act 2003.

Sue Tilley of Uniting Communities says, ‘Notwithstanding that the police who exhumed the remains were acting under the Coroner’s Act 2003, it is alarming that, to date, no action appears to have been taken under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988’.

She highlights that the Aboriginal Heritage Act has been the subject of recent amendments – following an eight-year review process – and received significant attention during the review and amendments process. ‘During the amendment debates in Parliament, much was said about the importance of protecting Aboriginal heritage and the need for respect and agreement-making and how this contributes to reconciliation, and yet – in the face of a clear violation of Aboriginal heritage – this Act does not appear to have been applied or enforced in relation to the recent case of a child’s remains being disturbed and removed.

The provisions under the Aboriginal Heritage Act regarding the discovery, disturbance or damaging of Aboriginal sites, objects and remains are clearly set out in Sections 20 to 23 of the Act, as are the associated penalties which potentially include fines ranging from $2,000 to $50,000 and could include imprisonment ranging from three to six months.’

Uniting Communities calls for proper respect to be shown for Traditional burial practices and the Traditional Owners of the APY Lands; that the provisions of the Aboriginal Heritage Act are enforced; and that an alignment of the provisions and procedures under the Coroner’s Act and the Aboriginal Heritage Act is undertaken.

Uniting Communities wishes to extend our sympathy to the Traditional Owners of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands and the family members who have been affected by this sad and disrespectful act.

For media comment:

Manager of Aboriginal Policy and Advocacy, Uniting Communities

Sue Tilley – 0437320954