Culture and heritage

Aboriginal cultural heritage

Considering Aboriginal heritage impact permits and property vegetation plans: advice for catchment management authorities


Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs) may need to consider the need for Aboriginal heritage impact permits when processing property vegetation plan (PVP) applications.

CMAs should generally engage with local Aboriginal communities as part of their catchment action plan implementation process. They should aim to develop an understanding of Aboriginal community interests within the catchment, including culturally important natural resources or heritage places.

There may also be occasions where landholder operations at a property level - particularly the negotiation of PVPs - require CMA staff to also consider specific Aboriginal cultural heritage issues.

When is an Aboriginal heritage impact permit required?

Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permits (AHIPs) should be applied for when a person, usually a landholder or a person operating on their behalf, knows that their activities will harm Aboriginal objects or declared Aboriginal Places. AHIPS are a defence to an offence under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NPW Act) of harming Aboriginal objects or declared Aboriginal places.

From 1 October 2010, there are new requirements for AHIPs, and new defences and offences. As a rule, most PVPs will not require an AHIP. The National Parks and Wildlife Regulation 2009  sets out which low impact activities are a defence to the strict liability Aboriginal objects offence. A person has a defence if they are carrying out the following activities and they inadvertently harm an Aboriginal object, but only where they are not already aware of the presence of Aboriginal objects.

Farming and land management work on land that has been disturbed*:

  • cropping and leaving paddocks fallow
  • the construction of water storage works (such as farm dams or water tanks) 
  • the construction of fences
  • the construction of irrigation infrastructure, ground water bores or flood mitigation works
  • the construction of erosion control or soil conservation works (such as contour banks).

* land is disturbed if it has been the subject of a human activity that has changed the land’s surface, being changes that remain clear and observable including clearing of vegetation, and soil ploughing.

Farming and land management work that involves the maintenance of the following existing infrastructure

  • grain, fibre or fertiliser storage areas
  • water storage works (such as farm dams or water tanks)
  • irrigation infrastructure, ground water bores or flood mitigation works
  • fences
  • erosion control or soil conservation works (such as contour banks).
  • grazing of animals.

Harm to Aboriginal cultural heritage should be avoided if at all possible. This may require CMA staff to advise landholders on how to change proposed operations so that no harm occurs. If the PVP is modified to reflect the necessary management changes, no AHIP will be required.

ACH considerations are not part of the PVP process, and obtaining a PVP does not exempt landholders from their legal obligations.

AHIPs are issued by DECCW and only apply to 'Aboriginal objects' and 'Aboriginal Places' as defined in Part 6 of the National Parks & Wildlife Act 1974. Permits are issued under section 90 of the NPW Act.

How to determine whether a property contains Aboriginal cultural heritage

The Due Diligence Code of Practice for the Protection of Aboriginal Objects in NSW should be used by individuals or organisations who are intending to undertake activities which could harm Aboriginal objects. This code will provide a process whereby a reasonable determination can be made as to whether or not Aboriginal objects will be harmed by an activity, whether further investigation is warranted and whether the activity requires an AHIP application. 

As part of that process, CMAs can request a search of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW) Aboriginal Heritage Information Management System (AHIMS) database when assessing a PVP application to identify known records for a particular property. DECCW has established the AHIMS Web Service which is an internet based search of information about recorded Aboriginal objects, gazetted Aboriginal places and features of significance in NSW. However, updating the database is an ongoing activity and further inquiries may be necessary. View more information and how to access AHIMS.

If the CMA or landholder are aware of Aboriginal objects that might be harmed, an AHIP is likely to be required. However, it is preferable for the activity to be modified to avoid any potential impacts.

What do I do if an AHIP is required?

More information about how to apply for an AHIP and other AHIP related information is available on the website.

Key points to remember

  • CMAs should engage with Aboriginal communities in relation to their values, needs and knowledge of natural resources in the catchment.
  • This engagement should inform catchment action planning, and may also assist decision-making on PVP applications.
  • Some land management activities will fall under the definition of low impact activities, which are now a defence unless Aboriginal objects are already known to exist. 
  • CMAs can undertake a search of AHIMS. Due diligence should be followed by the landholder or organisations who are planning to undertake activities which could harm Aboriginal objects. If Aboriginal sites are identified, the landholder should be encouraged to plan their operations to avoid harming them. If this not possible, an AHIP may be required from DECCW.

More information

Page last updated: 10 April 2012