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Aboriginal cultural rights (June 2018)

Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities (the Charter) protects the cultural rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria. It’s important to know what these rights protect, when they are protected, and what to do if you have concerns. Please note, throughout this page and resources, the terms ‘Aboriginal’, ‘Koori’, ‘Koorie’ and ‘Indigenous’ may be used and are intended to be inclusive of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

What are cultural rights?

The Charter protects Aboriginal cultural rights in several ways. It acknowledges the special importance of human rights for First Nations peoples, with diverse spiritual, social and cultural and economic relationships with their traditional lands and waters.

Section 19(2) says Aboriginal people hold distinct cultural rights and must not be denied the right to:

    • enjoy their identity and culture
    • maintain and use their language
    • maintain their kinship ties
    • maintain their distinctive spiritual, material and economic relationship with the land and waters and other resources with which they have a connection under traditional laws and customs.

What about discrimination or vilification?

The Commission receives complaints from the public on discrimination, including racial discrimination, under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

We can also help you if you have a complaint about racial or religious vilification, under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2010.

Find more information on racial discrimination and vilification and how to lodge a complaint with the Commission.

What parts of life can be affected by cultural rights?

Cultural rights come up in many situations. They exist to protect your traditions and customs, in areas such as:

  • child protection
  • the justice system
  • health care
  • education and employment
  • governance and conflict resolution
  • use of language
  • mental health treatment
  • artistic expression
  • managing land, waters, soil, plants and animals
  • construction of housing, buildings and roads.

Read more on what the law says about cultural rights.

Who needs to protect cultural rights?

In Victoria, all public authorities must consider your cultural rights as First Nations person.

Public authorities are:

  • government departments, agencies and their employees
  • local councils, councillors and staff statutory authorities
  • organisations that deliver public services on behalf of the government.

Examples of public authorities include:

  • Victoria Police
  • Corrections Victoria
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Department of Justice and Community Safety
  • Aboriginal Victoria
  • Parks Victoria
  • Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
  • VicRoads

The Commission has learnt from consultations with community and public authorities, that Aboriginal cultural rights are not always understood or protected. It is important that public authorities understand their responsibilities to consider cultural rights under the Charter.

You can download resources for public authorities below.

When can Aboriginal cultural rights be limited?

Like other human rights, Aboriginal cultural rights may be limited or balanced with other rights, as long as the limitation is lawful, reasonable and proportionate.

What to do if you have concerns about your cultural rights

You can raise your cultural rights any time you are accessing public services or the government is making a decision that affects you, your family, kin or community.

If you believe your cultural rights have not been respected, you can ask the public authority if they have considered your cultural rights.

You can contact the Commission and talk to us about the problem and see if we can help.

You can also download resources for communities below.

Other service providers

In addition to the Commission, there are a number of other service providers that can assist with legal and human rights issues, including:

  • Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service
  • Djirra
  • Victorian Aboriginal Health Service
  • Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation
  • Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency
  • Victoria Legal Aid
  • Independent Family Advocacy Service
  • Independent Mental Health Advocacy
  • Victorian Ombudsman
  • Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission

This page and resource was developed in 2018. The Commission has since updated our terminology to more respectful and inclusive language. This page and its downloadable resources do not reflect these changes. Please take this into consideration when reading and referencing.

Download our resources for public authorities

You might also be interested in

First Nations rights

First Nations people have cultural rights under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.

Find out more

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Level 3, 204 Lygon Street Carlton Victoria 3053

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1300 891 848

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1300 292 153 or (03) 9032 3583

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The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission acknowledges that we work on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We also work remotely and serve communities on the lands of other Traditional Custodians.

We pay our respects to their Elders past and present.