Aboriginal Heritage Act in Western Australia

Aboriginal culture is the oldest living culture in the world, requiring recognition, protection, preservation, and management. The Act protects Aboriginal heritage and requires approval for activities that may cause harm.
Last updated:

Aboriginal heritage holds significant value to Aboriginal people for their social, spiritual, historical, scientific, or aesthetic importance within Aboriginal traditions, and provides an essential link for Aboriginal people to their past, present and future. 

Aboriginal culture dates back some 60,000 years and is the oldest living culture in the world. Aboriginal heritage could include rock art, ancient caves or burial sites, waterways, ceremonial sites or scar trees. 

Western Australia was the first jurisdiction in Australia to recognise Aboriginal cultural sites and objects of significance and make specific provision for traditional use through the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972

The Act also protects and manages Aboriginal heritage by requiring approval for activities that may impact or cause harm.  

The Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 Guidelines are available to assist in determining whether an intended land use poses a risk of committing an offence under the Act.

The laws that protect Aboriginal Heritage in WA

On 15 November 2023, the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 was restored as the legislation that manages Aboriginal heritage in Western Australia with simple and effective amendments drawn from feedback over years of consultation.

Approval is only required where there is potential for any harm to an Aboriginal site.  

Before undertaking any activities on your land, you should check for Aboriginal heritage.

To check if there is Aboriginal heritage on your land, undertake a search using the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Inquiry System (ACHIS). If there is no risk of harm to Aboriginal heritage from your planned activity, no approval is required. 

If you have questions or need advice about whether there may be Aboriginal heritage in the area or to determine if you will need an approval please contact our Aboriginal heritage team using the below form:

Aboriginal Heritage Enquiry Form

Frequently asked questions

What is Aboriginal heritage?

An Aboriginal site is any place to which section 5 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 applies. This could include artefacts, a place used for rituals, or burial sites. 

Examples of Aboriginal heritage are rock art, ancient caves, waterways, ceremonial sites or scar trees. 

Find out more about Aboriginal heritage.

Why is Aboriginal heritage important?

Aboriginal culture dates back some 60,000 years and is one of the oldest living cultures in the world. 

Aboriginal heritage holds significant value to Aboriginal people for their social, spiritual, historical, scientific or aesthetic importance within Aboriginal traditions. They provide an essential link for Aboriginal people to their past, present and future.

What is the current legislation?

The Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (the 1972 Act) is the current law governing the protection and management of Aboriginal heritage in Western Australia. 

In late 2023 the State Government changed the laws governing the protection and management of Aboriginal heritage in Western Australia.  The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021 has now been repealed, with amendments to the 1972 Act now the current law.

The amendments 1972 Act include:

  • Native Title parties now have a right of review for section 18 decisions via the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT), with clear timeframes for the review process and an ability for the Premier to call-in an application to SAT for issues of ‘State or regional significance’ acting in the interests of all Western Australians. Previously, the right of review was available to proponents only and not to Native Title parties.
  • When a section 18 consent has been given by the Minister, the landowner must notify the Minister of any new information about an Aboriginal site and the Minister must reconsider the original consent – an important reform to help prevent another Juukan Gorge incident.
  • Where there is a change of ownership of land that is the subject of a section 18 consent, the new owner is required to notify the Minister and that consent will be transferred.
  • A new statutory Committee – the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Committee (the Committee) – to take on the role of the former Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee to make recommendations on section 18 notices to the Minister. The new Committee is skills-based with majority Aboriginal members and has male and female Aboriginal co-Chairs.

How do I know if there is Aboriginal heritage on my property?

The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 1972 Guidelines provide advice on identifying Aboriginal heritage.

The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Inquiry System (ACHIS) provides locations and information about known Aboriginal heritage in Western Australia. 

Find Aboriginal cultural heritage in WA 

What do I do if I think I need an approval?

We strongly recommend that you discuss your situation with an Aboriginal heritage officer before placing an application to verify that the proposed activity warrants a section 18 notice. 

This is because statutory timeframes begin immediately upon lodgement. This will ensure the most expeditious assessment process. You also want to check as there may not be any approval required.

Contact the Aboriginal heritage team using the Aboriginal Heritage Enquiry Form or call 6551 8002.

How much will getting an approval cost?

Aboriginal Heritage (Fees) Regulations 2023 sets out the fees for section 18 notices and section 16 approvals, as well as for regulation 7 and 10 approval. 

The proposed fees for commercial and Government applications for sections 16 and 18 of the Act are: 

  • a $250 application fee; and
  • $5,096 multiplied by the number of proposed investigation sites for section 16 applications and identified places for section 18 applications.

Individuals, small business and not-for-profit organisations are to pay a $250 application fee, with no fee per proposed investigation site or identified place.

Special exemption provisions apply for Aboriginal corporations who are undertaking not-for-profit activities.

Are there any exemptions for the approvals required?

There are no activities that are exempt under the Act. The Department can assist in determining whether an approval is required.

How do I know who to consult with?

There is a Consultation policy for section 18 applications which means:

  • consultation to be undertaken with Aboriginal people prior to submitting a notice under section 18 of the Act; 
  • principles and standards; 
  • the engagement processes and documentation required to support an application for approval; and
  • the Department to include a procedural fairness check as part of the assessment to provide opportunity for the relevant Aboriginal people to have a say, including in the event that genuine consultation was not undertaken by a proponent.  

Where a landowner concludes that impact to an Aboriginal site is unavoidable, the Minister's consent to impact the site may be sought under section 18 of the Act by giving notice to the Committee. This is known as a section 18 Notice.

How do landowners start a section 18 application? 

A landowner needs to give a section 18 Notice to the Committee via the Registrar of Aboriginal Sites (Registrar) using the online ACHknowledge system or via other means approved by the Minister.

How long is the section 18 process? 

From lodgement of a complete section 18 Notice, the Committee has 70 days within which it is required to make its recommendation to the Minister. There is an option for a 30-day timeframe extension and the Minister must make a decision within 28 days of receiving the Committee’s recommendation. 

Our website has more information on how to submit an application or call 6551 8002 and select Option 1 to speak with one of our team members.

What happens to approvals given under the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021?

Permits or management plans that are approved or authorised under the 2021 Act automatically transition to a section 18 Consent.

Some activities carried out under the 2021 Act remain valid, including activities that were authorised, considered exempt, did not require approval or where no risk of harm had been assessed.  However, no exemptions apply to new activities.

What is the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Committee?

The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Committee is established under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972. 

The Committee meets twice a month. Its primary role is to make recommendations to the Minister in relation to section 18 Notices and to the Registrar in relation to section 16 applications as well as a range of other matters.

The Committee has 11 members with majority Aboriginal representation, and an Aboriginal male and female co-chair.

How do I comply with the Act?

To comply with the Act a landowner should consult the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972

Guidelines as per the steps outlined in How to comply.

What are protected areas?

The Act recognises that some Aboriginal heritage is of outstanding significance and requires a declaration as a protected area. 

The purpose of declaring a protected area is to provide special protection from activities that may harm Aboriginal heritage. It offers the highest level of protection to Aboriginal heritage under the Act by vesting exclusive use and occupation of the area in the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, and by empowering the Minister to make regulations relating to use and access of protected areas. There are currently 78 protected areas across Western Australia.

Is new legislation planned?

No, the Government has no intentions of drafting new Aboriginal heritage legislation. Amendments were incorporated into the restored Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 to ensure an improved legislative framework is in place.

How do I apply for a Government-funded survey?

The State Government has committed to a long-term plan over the next 10 years to fund and undertake Aboriginal heritage surveys. With the consent of landowners, and in consultation with Aboriginal people, surveys will be done in high priority areas. An initial audit will be undertaken against approved section 18 consents to identify gaps in survey data.

The exact scope of the survey program is currently subject to consultation. Further details on eligibility and program rollout will be published when available.

The State Government has also committed to a capacity building program to support native title parties.  This program will ensure these organisations are appropriately resourced to participate in engagement and be part of the decision-making process to protect and manage their cultural heritage. Details of this program are currently in development.

How to report a potential offence in relation to Aboriginal sites

Preservation of Aboriginal sites and objects is afforded by section 17 of the Act and Regulations 7 and 10 of the Aboriginal Heritage Regulations 1974. A breach of one of these provisions is an offence unless the Minister or Registrar has given an approval.

Report a damage to an Aboriginal site with the DPLH Investigations Unit

What happens to LACHS under the 1972 Act?

The designation of LACHS – or Local Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Services – ceased upon repeal of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021.

LACHS were established as locally based Aboriginal organisations with a key role in the identification, conservation, and management of Aboriginal heritage.


Subscribe to stay up-to-date

You can also subscribe to our email list to keep up to date on news and information regarding Aboriginal heritage in WA.

* indicates required


For more information please use the enquiry form or call 6551 8002 and select option 1.