Early September this year, Kado Muir, Slim Parker, Dr Anne Poelina, Clayton Lewis and Dr Hannah McGlade, five eminent Western Australian Traditional Owners, lodged an Early Warning and Urgent Request to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to push for an intervention in regards to WA Government’s draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2020.
The WA Government has ignored Traditional Owner requests to halt the introduction of the Bill, yet they are today tabling it in the WA Parliament. Kado Muir has cited this action as “a breach of human rights by the Western Australian Government”.
“Stephen Dawson Minister for Aboriginal Affairs is intent on proceeding with a Bill that fails to reflect minimal human right standards which would ensure Aboriginal peoples in WA are equal before the law. We want a say in protecting our sacred sites, yet the minister is reserving the right to destroy sacred sites. Mr Muir said.
“Our appeal to CERD, one of the major issues with the current draft Bill is that it leaves ultimate decision-making power in the hands of the relevant Minister where a proponent/developer and an Aboriginal party cannot agree.” Mr Muir continues.
“There is a real risk of business as usual, which is the destruction and desecration of Aboriginal cultural heritage, our sacred sites.”
Since the 46,000-year-old sacred sites at Juukan Gorge were destroyed by Rio Tinto in May last year, there have been more than 50 section18 consents granted to destroy sites of cultural significance under the current Act Aboriginal Heritage Act. These consents have been provided by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in opposition to the wishes of Traditional Owners.
“The state-approved destruction of many hundreds of sacred sites in Western Australia demonstrates the discriminatory intent of legislation” says Jamie Lowe Gundjitmara Djabwurrung man and CEO of the National Native Title Council.
“The legislation purports to preserve Aboriginal cultural heritage, and forbids exercise of traditionally held rights to enjoy, manage, or bequeath Indigenous cultural heritage.”
The Minister maintains this over-riding decision-making power over Traditional Owners in respect of the protection of their sacred sites in the new Bill. Crucially, the Bill affords traditional owners no right to review or appeal Ministerial approvals to harm sites.
The failings of the Bill to protect cultural heritage, further entrench systemic and structural inequities at law and are a clear failing of the WA Government to meet Australia’s international Indigenous rights commitments.
“Essentially the new bill seems like a convoluted version of the old act, with the ultimate decision-making power still up to the Minister and still no real right to appeal for Aboriginal People. It also ignores the recommendations made in ‘A Way Forward – Final Report Into the destruction of Indigenous heritage sites at Juukan Gorge” continues Mr Lowe
As set out in the Juukan Gorge Report, ‘the new legislation sets out minimum standards for state and heritage protections, that are consistent with relevant and international law (including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples UNDRIP) and the Dhawura Ngilan: A Vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage in Australia.
Under the United Nations Declarations on the rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), this includes the right to negotiate the development of standards for negotiation of agreements, that require proponents to adhere to the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent.
Multi-national mining companies like Rio Tinto and BHP have also been conspicuously absent in calling for the state government to stop the act and lend their support to Aboriginal Traditional Owners calling for the legislation to adopt minimum human rights standards.
“They have kept quiet as they stand to benefit from WA Laws which directly impact the human rights of Aboriginal People.” states Mr Muir.
From a First Nations perspective the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill does not adequately address the structural and historical issues and inequalities, which have underwritten the past and contemporary destruction of cultural heritage in WA with every indication pointing to its continuation leaving the fight for non-discriminatory reform far from over.
For all media enquiries please contact Sarah Easson National Native Title Council on E: firstname.lastname@example.org or M: 0419 228 642