One year on from Rio Tinto’s destruction of the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge caves in the Western Pilbara, and we are still waiting for the legislative reform that will prevent a repeat of the catastrophe.
The destruction of the caves, which were among Australia’s most culturally and archaeologically significant heritage sites, resulted in global condemnation and the dismissal of three of Rio Tinto’s top executives including the CEO.
It also prompted the West Australian Government to fast-track their new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2020 to replace the outdated Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (AHA) which allowed the caves to be legally blasted against the wishes of Traditional Owners.
NNTC CEO Mr Jamie Lowe said:
“The question the NNTC is repeatedly asked is whether the new WA bill will stop another Juukan Gorge-type catastrophe, and the simple answer is no.”
“It’s a very basic human right to be able to protect your own cultural heritage. This right is not in the current WA Bill. The current bill presents a bizarre process whereby government, developers and miners, people with no cultural heritage experience or expertise, are the ones who assess what impact their own activity will have on cultural heritage. The Traditional Owners will be left with whatever destruction results.”
“We support the calls of WA Traditional Owners for the WA Government to work collaboratively with them on redrafting the WA Bill.”
NNTC Chair Mr Kado Muir said:
“One year on and we’ve let the WA Government off the hook. The proposed changes to the WA Heritage Act will not stop Juukan from happening again. In fact, it becomes easier. Minister Dawson needs to stop the introduction of the new WA Heritage Act until it is co-written by First Nations people to preserve our cultural heritage under human rights standards.”
Image copyright: Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) Aboriginal Corporation
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Note to editors: Jamie Lowe is a Gunditjmara Djab Wurrung man & CEO of the National Native Title Council. He’s also an elected representative on the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.
Kado Muir is a Ngalia Traditional Owner from the Goldfields region of WA. He is a Wati – an Aboriginal cultural and community leader, and an anthropologist/archaeologist working in language preservation.