NNTC supports call for a halt to passing draft WA heritage bill, cites lack of consultation, lack of heritage protection & financial risks

Juukan Gorge caves

The National Native Title Council (NNTC) supports the WA Alliance – the five native title organisations that represent Aboriginal interests over the whole of Western Australia – in their unanimous call for the WA Government to press pause on passing its proposed new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill, stating it fails to protect cultual heritage and poses significant risk to mining investors.

The WA Alliance have stated repeatedly that Traditional Owners were not properly consulted in the short five-week consultation period and that the draft bill should not be presented to parliament in its current form. Instead, a genuine co-design process in partnership with Traditional Owners should take place.

Submissions during the consultation period were based on the original draft bill unveiled in 2020, however the government has not made public what feedback, if any, has been taken on board for the bill, which is set to be introduced to parliament later this year.

NNTC CEO Mr Jamie Lowe said:

“The WA Government’s draft bill will not prevent another Juukan Gorge disaster. Minister Dawson has stated that the draft bill places WA Traditional Owners at the centre of decision making, this is only true to the extent that it places Traditional Owners at the centre of other people’s decision making: the mining companies, other land users and the State. Under this legislation, Traditional Owners will be left powerless to stop cultural heritage destruction.”

“This draft bill would do a disservice to all Australians and to the international community, who, after losing a site of such immense value in such unnecessary circumstances, are trusting the WA Government to get this right. Protecting cultural heritage and having a thriving mining sector can happily co-exist – we just need to get the reform piece right.”

The NNTC’s Chairman and WA Traditional Owner, Kado Muir, states that the draft bill poses a significant financial risk for investors.

“If the bill continues in its current form, significant damage to Aboriginal heritage will absolutely occur and, as Juukan Gorge has proved, damage to Aboriginal heritage represents significant financial risk to miners and investors. Not only does it impact a company’s social licence to operate but it cost Rio Tinto access to some $7 Billion worth of iron ore. There is also native title compensation liability, as impacts on cultural heritage are also impacts on native title for which native title compensation can be claimed. Such claims are starting to come before the courts. Companies and investors should both want legislation that protects against future liability.”

Image copyright: PKKP Aboriginal Corporation 

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For interviews and more information, please contact Megan Giles – megan.giles@nntc.com.au or 0433 028 567.

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.

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