Traditional Owners have called on mining companies to voice their opposition to Western Australia’s new cultural heritage laws, and declare a moratorium on further destruction of sacred sites.
The legislation passed the state’s parliament on Thursday night, despite ongoing opposition from First Nations people from all over WA.
The creation of the new legislation was initiated in response to Rio Tinto’s destruction of Juukan Gorge in 2020.
Nyikina Warrwa Traditional Custodian and academic, Dr Anne Poelina said these new laws will not prevent further destruction, and called on mining companies to step up and institute a moratorium.
“Our determination to gain justice stays strong,” she said,
“Mining companies must now show they understand their responsibilities and commit to pausing further destruction until this mess is worked through.”
“These new laws, which were thrust upon us without proper consultation, do not empower us with the right to say ‘no’ or give rights of appeal.
Founder and Chair of Ngadju Conservation Aboriginal Corporation Leslie Schultz said he will keep fighting to stop the destruction of sacred sites and also called on miners to show leadership in protecting cultural heritage.
“Rio Tinto, BHP and FMG have been silent on these weak new laws … miners should join us in demanding stronger protections,” the Ngadju man said.
“Otherwise, they’re just shedding crocodile tears while destroying our heritage for their own profit.”
The Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC) said they felt disrespected after the Bill passed.
“You’d think by now we, as Aboriginal people, would be used to the government ignoring us and doing what they want – that this shouldn’t come as a shock,” Peter Windie, YMAC Co-Chairperson for Yamatji Region.
“Once again, government just talked at us, they didn’t listen to us when we said we needed time to consider things more, and they went on to introduce this new legislation that serves their and industry’s interests – certainly not ours.”
‘Business as usual’
The legislation has also been condemned by the National Native Title Council who said it does not meet the recommendations outlined by the Juukan Gorge inquiry.
“As we have stated repeatedly, the bill does not make Traditional Owners the decision makers in the protection and management of their cultural heritage,” said CEO and Gundjitmara and Djabwurrung man Jamie Lowe.
“Aboriginal people must have an independent right of review for ministerial decisions, with genuine power to make decisions about heritage sites.”
Instead, Ngalia man and Native Title Council chair Kado Muir said the ultimate decision of whether or not cultural heritage will be destroyed remains up to the minister.
For him and other WA Traditional Owners, this is a major concern.
“This will be business as usual on our sacred sites, which leads to the continued destruction and desecration of Aboriginal cultural heritage,” he said