Article by Editorial for The Australian
Rio Tinto’s abhorrent destruction of caves at Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara, which contained evidence of human life dating back 46,000 years, pointed to the need for stronger cultural heritage laws. On Friday, Joe Kelly reported on West Australian
farmer Shane Kelliher’s receiving written advice, through his legal firm, that under the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act, which took effect on July 1, he could be forced to pay between $30,000 and $100,000 for a cultural heritage assessment. Mr Kelliher wants to extract high-quality building sand from his 85ha property in North Dandalup, south of Perth but that plan was thrown into doubt when the site was found to be close to possible historic camping areas for Indigenous Australians. Since then, WA farming groups have claimed a victory, following reports the state government will scrap the controversial laws, which were introduced only on July 1.
Yes23 campaign director Dean Parkin also welcomed the reports, after problems with the heritage laws had become conflated with the Indigenous voice referendum. As reported on Monday, WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tony Buti told top stakeholders on Friday the government intended to scrap the laws and reinstate the 1972 laws they replaced, though with some amendments.
In a new development, WA Indigenous leaders are demanding that Anthony Albanese intervene and give stronger protections to their sacred sites. They claim the state Labor government has “betrayed them” with its decision to scrap the laws. As support for an Indigenous voice to parliament nosedives in the west and the Yes campaign welcomes the prospective removal of the WA Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act, Indigenous advocates and native title lawyers say the reforms were “wrongly conflated” with the referendum, despite efforts by pro-voice campaigners to separate the issues. Activists want the Albanese government to use its powers to step in. National Native Title Council chair Kado Muir said he was concerned there was now a situation “where cultural heritage in Western Australia will not be protected”.
International human rights lawyer and Indigenous woman Hannah McGlade said the Cook government should listen to Indigenous Australians on cultural heritage. In governing for all West Australians, it should listen to all stakeholders, including Indigenous people concerned about the potential loss of heritage, farmers and other landowners, most of whom do not have limitless resources. The goal must be fair and effective heritage protection.