By Keira Jenkins for NITV News
Traditional Owners say they’ve been ignored by the Western Australian Government on its new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill that was introduced into Parliament today.
Noongar Human Rights Lawyer Dr Hannah McGlade told NITV News the consultation process for the legislation had been “flawed”, and fundamental concerns from Traditional Owners and heritage experts were not being heard by the state government.
“We don’t believe that an Aboriginal heritage council under the government is sufficient in view of this past pattern of discrimination in favour of mining companies and developers and damage and destruction of Aboriginal sites,” she said.
“We’d like to see an independent statutory authority.
“We’ve also seen that any right of review has now been removed from this bill so the minister can have that final approval to damage or destroy Aboriginal heritage sites with no right of review afforded to Aboriginal people.”
‘A devastating day’
The new Bill has been designed to replace the cultural heritage laws that allowed for Rio Tinto’s destruction of Juukan Gorge in 2020, but the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) warned the new legislation could result in a “cultural catastrophe”.
KLC CEO Tyronne Garstonne said the land council has repeatedly called on the government to make changes to the legislation, and by ignoring their concerns they’ve “treated Aboriginal people beneath contempt”.
“It’s a devastating day for Aboriginal heritage,” Mr Garstone said.
“Fundamentally, this Bill will not protect Aboriginal cultural heritage and will continue a pattern of systematic structural racial discrimination against Aboriginal people.”
National Native Title Council CEO Jamie Lowe said not only will the legislation not protect cultural heritage, but it ignores the recommendations of the senate inquiry into the destruction of Juukan Gorge.
“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,” the Gunditjmara Djabwurrung man said.
“It also ignores the recommendations made in ‘A Way Forward – Final Report Into the destruction of Indigenous heritage sites at Juukan Gorge.”
For Dr McGlade, the Bill is not just flawed, but it is discriminatory.
She is one of five Western Australian Traditional Owners who’ve asked theUnited Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to intervene.
“It is a form of race discrimination to allow a law that is heavily in favour of development and mining and government to continue destroying and damaging Aboriginal sacred sites and places,” Dr McGlade said.
“That’s why we’ve reached out to the UN, because we agree to these treaties and we need to have a sincerity in our approach to them and we’re calling on them for some emergency action here.”
Kado Muir, Slim Parker, Dr Anne Poelina and Clayton Lewis are also involved in the request to halt the introduction of the Bill.
Mr Muir said forging ahead to introduce the Bill despite calls from Traditional Owners to stop is “a human rights breach by the Western Australian Government”.
“We want a say in protecting our sacred sites, yet the minister is reserving the right to destroy sacred sites,” he said.
“There is a real risk of business as usual, which is the destruction and desecration of Aboriginal cultural heritage, our sacred sites.”