WA heritage bill expected to pass despite First Nations opposition

Article by Keira Jenkins for NITV

Traditional Owners have expressed their disgust at the “squandered” opportunity of Western Australia’s controversial heritage protection laws, expected to pass state parliament on Tuesday.

National Native Title Council Chair and Ngalia man Kado Muir said he is disappointed by the legislation, and that it has been rushed through parliament.

“It was a great opportunity for the Western Australian Government to forge a new relationship with First Nations and Aboriginal people in Western Australia,” he said.

“What they’ve done is basically made the choice to forge ahead on the same traditional path, and really deliver certainty to the mining industry, but effectively sideline First Nations people in Western Australia.”

Mr Muir said the new legislation ultimately leaves the decision of whether or not cultural heritage can be destroyed to the Aboriginal Affairs minister.

This, he said, will lead to more destruction.

“It’s entirely in the hands of the minister,” he said.

“Every minister of every political persuasion – Labor or Liberal – have always approved the destruction of Aboriginal sites.

“We don’t see anything changing.”

‘We won’t stop’

Nyikina Warrwa Traditional Custodian and academic Dr Anne Poelina agreed, saying the government had failed the state’s First Nations people.

“The opportunity the government had to right wrongs and discard racist laws has been squandered,” said the Nyikina Warrwa woman.

“Our power to speak for our Country and self-determine how it is protected has been disregarded. We won’t stop until our voice is heard.”

Mr Muir was one of the Traditional Owners who wrote the the United Nations in September, raising concerns about the legislation.

Traditional Owners said they’d felt their concerns were ignored by the Western Australian government during consultation on the legislation.

The UN Committee on the elimination of racial discrimination wrote to the federal government last week, expressing their concerns about the allegations made to them.

“The draft Bill allegedly fails to respect, protect and fulfil the right to culture of Aboriginal people who strongly oppose it, due to the serious risk it poses to their cultural heritage,” said the letter from the committee’s vice chair Marc Bossuyt.

Mr Muir said despite Traditional Owners will continue to advocate for stronger heritage laws.

“There are avenues to continue to progress the United Nations human rights perspective,” he said.

“The other thing that we’ll be looking for is for the federal government to bring in legislation that outlines a national standard that will seek for Western Australia to fall in line with what the national standards are.”

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