New changes to Western Australian legislation have been criticised for failing to fully protect Indigenous cultural heritage.
The amendments were passed in State Parliament on Wednesday, and were meant to be a major opportunity to prevent another Juukan Gorge disaster— a 46,000-year-old sacred site blown up by mining giant Rio Tinto last year, which the law at the time approved.
The new law broadens Indigenous heritage to include and protect cultural landscapes, places, ancestral remains, and objects of significance, determinable by Indigenous people.
Just last week, a United Nations committee wrote to the Federal Government expressing concern over the proposed law’s potential to “maintain the structural racism” of the system, according to NITV. Draft versions of the Bill saw Indigenous groups given veto power if a deadlock happened between Traditional Owners and mining companies, but the final version gives the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs the final say on decisions.
“This is heritage that belongs to Aboriginal people. It’s theirs, and they’ve been willing to share that heritage,” Labor Senator Pat Dodson told the Guardian. “What we’ve seen in this state is not just the nature of this Bill, but there’s been a whole tyranny of cultural genocide going on.
“It’s a discredit to the legislators and particularly those who advise the legislators.”
“A ministerial decision could be misused in a way that would see Aboriginal cultural heritage destroyed,” said Greens politician Brad Pettitt, echoing concerns that a minister would have vested state interests, including economic considerations.
A new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Council will also be established, however members will also all be picked by the minister, and Traditional Owners aren’t able to appeal any decisions made by the minister either.
“If you want to change a history of heritage destruction to a future of heritage protection, Aboriginal people must have an independent right of review for ministerial decisions, with genuine power to make decisions about heritage sites,” said National Native Title Council CEO Jamie Lowe on the disappointing outcome.