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National body's potshot at WA Govt over Indigenous heritage co-design

Emma Ruben -

A national Indigenous heritage body has criticised the WA Government's "reluctance" to properly engage with the community on co-design for new cultural heritage laws.

The criticism from the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance comes as the group marks the first six months' progress with the Federal Government on its own co-design refresh following the Juukan Gorge disaster.

National Native Title Council executive officer and Gunditjmara and Djabwurrung man Jamie Lowe said the federal co-design had gone further to hear Indigenous perspectives.

"We're actually at the table, we're in the same room and this is the fundamental principle of co-design, we've picked our own team and we've got the ability to continue to pick our own team," he said.

"The WA process, it's... the opposite of co-design because it's like you go out and talk to the mob and have a 1000 conversations, but they'll cherry pick the things they want within state reform because they are the government.

"And so hopefully through this process, there's a lot more rigour around that process and that decision making can be a shared decision making process with First Nations people on the other side of it."

In conjunction with the National Native Title Council, the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance was born out of the need for stronger national laws concerning cultural heritage after the events at Juukan Gorge.

A WA Government spokesperson said they were well advanced to reform the current legislation with regional meetings currently underway.

"Western Australia's new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021 will replace the 1972 Act and remove the controversial section 18 process that forms part of land use proposals," they said.

"More than three years of consultation was undertaken with Aboriginal people, Native Title groups, Traditional Owners, industry, community and government representatives to inform the new laws.

"Any reforms in Commonwealth laws or changes in practice that are identified through the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance will be considered to ensure a consistent National approach to protecting our country's oldest living culture."

Mr Lowe said convincing all states and territories to get on board with the Commonwealth laws would prove critical, as they had presided over cultural heritage.

"So we're already talking to the states about where they're at, but hopefully by the end of the year we can get a clearer understanding of where we are and that's the next step," he said.

The existing partnership between the Federal Government and First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance will continue until November 2022 unless extended.

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