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Ken Wyatt calls for Federal protection as WA Govt presses ahead on Aboriginal heritage overhaul

Giovanni Torre -

Former Federal Indigenous Australians minister Ken Wyatt has called for stronger Federal protection of Aboriginal heritage as the West Australian government moves ahead with its co-designed heritage reforms.

The West Australian government in July announced the second phase of co-design to support implementation of the new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act, including opening nominations for the new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Council.

A suite of draft documents to be considered by stakeholders was released last week and will be examined at more than 40 upcoming workshops across regional and remote communities.

WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tony Buti said the government was working with Aboriginal organisations, industry representatives and local communities to design key regulations and guidelines that will underpin the new Act.

"Since the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act was passed by parliament late last year, we have undertaken an initial phase of co-design and have proclaimed parts of the Act that will allow for the new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Council to be established," he said.

"This next phase of co-design continues our collaboration with Aboriginal people and organisations across the State to ensure we develop clear guidance for Traditional Owners, land users and the community."

Mr Buti said the new laws would ensure Aboriginal people were consulted without coercion, prioritise agreement-making and increase penalties for non-compliance.

Matters being co-designed include the tiers of ground disturbance activities which could cause harm to Aboriginal cultural heritage.

This will determine whether an approval will be required, and whether that should be a permit or a more comprehensive management plan.

Nominations are open to appoint the inaugural Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Council comprising two chairpersons and up to nine members.

This council will undertake a range of functions to promote Aboriginal cultural heritage and the role of Aboriginal people in relation to their heritage, appoint Local Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Services, and make decisions in relation to permits and management plans.

Last week, in his first public speech since losing office in May, former Federal Indigenous Australians minister Ken Wyatt said changes since "the disaster of Juukan Gorge" were not enough.

"Here in the West, Indigenous heritage protection by the state governments has been woeful," he said.

"The most recent reforms were almost universally panned and the federal government needs to do more to protect cultural heritage in Western Australia."

Jamukurnu Yapalikurnu Aboriginal Corporation chairman Melvin Farmer said he was concerned the consultation on the new Act's regulations was being rushed.

"Martu hope the government will understand that only Aboriginal people and their prescribed body corporate can tell mining companies, developers, tourists or anyone else, what our heritage is, and when it is ok to come onto our land," he said.

"Nominations for the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Council will be closed in a matter of weeks and consultation on the draft documents is only open for a month or so.

"There are many people who should be part of the process that won't have an opportunity to make an informed opinion."

Nominations for the Council close July 22, with consultation on the draft documents being open until August 19.

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