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First test for WA's updated cultural heritage laws

Dechlan Brennan -

Western Australia's updated cultural heritage laws will soon be put to their first significant test, with the Shire of Toodyay facing fines of up to $50,000 for breaching the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

The ABC reported the shire, and at least one contractor hired by the shire, have been charged; with the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage accusing both of breaching the Act over construction work in several waterways.

It is believed this work was in relation to altering a waterway to prevent erosion under a footpath.

The WA government introduced revamped laws in the middle of 2023 in a bid to prevent incidents like the destruction of the Juukan Gorge by Rio Tinto from happening again.

However, they were repealed less than two months later, with Premier Roger Cook admitting they "took things too far".

National Indigenous Times reported Aboriginal leaders and other cultural heritage experts had warned the legislation did not empower Traditional Owners, instead creating heavy responsibilities for Aboriginal organisations but still denying them a final say.

In November amendments were passed to the 1972 Aboriginal Heritage Act, which had come back into effect with the repeal of the new Act. One of the amendments to the reinstated 1972 Act allows Traditional Owners recourse to appeal decisions.

The charges are the first major test of the amended legislation, which can see individuals found guilty for a first offence fined $20,000 and jailed for nine months. The shire will face a fine of $50,000.

Second offences for individuals can result in a $40,000 fine and two years imprisonment whilst shires can see a $100,000 fine for a second, or any subsequent, offence.


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