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WA Cultural Heritage Bill to be pushed through Parliament despite opposition

Rachael Knowles -

The controversial WA Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill is expected to pass through Parliament today.

The bill has gained strong opposition from Aboriginal leaders, land councils, Traditional Owners and advocates both in the state and across the country.

The Aboriginal Heritage Action Alliance (AHAA) which is led by senior Traditional Owners from across WA, are continuing to stand in opposition of the bill.

The alliance has condemned the WA state government, led by Premier Mark McGowan, for rushing through the laws that in their opinion would "enable the continued destruction of sacred sites".

"The opportunity the government had to right wrongs and discard racist laws has been squandered," said Nyikina Warrwa Traditional Custodian and academic, Dr Anne Poelina.

"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."

AHAA has also called on mining giants, Rio Tinto, BHP and FMG to place a voluntary moratorium on actioning existing and proposed approvals to destroy further cultural heritage.

"McGowan has failed us. Mining companies must now show they understand their responsibilities and commit to pausing further destruction until this mess is worked through," said Dr Poelina.

Ngadju traditional custodian, native title holder, and Founder and Chair of Ngadju Conservation Aboriginal Corporation, Leslie Schultz noted that the Juukan Gorge Parliamentary Inquiry "shamed the WA government" for failing to place the interested of First Peoples and cultural heritage above miners.

"Unbowed, McGowan has continued pushing this feeble new legislation," Schultz said.

"Rio Tinto, BHP and FMG have been silent on these weak new laws. If we're to enter a new era post Juukan Gorge, where our heritage and rights are respected, then miners should join us in demanding stronger protections.

"Otherwise, they're just shedding crocodile tears while destroying our heritage for their own profit."

In September, members of AHAA and other prominent leaders and advocates filed a complaint regarding the draft bill to the United Nations' Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The Committee, in response, wrote to the Federal Government, outlining its concerns with the proposed legislation.

AHAA is standing firm in its opposition to the bill and is working to develop national heritage laws which are co-designed with First Nations People.

"Our people have responsibility to protect sacred sites," said Dr Poelina.

"These new laws, which were thrust upon us without proper consultation, do not empower us with the right to say 'no' or give rights of appeal.

"Our determination to gain justice stays strong. We will redouble our pursuit of justice through the United Nations and look to the national stage to override the WA laws."

"We will keep fighting until we win our right to stop untrammelled disregard for our sacred sites, with what we know is the widespread support of the community here and overseas," added Schultz.

By Rachael Knowles


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