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WA Government cops backlash after passing of Cultural Heritage Bill

Rachael Knowles -

Criticism has continued for the Western Australian Government after the Cultural Heritage Bill was passed without amendment on Wednesday night.

The Bill, which was passed less than a month after it was introduced to Parliament, has found strong resistance from Traditional Owners, Aboriginal leaders, land councils, industry leaders, and state and federal politicians across the country.

The Kimberley Land Council (KLC) who have been advocating against the bill since its drafting, have warned the McGowan Government that the "eyes of the world" are watching.

KLC CEO Tyronne Garstone described the legislation as "historic" but not for the right reasons.

"The McGowan Government's reform of the heritage legislation, which they referred to as the most progressive in the country, will be remembered as a disastrous moment for Aboriginal heritage protection," he said.

"This is not progress. Calling it progressive is a reflection of how bad the previous legislation was."

Mr Garstone noted that the McGowan Government "wasted an opportunity to create legislation that strikes a balance between development and heritage protection".

"This Bill continues to expose Aboriginal heritage to destruction and disempowers Traditional Owners to speak for their Country," he said,

"In a state where the economy is driven by the mining and resource sector, once again, the needs of industry trump everyone else."

KLC Chair Anthony Watson described Wednesday as a "devastating day" for Aboriginal heritage, noting his deep sadness seeing the Bill pass.

"The Government has wasted this once in a generation opportunity to make change, and it will be at the expense of our irreplaceable Dreaming sites," he said.

"Once again, Aboriginal people have not been listened to, not been respected and our culture has been left vulnerable to destruction."

Mr Watson noted that the McGowan Government disregarded a "genuine commitment to reconciliation".

"When questioned in Parliament, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Stephen Dawson, was only able to name three individual Aboriginal people who supported the Bill, and neglected to acknowledge the overwhelming majority who hold grave concerns," he said.

"The Minister has misrepresented the views of the Aboriginal people."

Mr Watson noted that the decision to pass the Bill unamended, has led to widespread criticism of the WA Government.

Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations CEO, Paul Paton told the National Indigenous Times that the bill was an opportunity for the "West Australian Government to demonstrate their commitment and leadership in protecting First Nations Cultural Heritage".

"Unfortunately, they seem to be doing the complete opposite," he said.

Mr Paton said the Federation gives its "full support" to the fight for stronger rights for First Nations people and referenced the progress of the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance.

"Whilst long overdue, it's time to acknowledge that the protection of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage is important for all Australians â€" both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal â€" and for our shared future," he said.

"With better laws in place, it will enact real change for First Nations People".

Mr Watson said that with mounting pressure from supporters across the country and internationally, the McGowan Government will be held accountable.

"An overwhelming majority of Aboriginal groups in Western Australia and around the nation were in opposition to the Bill," he said.

"Australians value Aboriginal heritage. In the wake of the destruction of Juukan Gorge, Australians have shown that they oppose the destruction of our living culture.

"The shockwaves were felt around the world. Governments who ignore this do so at their peril."

By Rachael Knowles

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