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OPINION: A Dark Day in Parliamentary History; an Act of dispossession

Tom Zaunmayr -

History shows the Western Democratic Westminster system has never favoured Indigenous People.

In fact, all around the world the Parliament of the dominant and invading nations dispossessed, stole, murdered, and destroyed through assimilation First Nations Culture, Language and Heritage.

Paul Keating took the courageous step in his famous Redfern speech for Australia's celebration of the 1993 International Year of the World's Indigenous People.

"It will be a year of great significance for Australia," he said.

Prime Minister Keating acknowledged that as a nation, Australia has failed to come to terms with the appalling history and treatment of First Nations People. We all believed this speech marked a turning point in our nation's history.

"We cannot confidently say that we have succeeded as we would like to have succeeded if we have not managed to extend opportunity and care, dignity and hope to the indigenous people of Australia - the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people," he said.

"It begins, I think, with that act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life.

"We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine these things being done to us."

These were powerful words. For the first time in Australia's history Indigenous people felt their suffering was being acknowledged, we felt seen, heard and validated.

It felt like a huge turning point on the road to reconciliation.

Today the Labor party of Western Australia has rewritten history, they have tabled a heritage bill that will go down in history for all the wrong reasons. History they will never be able to erase and as a consequence should hang their heads in shame.

Unfortunately for First Nations People, decisions of government and bureaucrats have been difficult to understand, there is very little accountability or transparency of how or why these decisions are made and the devastating effect they have on First Nations People.

If we don't learn from history, history often repeats itself.

Unfortunately, for First Nations People in Western Australia the dispossession of our cultural and inherent rights to make decisions for our heritage values is being taken away once again by the Western Australian Parliament.

How can the McGowan government possibly be proud of going down in history as tabling legislation that further dispossess First Nations people of cultural rights and legal rights?

It is with amazement and dread that we once again watch a Labor Government, with undisputed power in the Parliament of Western Australia, use their power to continue and further the injustice on First Nations People.

Remember, this is the same party that pushed through the Marandoo Act which resulted in Traditional Owners sacred sites being destroyed by Rio Tinto on an industrial scale.

Premier Mark McGowan promised after his election victory that he would lead for all Western Australians.

The introduction of the Aboriginal Heritage Bill is a clear fact that the current Labor Government is not a government for all Western Australians. It is a Bill that continues the legacy of disempowerment and dispossession of First Nations People for their "own good".

"For our own good" was the justification to remove First Nations children from our parents. The Aboriginal Heritage Bill is a reflection of this deep racist view and value "for our own good".

It is clear that Premier Mark McGowan and Minister Stephen Dawson fear transparency and open government, and that is why they are ramming it through the Western Australian Parliament.

As a result, over 50,000 Western Australians in the metropolitan area of Perth who own land in excess of1,100 square meters in size, will likely need to carry out a heritage inspection and obtain heritage approval or risk precaution under the new Aboriginal Heritage Bill, if they put in a pool in their backyard.

This is just one example of the bureaucratic nightmare that is going to cost Western Australians both black and white dearly.

It's just the tip of the iceberg.

Many Aboriginal Leaders have told the National Indigenous Times the Heritage Bill as presently drafted will create conflict with First Nations People and proponents. Rushing and pushing through the Bill is a demonstration that the McGowan government will get things done at any cost to please the big end of town and at the expense of the minority.

Martin Luther King JR said that when the majority makes a law that impacts on the minority and not on everyone else, it is an unjust law.

The protection of Western historical heritage values in Western Australia has appeal rights to the court and is not at the sole discretion of the Minister.

Why is a Labor Government choosing to live with the historical prejudice, bigotry, and intolerance of history?

In the words of Prime Minster Keating, "we simply cannot sweep injustice aside. Even if our own conscience allowed us to".

It is clear that the State Government, Premier Mark McGowan and Minister Stephen Dawson, have no fear of treating First Nations People differently by ensuring that laws are imposed that compound agony and injustice that many First Nations People live with on a day-by-day basis.

The investment community should be concerned about the social license of the State as Western Australia State may get a reputation as a State that exports conflict commodities.

By Wayne Bergmann and Clinton Wolf

Wayne Bergmann and Clinton Wolf are the owners of the National Indigenous Times.


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