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Over 60 per cent of stakeholders oppose new WA cultural heritage bill

Rachael Knowles -

An analysis of the public submissions to the draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2020 (WA) has found over 60 per cent of submissions are not in support of the Bill.

The WA Chapter of the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists Inc. (AACAI) and the AHA Collective analysed all 157 submissions from organisations and individuals that were made in the five-week feedback period.

The analysis found that of the 157 submissions, 47 did not support the Bill, 50 did not support the current Bill and noted the need for major amendments, 47 supported the Bill with minor amendments and only ten supported the Bill in its current form.

Overall, 62 per cent of submissions did not support the Bill in its current form.

"The Bill does not meet community expectations, nor does it satisfy the needs of industry stakeholders and land users who work with Aboriginal cultural heritage in Western Australia," said the AACAI and AHA Collective.

The associations said Stage 3 of the proposal formation, which calls for careful consideration of actual proposed new legislation and its effects, has lacked two-way dialogue and time.

"When I looked at the industry [submissions], there was a whole lot of common ground on about two to three main areas, one is the resourcing of the newly proposed local Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Services," said AACAI representative Dr Joe Dortch.

"There may be one of those per geographical area ... each is supposed to be the go-to place for any mining company or industry wanting to do work on that land. That is an important concept, as it addresses concerns from Traditional Owner groups."

Dr Dortch said the groups do not have access to sustainable funding for this task.

"It is going to delegate the responsibility it now has to manage heritage sites out to local groups and that's good. But it's not going to support them," he said.

"Without ongoing funding you're going to be under pressure to take whatever deal is on the table. All the mining companies agree with that, they want to see the people they talk to have ongoing funding."

The PKKP Aboriginal Corporation's (PKKPAC) submission outlined their concerns regarding the final decision being made by the State.

"The new Bill still positions Aboriginal cultural heritage, heritage that Traditional Owners have serious responsibilities to protect, as being somehow owned by the State of Western Australia and something that a Minister of the State has the power to make decisions over. This is not right and of deep concern to us," they wrote.

"Although this Bill does set out a process for the involvement of Aboriginal people in the management and protection of Aboriginal heritage, the ultimate power still rests with the Minister to make decisions about the destruction of sites.

"This is alarming and we ask that a negotiation now ensues to find a middle ground where Aboriginal people have a real role in decision making pertaining to the protection, destruction and management of their sites."

The PKKPAC also raised concerns about the limited time between the Bill's release in September and the submission deadline in October.

The Kimberley Land Council is in staunch opposition to the draft Bill, writing in their submission that Aboriginal disempowerment must not be evident in the new legislation.

"The KLC submits that any new law to replace the AHA must not replicate the disempowerment of Traditional Owners found in the AHA."

On Wednesday the McGowan Government announced their intentions to improve the Bill in respect to consultations with Aboriginal groups and stakeholders. The updated Bill will be available for consideration in the 41st Parliament of WA.

"I have been enormously pleased with the constructive approach taken by Aboriginal people and the resources industry through all consultation phases," said WA Treasurer and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ben Wyatt.

"I am confident that the effort undertaken to reach broad consensus on these reforms will allow the best possible chance for a Bill to be supported by the 41st Parliament.

"While I will not be a member of that Parliament, I will continue to follow with interest this important reform."

By Rachael Knowles


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