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WA Government accused of holding "private presentations" of draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill

Rachael Knowles -

Allegations have come to light accusing the West Australian state government of hosting private presentations of the draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill.

The National Indigenous Times have received multiple reports that the McGowan Government have been hosting private presentations of the draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill to selected people in attempt to gain support.

It's understood that many senior Aboriginal leaders have been excluded from said presentations, and those who have been offered private presentations have refused due to invitations not being extended to relevant legal professionals, industry experts or all relevant Traditional Owners and Aboriginal community members.

A senior Aboriginal leader, who wished to remain anonymous, told the National Indigenous Times that they had not been extended an invitation to see the bill in its entirety.

"[There's been] no consultation. It's disappointing that we haven't seen the full script. There are issues that only parts of it are being shown, parts could be cancelled out with other references in the Act," they said.

"You do have to see the bill in its entirety to make any decisions."

They acknowledged the allegations of private presentations, saying that there was "word that people have seen the full version".

"We are unsure of who was given what information, or who has seen the whole bill," they said.

"It's unfair, it's not fair engagement. It's not transparent."

In a statement the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) has pushed Premier McGowan to present a full, up-to-date version of the draft bill before it is tabled in Parliament.

The lack of transparency on the latest version of the bill is inconsistent with the government's promise to increase protections for heritage sites said KLC CEO Tyronne Garstone.

"Our greatest concern is that we still don't know what legislation we will end up with, and we are not confident the proposed legislation gives Aboriginal people the right to withhold consent over damage to or destruction of cultural heritage on their Country" Garstone said.

"The last time the draft bill was made available was over a year ago, and we know there have been more than a hundred of amendments made since, none of which we have seen."

Garstone supports the recently released Juukan Gorge Parliamentary Inquiry report which recommended the Commonwealth should have provision to override decisions made under "inadequate" state or territory laws which threaten heritage sites.

"The State Government is too close to industry and too dependent on royalties to be objective and transparent when it comes to matters concerning Aboriginal heritage," he said.

"In order to move forward, the Western Australian Government must abolish all powers that authorise damage to cultural heritage sites without the consent of Traditional Owners."

The National Indigenous Times understands that currently there has not been an opportunity provided for Traditional Owners and representatives of the mining industry to oversee the full draft bill together.

"Aboriginal groups and industry should be allowed to work together on the development of this bill in the same room, and the draft bill must be made available before it is introduced into Parliament," said Garstone.

The National Indigenous Times approached the Premier's Office and the Officer of Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson for comment.

Both offices received questions relating to the progress of the bill, when it would be introduced to Parliament and who had been involved in drafting the bill.

Questions were also asked regarding the alleged private presentations.

The National Indigenous Times asked for clarification regarding which industry representatives and anthropology and/or archaeology experts had been invited to attend private presentations of the draft bill and if the opportunity for private presentations were made available to Aboriginal leaders, community members, Traditional Owners or Aboriginal Land Council representatives.

The Office of the Aboriginal Affairs Minister declined to comment.

More to come.

By Rachael Knowles


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