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WA government announces $77million to boost Aboriginal heritage protection system

Giovanni Torre -

The Western Australian government has announced a $77 million funding boost over the next four years to manage and protect Aboriginal cultural heritage in Western Australia.

On Sunday Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tony Buti said the funding increase, included in WA's 2023-24 budget, would support implementation of a new system and ensure the sustainability of Local Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Services (LACHS).

"Ensuring the sustainability of Local Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Services has been raised consistently throughout the co-design process, both from Aboriginal people and organisations and from industry," he said.

Under the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021, LACHS will have a regulatory role to provide advice on Aboriginal cultural heritage, help negotiate and facilitate agreement-making on land-use proposals, and take on "significant" administrative and operational responsibilities.

The state government said that once established, LACHS will be funded up to $300,000 each year to ensure adequate levels of resourcing and capacity to meet the anticipated service level requirements from proponents, Traditional Owners, Aboriginal communities and individuals.

The government said the new commitment "will ensure there are sufficient funds" reserved to support LACHS across Western Australia as they become operational, as well as support an expansion of government resources in regional WA.

The funding will bolster existing WA government investment to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage, including management of protected areas, maintaining a database of culturally important places, the annual Preserving, Promoting and Protecting Aboriginal Sites grants program and supporting the repatriation of ancestral remains.

The development and passage of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021 sparked controversy as Aboriginal leaders and legal experts argued it did not go far enough to empower Aboriginal communities to protect cultural heritage.

After the legislation was passed two major Aboriginal organisations raised concerns over the process for developing the Act's regulations.

The Act will come into effect from 1 July this year and the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage is currently progressing its implementation.

Aboriginal organisations, prescribed bodies corporate and parties interested in becoming a LACHS can find out more about eligibility online.

Dr Buti said Western Australia "will have a modern legislative framework for the protection and management of Aboriginal cultural heritage… for the first time in more than 50 years", a reference to the notoriously one-sided and racist 1972 Act which has been replaced.

"I am pleased to support our commitment to these new laws with a significant funding investment," he said.

"We need a system that is effective, responsive and able to meet the timeframes set out by the new Act to ensure business activities are not impeded, and that there are no risks to Aboriginal cultural heritage."

Dr Buti said the government's funding commitment will be subject to annual review "through normal budget processes to ensure we have sufficient reserves to respond to the number of LACHS, the level of industry activity and enquiries in the system".

"We expect the first LACHS to be designated by the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Council over the coming months and look forward to supporting these newly appointed organisations to build their capacity and prepare for the new system," he said.

More to come.

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