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Low attendance, 'box-ticking' claims mire WA Aboriginal heritage co-design

Giovanni Torre -

Two major Aboriginal organisations have slammed the West Australian government's development of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act's new regulations.

Jamukurnu-Yapalikurnu Aboriginal Corporation and the Kimberley Land Council both claimed the process was being directed by the government and did not truly reflect the principles of co-design.

JYAC chairman Melvin Farmer said Martu directors and staff who attended consultations felt the government had already made up its mind on what it wanted.

"We're trying to get the regulations to protect our heritage because many of our submissions about the law itself were not taken up," he said.

"It feels like the government is balancing the interests of miners, farmers, local government, tourism and everyone else who wants to use WA land, with the interests of Aboriginal people who are trying to protect our heritage and be part of economic development on our traditional lands."

State Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tony Buti said the process was overseen by the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Reference Group, which included Aboriginal community leaders Merle Carter and Lindsay Dean.

"This was the first of three rounds of engagements that will take place across WA throughout the year," he said.

"I acknowledge there are some parts of the community that feel the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act did not meet their expectations, however, this should not deter their participation in the co-design of the regulations.

"The fact is this Act will be one of the most robust, protective and collaborative pieces of legislation, of its kind, in the Commonwealth."

Mr Farmer said the regulations must recognise the rights of Aboriginal people to speak for country and to decide what must be protected.

"Martu are fortunate because we have exclusive possession native title rights," he said.

"Other Aboriginal people without strong native title rights are having to fight with one hand tied behind their back.

"We have an obligation to our ngurra and families and will work with this new system the best we can."

Concerns have also been raised in the Kimberley, where reports of low attendance at workshops have been raised.

Kimberley Land Council chief executive Tyronne Garstone said many people were unaware workshops had been scheduled.

"This is deeply concerning as it means many community members have not been part of the co-design process or had their voices heard," he said.

Mr Garstone said a workshop attended by the KLC in Perth highlighted the new Act's failure to address issues with the existing laws.

"Discussions highlighted a severe lack of resourcing for the new cultural heritage regime," he said.

"Several participants raised concerns about the short two-week timeframe provided to stakeholders to submit feedback following the Perth workshop," he said.

Mr Garstone said as it stood, the co-design risked becoming a failed "tick-the-box" exercise.

Mr Buti said initial funding was available to build Local Aboriginal cultural heritage service capacity and further resourcing once the Act became operational would be considered.

In May he told parliament more than 300 people had so far participated in co-design workshops.

Phase two consultation is expected to begin in early July.

It will include a further round of community workshops and sessions in remote Aboriginal communities pending COVID-19 measures.

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