Banjima Native Title Aboriginal Corporation (BNTAC) have joined the chorus of voices opposing the Western Australian Government’s Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill.

BNTAC Vice Chair, and Senior Banjiman Elder, Slim Parker said Traditional Owners have “once again” been left feeling let down and disrespected by the state government.

The corporation join many other organisations, land councils and Aboriginal leaders who are calling for the McGowan Government to shelf the Bill and instead, consult with Traditional Owners.

Mr Parker raises concerns about the motive of the state government for rushing through the legislation, and motives to leave Traditional Owners in the dark.

“On behalf of Traditional Owners across WA, I ask you Premier Mark McGowan and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Stephen Dawson to please publicly announce the reason you have, in 2021, imposed upon us the management of ‘our’ cultural heritage?” he asked.

“Why are you doing this to us?”

Mr Parker describes the inability of Traditional Owners to properly review and comprehend the bill as a “breach of trust and respect”.

“Premier, you know very well you developed the Bill without giving due regard and respect to the people who will personally be affected. This has happened through a lack of communication and consultation with our cultural decision makers, our Elders,” he said.

“Instead, we have a Minister who does not appear to be representing us in the government, instead he is representing the State and industry.

“It has been this way since colonisation, Aboriginal people have been controlled though legislation and the systems of government which have in-built systemic racism. This Bill is yet another example of this.”

“It is the Minister, or people selected by the Minister, who have the final say as to whether our heritage will be destroyed. It is the Minister who decides who will sit on the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Council. Nothing changes with this legislation – we continue to be controlled by government.”

The Bill should be “of concern to all Western Australians, industry, investors, employees on projects, and employers” said Mr Parker, due to people’s ‘license to operate’ on Country “is put at risk by this Act prohibiting Traditional Owners from having free consent”.

Mr Parker said that Traditional Owners, Government, and industry should work together to address the issues with the Bill.

“Let’s work together to solve those problematic areas in the current Bill, which haunts us now and will do forever if the Government continues on its current path,” he said.

“We have a great opportunity to unite this country and not divide it even more.”

BNTAC have also expressed their concern about the significant burden placed on Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBC) through the establishment of local Aboriginal cultural heritage services (LACHS).

They note that PBCs need clarity on funding and support to carry out the requirements established in the Bill. Currently, there is no guidance on the costs for PBCs or mining companies.

The corporation also recognises that the Bill ignored the recommendations of the Juukan Gorge Inquiry, including recommendations to co-design legislation, uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People principles of free, prior and informed consent; and to have the ability to withhold consent.

“Despite being dominated and controlled by racist and discriminatory policy and legislation, many of us have had the very good fortune to have adapted academically through schools and universities. Combine this with our cultural knowledge, we are the best placed people to inform this legislation on paper and in practice,” Mr Parker said.

“We are not against mining and development, as these provide opportunities for employment and the ability to look after our communities and our culture. But we need the ability to have a say.”

By Rachael Knowles