Spring is upon us, a season that brings new life and a time that brings new opportunities for growth, change and renewal. As we step into spring, WA Traditional Owners hope the spirit of the season will be reflected in the State’s new Aboriginal heritage legislation.
While Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson continues to say the new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2021 will be introduced to Parliament in the second half of this year, Traditional Owners have been left in the dark as to when.
The State is yet to see if the minister will be able to squeeze the controversial Bill through both the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council in the remaining 11 sitting weeks of WA Parliament this year.
Will 11 weeks be enough given the Bill has taken more than a year to even settle on its first form?
Just two months after former minister Ben Wyatt introduced the original draft, an analysis of public submissions to the Bill found that more than 60 per cent of submissions did not support the Bill in its current form.
One year on, Mr Dawson is pushing through with reportedly more than 100 amendments to the Bill, yet Traditional Owners’ calls to restart are falling on deaf ears.
And this is all before the Bill has been exposed to the time-consuming bureaucracy of parliamentary debate, amendment adjustments and legislative tweaks.
In mid-August, Traditional Owners from the Kimberley and the Pilbara united in Perth to protest against the Bill at Parliament House.
Mr Dawson accepted a letter from Kimberley Land Council representatives calling for co-designed legislation — but did he listen?
At the end of August, Pilbara Traditional Owners protested in South Hedland against the Bill, agreeing to head to Perth in October to stage another protest on the steps of Parliament.
It is baffling to watch a minister push uphill against the forces of 60,000-plus years of cultural knowledge and expertise — all in an effort to get a piece of legislation through that all stakeholders want to be effective.
From the countless interviews, rallies, and general public conversation on the matter, it is clear to anyone that WA Traditional Owners are not anti-mining or anti-regulation. They just want their cultural heritage to be protected, respected and celebrated. Instead, their voices are not being heard.
Respected Elders, land council chairs and chief executives, as well as non-Indigenous allies have been loud and clear in their call for the Bill to be scrapped and to be re-drafted and co-designed with Traditional Owners.
So why is Mr Dawson refusing to walk alongside Traditional Owners?
By Hannah Cross