Across the nation, Traditional Owners are fighting for Country, and right now, the cry is heard loudest in Western Australia.

The nation watches as the McGowan Government attempts to legislate the continuation of cultural destruction against First Nations Peoples and Country.

The draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill is yet another attempt at legislation that seeks to disempower, disenfranchise and control First Peoples.

It not only revokes the rights of First Nations People, but seeks to control, silence and destroy. The Bill continues a legacy as old as this nation, the legacy of attempted cultural genocide.

The McGowan Government, in designing the Bill, had an opportunity to do the right thing.

As written in the Punturr Punturr Statement, a joint statement by the Kimberley Land Council, Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre and Aarnja, the Government had a “once in a lifetime opportunity to change this story” to protect “living, breathing culture”.

“You have the opportunity to prove that you are on our side, fighting for us,” it said. Instead, it proposed legislation that would “continue to enable the ongoing destruction of Aboriginal culture”.

In August, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Stephen Dawson noted the legislation “fundamentally” would “ensure Aboriginal people can define and assert their significance of their cultural heritage” and “with this authority, be able to negotiate agreements with miners and other land users”.

“Aboriginal people and key stakeholders will be closely engaged in the development and co-design of supporting policies, processes and guidelines,” he said.

May I remind the reader now that the McGowan Government allegedly hosted private screenings of the Heritage Bill to seek support?

Despite the assurance Aboriginal people were “closely engaged”, invitations to said screenings were not extended to senior Aboriginal leaders.

When the National Indigenous Times approached the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, the opportunity to comment was declined.

Mr Dawson has publicly emphasised that the “central foundation” of the new Bill is “consultation, negotiation and agreement-making between Traditional Owners (or their appointed representatives) and proponents”.

One must ask, in which consultation did Traditional Owners ask that their right of appeal be revoked? On November 17, this Bill was tabled in Parliament.

To quote the KLC chairman Anthony Watson’s letter to UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous peoples, Jose Francisco Cali-Tzay: “Ordinarily parliamentary processes require the Bill to be laid before the Lower House for three weeks, however the Government forced through a vote on the Bill in less than 24 hours.”

What does a government seek to gain from pushing through a Bill so quickly?

The answer – control.

“Over 90 per cent of the submissions from Aboriginal parties called for the Bill to be scrapped or rewritten. Aboriginal people’s concerns have been ignored by the WA Government,” Mr Watson said.

This Bill should not see the light of day, much less be enshrined in law.

If this happens, the McGowan Government will have executed the legislative silencing of Traditional Owners.

Country that lives now might not exist in a generation. Its livelihood lies in the hands of politicians who warm seats in Harvest Terrace.

Mark McGowan promised to be a leader for “all Western Australians” but one must remind the Premier that his legacy as a leader, instead, will be this Bill.

A Bill that continues displacement and disconnection for First Nations people.

A Bill that continues colonisation.

By Rachael Knowles 

Rachael Knowles is the editor of the National Indigenous Times