A Ngalia leader has taken his calls for help to the United Nations after serious concerns Western Australia’s new heritage laws will put Indigenous communities’ human rights at stake.
Chair of the National Native Title Council (NNTC) Kado Muir told the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) that the Australian Government needs to do more to protect cultural heritage.
Muir said the draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill continues to give the Aboriginal Affairs Minister more power than Traditional Owners, allowing the chances of tragic events like the destruction of Juukan Gorge to remain legal if the law is passed in its current form.
“For the Minister of the Crown to be destroying an Aboriginal site without the consent of Traditional Owners is an abuse of human rights,” Muir said.
The WA Government has said the new legislation aims to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage and “reset” the relationship between land users and Traditional Owners. It will replace the outdated Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA).
Although the draft Bill proposes to give Traditional Owners the right to protect sacred sites by appealing planned destructions, Muir believes the focus is skewed towards the mining industry.
“WA is addicted to resources money,” Muir said.
“We are not calling to stop development. We are calling for the right to say no to the destruction of our sites without our consent.”
Cobble Cobble woman and renowned human rights lawyer Professor Megan Davis has recently been appointed Chair of the EMRIP. She moderated the virtual meeting where several speakers spoke about Indigenous Peoples’ rights.
In what Muir described as an “intense session”, he urged the UN to implement compulsory heritage reports by member states on both the protection and destruction of cultural heritage globally.
Muir says First Nations communities feel left in the dark, he claimed at least 20 more drafts of the same Bill have been made since the first consultation he attended in July 2020.
“None of these drafts have been shared with Traditional Owner groups,” he said.
The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Stephen Dawson told NIT there are still many amendments to be made to the draft Bill before it is presented to WA Parliament at the end of 2021.
“Drafting of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2021 is ongoing. The process is not yet complete,” Minister Dawson said.
“Submissions are still being scrutinised and considered by Government and many revisions have already occurred.”
Minister Dawson said Traditional Owners and other stakeholders have been invited to a briefing session on changes to the Bill in late August.
“It is my hope that this session will dispel many of the concerns people have about the draft Bill,” he said.
Muir is also a director of Wakamurru Aboriginal Coropration, which represents Manta Rirrtinya Native Title Holders. He said few Traditional Owners have been invited to the upcoming consultation.
“We have sought invitations to this briefing and these requests have been ignored,” Muir said.
By Britney Coulson