Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson has today welcomed the Senate Inquiry Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia’s Final Report into the destruction of the 46,000-year-old caves at Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara.
In line with the Committee’s finding and recommendations, the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill (the Bill) will replace outdated legislation and includes a series of measures designed to prevent another Juukan Gorge tragedy.
The Bill removes the controversial Section 18 approvals process under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (the 1972 Act) and, in line with Native Title laws, focuses on agreement making with traditional owners to ensure Aboriginal people can negotiate outcomes for projects and opportunities on their lands.
The new Bill establishes world-class protections for the management of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage and was designed on the principles of the Burra Charter.
Under the Burra Charter, the protection and conservation of heritage should demonstrate an understanding of the place and its cultural significance, including its meaning to people, before making decisions about its future, and involves the relevant communities associated with the heritage. The new Bill explicitly provides for this.
Traditional owners can apply to have a really important area made a Protected Area and no one can apply to damage Aboriginal cultural heritage in the area.
The PKKP Aboriginal Corporation has called for early, meaningful and ongoing engagement with Aboriginal people. WA’s new legislation has been based on this model.
Local Aboriginal groups will be the primary decision makers and will have significant influence in the management of cultural heritage within their appointed area, another recommendation of the final report.
Only Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Management Plans where informed consent can be demonstrated will be approved, to enable activities to commence.
A raft of intervention measures including Stop Activity and Prohibition Orders and new offences of serious harm, material harm and harm to Aboriginal cultural heritage with penalties up to $7 million or two years imprisonment will afford further protection.
The Bill includes provisions for the appointment of Local Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Services to increase the voices of Aboriginal people in the management of their cultural heritage.
The Bill is the result of three rounds of consultation with Aboriginal people and other stakeholders over the last three years. It is currently being finalised before being introduced to State Parliament.
As stated by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson:
“Destruction of the 46,000-year-old caves at Juukan Gorge was a tragedy and the WA Government is working hard to ensure better legislative protections are afforded to our sacred cultural heritage sites.
“Better protection for Aboriginal cultural heritage will absolutely be achieved once the new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill becomes law – and the McGowan Government is committed to this reform.
“The central foundation of the Bill is consultation, negotiation and agreement making between Aboriginal parties and proponents – the very foundation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“It also legally protects Aboriginal people from being silenced, requires proponents to provide full disclosure of all possible options for their operation and mandates voluntary consent of the traditional owners.”