Con­tro­versy swirls as her­itage plans set to go ahead

Pilbara News - - News - Louise Alling­ham

The State Govern­ment plans to go ahead with the con­tro­ver­sial Abo­rig­i­nal Her­itage Act Amend­ment Bill.

Leg­is­la­tion to amend the Act was put for­ward back in 2014, but dropped off the list of mo­tions for Par­lia­ment to con­sider be­cause no sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment had been made.

The changes will in­volve in­creased penal­ties for dam­ag­ing or de­stroy­ing sa­cred sites, and the Depart­ment of Abo­rig­i­nal Affairs chief ex­ec­u­tive will take over re­spon­si­bil­ity for eval­u­at­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of Abo­rig­i­nal her­itage places and ob­jects.

Crit­ics have said too much power will lie with the DAA and in­dige­nous peo­ple and tra­di­tional landown­ers will not have enough of a say as to what is a her­itage site.

Ya­matji Marlpa Abo­rig­i­nal Cor­por­ta­tion chief ex­ec­u­tive Si­mon Hawkins strongly ob­jects to the Bill, say­ing it is “un­just”, try­ing to si­lence Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple and not pro­tect­ing Abo­rig­i­nal her­itage.

“The Min­is­ter for Abo­rig­i­nal Affairs has not con­sulted with tra­di­tional own­ers,” he said.

“We have in­vited him on sev­eral oc­ca­sions to at­tend on-coun­try bush meet­ings, where over 300 Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple gath­ered, and both times he re­jected the in­vite.”

Greens Mem­ber for the Min­ing and Pas­toral Re­gion Robin Chap­ple said he would re­main op­posed to the amend­ments and would seek to strike them down.

“There has been enough com­mu­nity back­lash to see peo­ple are ve­he­mently op­posed to this Bill,” he said.

“If the Govern­ment are true to their word and want to de­sign leg­is­la­tion that pro­tects our unique Abo­rig­i­nal her­itage, then it is back to the draw­ing board they must go.”

Univer­sity of WA di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre of Rock Art Re­search and Man­age­ment Jo McDon­ald said the Pil­bara’s unique her­itage sites were im­por­tant to pre­serve.

“They’re worth­while pro­tect­ing, not only be­cause of the Abo­rig­i­nal her­itage but be­cause of the im­por­tance to hu­man­ity,” she said.

“They rep­re­sent an ex­tra­or­di­nary time span and they re­veal re­silience and per­se­ver­ance through en­vi­ron­men­tal change over the last 50,000 years.” UWA Pro­fes­sor of ar­chae­ol­ogy Peter Veth has fol­lowed and watched the progress of the Act since 2014 and agrees it needs to be re­vised.

“It re­quires ma­ture leg­is­la­tion and it re­quires good draft­ing and at the mo­ment I’m not aware of a sin­gle Abo­rig­i­nal land coun­cil or body that’s in favour of the cur­rent amend­ment,” he said.

Abo­rig­i­nal Affairs Min­is­ter Peter Col­lier failed to re­spond be­fore time of print.

Pic­tures: Louise Alling­ham

There are fears the amended Act will not ad­e­quately pro­tect Abo­rig­i­nal her­itage and sa­cred sites.

The Pil­bara has many sites of im­por­tance.

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