Controversy swirls as heritage plans set to go ahead
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.
There are fears the amended Act will not adequately protect Aboriginal heritage and sacred sites.
The Pilbara has many sites of importance.