Politicians blast WA cultural heritage law

Labor senator Patrick Dodson says new WA heritage laws sideline Indigenous voices.

Labor senator Patrick Dodson says new WA heritage laws sideline Indigenous voices. Photo: Getty

Federal politicians have written to the Western Australian government blasting the state’s newly passed Aboriginal cultural heritage laws.

Queensland LNP MP Warren Entsch and Labor senator Patrick Dodson warn it sidelines Indigenous voices in favour of proponents.

The laws replace Western Australia’s Aboriginal Heritage Act that paved the way for miner Rio Tinto to destroy the 46,000-year-old Juukan Gorge rock shelters.

Mr Entsch and senator Dodson have written to state Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson accusing Western Australia of disregarding federal parliamentary recommendations.

The joint committee looking at the development of Northern Australia is concerned the laws put assessments of sites in the hands those seeking to damage them.

“This means that it is the proponents, and not Aboriginal people, who have the capacity to make decisions about what is, and what is not, Aboriginal cultural heritage and whether a proposed activity is likely to cause harm,” the letter said.

“This is contrary to current understandings that even minimal physical disturbance may have an impact on First Nations’ cultural heritage, particularly intangible heritage.”

The politicians are unhappy the state minister has the final say in circumstances where land owners and proponents cannot agree on plans to manage cultural heritage.

While neither party can seek a review of a decision to approve a plan, they can appeal a decision to suspend or cancel it.

“This imbalance is likely to favour the proponents and denies First Nations people an important avenue to prevent the abuse of ministerial power,” the letter said.

The Western Australia legislation removes the old approvals process for damaging sites. But approvals already granted under it remain valid for 10 years.

“An ongoing reliance on this permit system conflicts with principles of free, prior and informed consent,” the federal committee said.


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