Joint statement by Slim Parker, Kado Muir, Dr Anne Poelina, Clayton Lewis and Dr Hannah McGlade on the potential repeal of the Western Australian Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021.
The WA Government/Premier has indicated that the Western Australian Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021 (ACH Act) may be repealed due to private landholder concerns.
From a First Nations perspective, there are a range of significant concerns with the poorly drafted ACH Act. Slim Parker, Kado Muir, Dr Anne Poelina, Clayton Lewis and Dr Hannah McGlade have made a request to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to review the WA legislation under its early warning and urgent action procedure. This request has been lodged and has commenced.i Key concerns include:
- the discretionary power attributed to the Western Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs;
- the absence of effective remedies and legal redress for Aboriginal peoples to challenge the Minister’s decisions; and
- the absence of a requirement of free, prior and informed consent of interested Aboriginal persons for the approval of the Management Plan.
There is significant concern that the ACH Act fails to meet Australia’s obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and Aboriginal cultural heritage remains at risk of continued destruction in Western Australia.
We need a commitment for co-design of an improved law that will better protect cultural heritage.
The Premier should convene an urgent roundtable of First Nations leaders to do this.
While the ACH Act is an improvement on the previous legislation that enabled the wholesale destruction of Aboriginal cultural heritage across Western Australia, by giving the Minister ultimate discretionary power (without any weighting in favour of protecting Aboriginal culture heritage or an enforceable right to culture), Aboriginal cultural heritage will continue to be destroyed across the State. Other models need to be considered including truly independent statutory authorities (like in the Northern Territory).
Australia’s approach to cultural heritage protection requires a true transformative change, which must be pursued at the national level by the Australian Government. It is now three years since the shameful destruction of the 46,000-year-old heritage sites at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia and approximately 1.5 years since the release of the Australian Parliament’s final report into the destruction of those heritage sites.ii Very little in substance has changed and the national legislation has not been amended.iii
i See: UN Scrutiny for WA Cultural Heritage Bill after First Nations Referral – Environmental Defenders Office (edo.org.au)
ii Australian Government response to the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia’s: A Way Forward: Final report into the destruction of Indigenous heritage sites at Juukan Gorge.