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Modern Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill final consultation

Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill
Ngajarli Boardwalk at Murujuga (2020)

The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2020 is now open for public consultation. This new legislation will replace the outdated Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 concluding more than two years of consultation with Aboriginal people, industry representatives, heritage professionals and the Western Australian community. WA government intends to introduce the Bill into State Parliament before the end of 2020.

Parliamentary inquiry into destruction of Indigenous heritage sites

Aboriginal people will be empowered to make agreements and negotiate outcomes in relation to activities that may impact their cultural heritage under new laws proposed by the Government.

The draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2020 reflects the feedback of Aboriginal people across the State, industry and stakeholders gathered over two years of consultation.

The Bill addresses the shortcomings of the antiquated Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 and removes the controversial Section 18 process that doesn’t give Aboriginal voices the opportunity to be heard.

A new approach to protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage focuses on agreement making and establishes a tiered approvals system that considers the proposed land use and the level of potential heritage impact.

The Bill reflects contemporary Aboriginal cultural heritage management principles and practices and includes:

  • early engagement and meaningful consultation with Aboriginal people in the identification, management and protection of their cultural heritage;
  • a new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Council to facilitate agreements between Aboriginal people and proponents, and provide advice and strategic oversight to the Minister on management of Aboriginal heritage;
  • the creation of local Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Services to ensure the right people speak for country and make agreements regarding their cultural heritage;
  • introduce measures to address unauthorised impacts and provide for new offences and penalties (up to $10 million); and
  • improve transparency in decision-making with reasons for decisions to be published and the same rights of appeal available to Aboriginal people and land users.

Over the coming weeks, briefings will be held with Aboriginal groups and industry stakeholders. Information sessions will also be held from September 21, 2020 in communities across the State.

Comments attributed to Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt:

“The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2020 will deliver law for Western Australia that will protect and respect one of the world’s oldest continuous living cultures.

“This Bill will reset the relationship between Aboriginal people and land users and align our legislation with Commonwealth native title laws that respect the right of Aboriginal people to negotiate outcomes for projects and opportunities on their lands.

“It will ensure Aboriginal people determine the importance and significance of their heritage sites and empower traditional owners to make agreements regarding the management and impact on their cultural heritage sites.

“Cultural heritage is central to the health and vitality of Aboriginal communities with knowledge passed from generation to generation, providing a strong connection to their past, present and future.

“We have seen recently how grossly inadequate the current legislation is to protect Aboriginal heritage and the appeals by Traditional Owners and land users to modernise our system.

“The McGowan Government is committed to reforming this system. I am very grateful to everyone who has helped shape these new laws.  

“This legislation will better protect Aboriginal heritage in Western Australia, place Aboriginal people at the centre of our heritage protection regime and deliver better decision making in land use proposals for stakeholders, industry and the community.”

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Image by Government of Western Australia

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AMSJ April 2022