17/11/2021 - 15:49

Concerns on Indigenous heritage bill

17/11/2021 - 15:49


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The opposition has accused the state government of ramming through the new Aboriginal Heritage Bill, while industry warns the significant adjustment required should not be underestimated.

Concerns on Indigenous heritage bill
Juukan Gorge. Photo: PKKP

The opposition has accused the state government of ramming through the new Aboriginal Heritage Bill, while mining industry bodies have warned the significant adjustment it will require should not be underestimated.

Today, Premier Mark McGowan confirmed the state government would table the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2021, labelling it the most progressive cultural heritage legislation in the country.

The new bill, formed based on more than 100 workshops over two years of consultation, removes the controversial Section 18 approvals necessary under the 1972 act that led to the destruction of Juukan Gorge in May 2020.

The government promised the bill would mandate agreement making with traditional owners in line with Native Title laws and put traditional owners at the heart of decision making about the protection of culturally-significant sites.

But the bill has drawn the ire of Aboriginal groups, which have raised concerns about enhancing the power of the Aboriginal Affairs Minister - who will have the final say over what happens to sites of significance.

Opposition leader Mia Davies criticised the state government for rushing the introduction of the bill and not allowing adequate time for stakeholders and constituents to discuss it.

“If the government has confidence in the legislation, that they have struck the right balance and consulted appropriately, then they should allow the bill to progress as normal and not rush it through,” she said.

“Forcing the parliament to urgently deal with this bill raises red flags about this Labor government’s ability to be open and honest with not only fellow MPs but all West Australians.”

Aboriginal Affairs spokesperson Vince Catania said the opposition had sought more detail around the powers of approval to be held by the minister.

Mining bodies back legislation, but scale of change should not be underestimated

While the changes will apply to all industries, the mining industry is expected to be the one most affected by the changes.

In a statement released this afternoon, Chamber of Minerals and Energy of WA chief executive Paul Everingham said the latest iteration of the bill was one the state’s mining sector could work with, but one that would require significant adjustment from all stakeholders.

He said change of the scale proposed was complex, and warned the challenges associated with its implementation should not be underestimated. 

“We acknowledge that our industry hasn’t always got things right, at times with deeply regrettable consequences,” he said.

“Our commitment remains to invest in long-term relationships for mutual benefit through agreement-making and ongoing dialogue which responds to the priorities of local Indigenous people. 

“Traditional Owners and Custodians make an important contribution to the economic prosperity of all Australians by enabling development on their lands, and the resources sector takes the responsibility of these partnerships extremely seriously.

“We understand that striking the right balance is not easy, and passage of this legislation is just the first step. 

“CME and its member companies will spend some time reviewing this legislation in its entirety.”

While acknowledging the state government’s initial $10 million funding commitment to prepare for the reforms, Mr Everingham pushed for further funding to ensure the success of the regime.

The Association of Mining and Exploration Companies chief Warren Pearce echoed Mr Everingham’s sentiments, and said the organisation was still in the process of determining the impact of the new requirements on exploration activities, the costs for heritage surveys, and the timeframes for consultation and agreement making processes.

He said industry would continue to call on both the federal and state governments to provide greater resourcing for body corporates undertaking new responsibilities under the legislation.

“These changes will be much more demanding on mining and exploration companies and will slow the process of exploration and development,” he said.

“While much about this new process and how it will work is still uncertain, the mining and mineral exploration industry will approach these changes constructively and continue to work closely with traditional owners.

“The true test for the success of this legislation will be in its implementation, and whether all parties can work together to reach agreements that balance the protection of cultural heritage and the shared opportunities that come from mineral exploration and mining.”


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