Extract from Josie Farrer's speech in State Parliament on Thursday 23rd October.
As an Aboriginal person I am extremely concerned that the proposed changes will mean less involvement by Aboriginal people on crucial decisions relating to heritage.
The people of the Kimberley are angered by the proposed changes. This government's intention is to threaten over 60 000 years of Aboriginal heritage. The significance of Aboriginal heritage is being ignored by this government's bureaucracy. It is outrageous that a single person, a chief executive officer in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, will be given total power by this government to make judgement on such significant and cultural issues as heritage and sacred sites.
At the stroke of a pen, this CEO will decide whether or not there is an Aboriginal heritage site on a piece of land. Shockingly, there is no requirement for this CEO to be an Aboriginal person or even to have relevant qualifications in Aboriginal heritage, archeology or anthropology. The CEO will decide what is included and what is axed from the register of Aboriginal sites and objects and there will be no tribunal or way for Aboriginal people to challenge the decisions of the CEO or minister. The CEO can make declarations of his or her own initiative, without any consultation or advice, and once made, they cannot be undone.
The minister stated the changes were needed to keep up with rapid development, but it should not be to the detriment of Aboriginal people. How about the government fast-tracking consent determinations for native title? The government must support Aboriginal people having a voice in decision-making, particularly in matters involving heritage, economic development, mining and construction.
Another example of the government's lack of willingness to support Aboriginal people and engage in meaningful decision-making processes is the government's recent discontinuation of the state activities funding agreement--SAFA--with the Kimberley Land Council. The agreement, which began in 2012 and had the possibility to remain until 2016, set out an agreed heritage process for ensuring the protection of significant sites and traditional country.
The funding agreement established a dedicated KLC team to manage the engagement and consultations with traditional owners regarding all state government future acts, Indigenous land use agreements--pre and post-construction--special projects and Aboriginal heritage matters. It seems the government wants to bypass the KLC and deal directly with prescribed body corporates; that is a ridiculous notion.
How will the government be able to effectively engage directly with PBCs without the assistance of the KLC, when not all Aboriginal native title groups have a PBC? Further, the Aboriginal native title groups that do have a PBC do not necessarily have an office at all, so there is really nothing in the Kimberley--no phone lines and no staff.
. . . The government must protect Aboriginal heritage sites and objects for all future generations. This is essential to all Aboriginal people across Western Australia. The proposed changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 are an insult to Aboriginal people, and they are an insult to me.