Changes to Aboriginal Heritage Act offend Kimberley TOs

The draft amendments to the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 are on the table—and they don’t look good.

Legal experts are concerned. Aboriginal academics are concerned. The Kimberley Land Council is concerned. And KRED Enterprises is concerned, that the proposed changes will mean less involvement by our people on crucial decisions relating to heritage.

According to the Draft Bill, all power will be transferred to a single CEO in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. The CEO can decide that ‘there is no Aboriginal site on the land,’ they will decide what is included or axed from the Register of Aboriginal Sites and Objects, and there will be no tribunal or way for our people to challenge the decisions of the CEO or the Minister.

Further, there is no requirement for the CEO to be an Aboriginal person or to even have relevant qualifications in Aboriginal heritage, archeology or anthropology. 

KRED Enterprises Chairperson, Anthony Watson, says it's shocking decision-making power will rest with a single CEO. 

 "This is highly offensive to Kimberley Traditional Owners. The Aboriginal Heritage Act in its current form is in desperate need of reappraisal, but the proposed changes simply serve the state’s drive for rapid development at the expense of the rights and interests of Aboriginal Traditional Owners."  

The Law Society of Western Australia has also slammed the bill for not ensuring transparent reasoning of CEO determinations and for not guaranteeing Aboriginal people a voice in the decision-making process.

Should the Draft Bill become law, rather than smooth negotiations between Traditional Owners and industry, it will increase conflict and litigation in relation to impacts on heritage sites.

Mr Watson says the government has the opportunity to switch lip service with leadership.

"We urge them to dump this Draft Bill and seek the free, prior and informed consent of Traditional Owners as they craft a new Bill—a Bill we can feel proud of, a Bill that we can feel confident will protect our heritage sites and objects in the decades to come," Mr Watson says.