WA government releases amendments to revised Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act for consultation

WA government releases amendments to revised Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act for consultation
  • PublishedSeptember 14, 2023

The WA government is one step closer to repealing its controversial Aboriginal cultural heritage legislation, as it shares details of its planned replacement with stakeholders.

Premier Roger Cook last month announced a rewrite of the laws, passed in 2021, would be scrapped just weeks after taking effect.

At the time he acknowledged widespread criticism of the legislation and its associated regulations, saying the changes “went too far, were too prescriptive [and] too complicated”. 

The next day legislation was introduced to parliament to repeal the laws and replace it with a tweaked version of the previous legislation, which was first passed in 1972.

That Act contained the controversial ‘Section 18’ process that allowed Rio Tinto to destroy 46,000-year-old culturally significant caves at Juukan Gorge in 2020, which the government says will be amended to avoid a repeat of that incident.

Now, the draft regulations that provide the detail of those laws have been given to select groups for their feedback before the amendments are debated in parliament next week.

“We have worked to keep the restored process for managing and protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage simple – to focus on important amendments that will address key concerns without adding complexity and confusion,” Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tony Buti said in a statement.

He said the regulations would set out timeframes for applications to disturb culturally significant sites and other administrative procedures.

The draft documents have been sent to members of an implementation group set up to assist the government with the legislation, as well as Aboriginal organisations.

The 2021 legislation was heavily criticised as it progressed through parliament, but the government assured Aboriginal groups and landowners any concerns would be addressed through associated regulations.

As the implementation of the Act neared though, critics said the regulations only added to their confusion.

WAFarmers and the Pastoralists and Graziers Association said understanding the rules and complying with them would be too time consuming and too expensive, and celebrated the government’s eventual backflip.

Opposition to analyse changes

Opposition leader Shane Love, who had also been campaigning for the repeal of the legislation, had repeatedly called on the government to release its amended regulations quickly to avoid a repeat of that situation.

“By dropping the proposed reforms at the last minute, the Cook Labor government has once again shown their lack of willingness to work with the opposition or community to get this right,” he said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.

“The opposition has not been kept in the loop with these regulations and the opposition will work throughout the weekend to analyse what the proposed changes mean for the people of Western Australia.”

A head and shoulder shot of Shane Love standing the gardens at parliament.
Shane Love says the Opposition would analyse the proposed amendments over the weekend. (ABC News: James Carmody)

Mr Love said instead of the government repealing the 2021 legislation and amending the old Act in one go, the process should be split.

“At the moment, everybody is stuck in limbo due to the fact that the 2021 Act is still the law of the land. It still has within it significant penalties and the different processes than the 1972 Act we will be reverting to,” he said on Wednesday morning, before the regulations were released.

“We are calling for its immediate overturn and then allow a proper, respectful discussion to go forward to enable further amendments which are fit for purpose to the 1972 act so that we can avoid a repeat of the failures of Tony Buti and Roger Cook in implementing the now failed 2021 Act.”

The government has previously promised not to enforce the 2021 Act.

Dr Buti told parliament on Tuesday that the opposition would likely be briefed on the new regulations on Friday.


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