WA Senator Dorinda Cox slams State Government’s proposed new Indigenous heritage laws

Phoebe PinGeraldton Guardian
WA Senator and Yamatji Noongar woman Dorinda Cox
Camera IconWA Senator and Yamatji Noongar woman Dorinda Cox Credit: Danella Bevis/The West Australian

A Yamatji Noongar senator has warned that new legislation introduced into Parliament this week does not go far enough to protect Indigenous heritage sites.

The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2021 contains more than 100 changes to the draft legislation that was released for consultation more than a year ago.

One of the modifications has removed the right for traditional owners to appeal to the State Administrative Tribunal on decisions about the destruction of Indigenous heritage sites.

WA Senator Dorinda Cox said the passage of the legislation would be a “sad day” for First Nations people, who have lost confidence in the State Government’s willingness to prioritise the preservation of cultural sites.

“No Aboriginal person can believe that this Government will protect cultural sites if a mining proposal looks too good to refuse,” she said.

“There is still a lot of mistrust and trauma after the Juukan caves were destroyed by a system that handed out permits to mining companies to destroy our cultural heritage.”

Senator Cox rejected the State Government’s claims that the Bill was co-designed in partnership with traditional owners and said it was disappointing they were not provided with the latest version of the legislation before it entered Parliament.

She also said she was concerned that First Nations’ languages had not been used to communicate aspects of the Bill to Aboriginal communities.

But Premier Mark McGowan on Wednesday said the “progressive” legislation would put Aboriginal people at the “heart of decision-making” about the use of heritage sites.

“(The Bill) will recognise native title groups, provide for protected areas that were not there before, and ensure there is a great deal more opportunity for negotiation and mediation, particularly by Aboriginal groups out there across the State,” he said

“It is great legislation based upon an enormous amount of consultation over the course of the last five years,” he said.

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When asked why the the Bill was introduced to Parliament only hours after the latest version was made public, Mr McGowan said the State Government saw the passage of the legislation as a matter of urgency.

“We cannot continue just to consult and allow these matters to pass into history, as past governments have done. Our view is that the time for action is now,” he said.

“We do not want to see any more destruction of Aboriginal heritage, as was the case with the Juukan Gorge matter, which was approved in 2013 by the last government.”

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