THE Western Australian Government has decided to repeal its Aboriginal cultural heritage laws a month after they came into force.
In an effort to prevent another incident like the destruction of the Juukan Gorge for mining, the WA Government introduced new laws that required landholders to gain consent through cultural surveys to do minor work on properties.
The laws attracted strong opposition from the WA agricultural industry who argued that it was an attack on property rights and added unnecessary red tape and cost to running an agricultural business.
In response, Premier Roger Cook announced that the laws will be repealed and the Aboriginal Heritage Act of 1972 will be restored “with simple and effective amendments to help prevent another Juukan Gorge incident.”
“We got the balance wrong, what we did hasn’t worked,” Mr Cook said.
“The original intent of the legislative change nearly two years ago, was to prevent another Juukan Gorge – and my Government will deliver on that commitment.
“As Premier, I will always lead a Government that listens, and governs in the interests of all Western Australians – we are here to help and to deliver responsible government.”
The State Government says it will commence a long-term plan over the next ten years to undertake heritage surveys of unsurveyed areas in high priority areas of the State, with the consent of landowners. Surveys will be centrally held and published by Government, and available to view by all land users.
The Government says the concept of Local Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Services will not continue, instead support will be provided to existing relevant Native Title groups, including the relevant prescribed body corporate, registered claimants or native title representative bodies, to improve capacity.
WA Farmers welcome announcements
As news started to emerge earlier this week that the Government was going to repeal the laws, WA Farmers welcomed and commended the Government for its concession that it got the laws wrong.
“We were one of the few lonely voices saying this was heading in the wrong direction back when the Liberals and Nationals waved the legislation through two years ago,” the organisation said in a Facebook post.
“Since then, we have repeatedly warned the government that this was never going to work across the freehold farming estate.
“We have put forward constructive suggestions of what needs to change and its more than tinkering at the edges. The government has listened and now we will work with them to get a workable outcome.
“Ultimately, no one wants to see Aboriginal cultural heritage destroyed but we also don’t want to see our property rights undermined.”
Nationals welcome announcement
Nationals leader David Littleproud has welcomed the announcement and called for the Federal Government to rule out any similar legislation.
“This is a victory for the people of Western Australia who made their feelings clear during the Let Farmers Keep Farming event in Katanning, that they did not support this major government overreach,” Mr Littleproud said.
“It is pleasing to know that The Nationals played a major role in helping to achieve this outcome, but the job is not done yet. We must now get a guarantee from the federal Labor Government that it will not implement similar laws on a national scale.”