ABORIGINAL HERITAGE ACTION ALLIANCE (AHAA) OPEN LETTER TO THE WESTERN AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT & EXECUTIVE OF THE DEPARTMENT OF ABORIGINAL AFFAIRS 17 FEBRUARY 2015

Today marks the anniversary of the 1868 Flying Foam Massacres, which virtually wiped out the original Yaburara inhabitants and custodians of the globally-significant rock art of Murujuga (the Burrup Peninsula) in the Pilbara.

147 years later, State Parliament resumes today to debate your Government’s proposed Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Bill 2014 which has the potential to have significant negative impacts upon protection of Aboriginal Heritage throughout the State.

Cliff Weeks

Director General of DAA Cliff Weeks receives the AHAA to submit their open letter.

Since 2011, the Barnett Government has filled the DAA Executive with appointees from industry who have no qualifications in Aboriginal heritage management, and who are now running the DAA Heritage Branch.

The DAA Executive has implemented ‘administrative changes’ and crafted an AHA Amendment Bill which will strip Aboriginal cultural sites of protection under the AHA and facilitate their destruction.

The Bill, if passed, will also enable future acts without according the procedural rights provided to Aboriginal people under the Commonwealth Native Title Act, and is thus likely to be invalid due to inconsistency with the NTA.

In a surprising interpretation of s 5(b) of the AHA (currently under challenge in the WA Supreme Court), DAA has published Guidelines and is adopting a view in communications with the public and advice to the Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee that an Aboriginal sacred site is not protected under the AHA unless there is evidence of ‘religious activity’ at the site.

Recently, DAA’s Registrar has been sending out letters to Aboriginal custodians throughout WA saying their sacred sites are to be deregistered on these grounds.

Consistently with this approach: 80% of sites submitted to DAA in the first five months of 2011 were assessed by DAA to be sites, while in the same period of 2014, only 6% were found to be sites!

To make heritage approvals easier for developers, the AHA Amendment Bill will give DAA’s CEO the power to decide what is or is not an Aboriginal site of significance.

Your Government has apparently paid little heed to criticism of DAA’s 2012 discussion paper[1] and 2014 draft Bill[2] by numerous Aboriginal organisations, as well as the leading professional bodies in the field, including the Law Society of WA, Australian Anthropological Society, Australian Archaeological Association, Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists, National Trust (WA), Australia ICOMOS, Anthropological Society of WA, and UWA Archaeology.

  • We express our deep concern at the lack of consultation with Aboriginal people and the lack of recognition and respect for Aboriginal traditional lore, law and custom evidenced in the AHA Amendment Bill;
  • We have no confidence in the current DAA Executive’s management of Aboriginal cultural heritage in WA;
  • We call on you to withdraw the AHA Amendment Bill immediately and establish a Parliamentary Select Committee to properly review the AHA and adequately consult with Aboriginal people.

Clayton Lewis

Spokesperson 0498 002 812

facebook.com/aboriginalheritagewa

Aboriginalheritageaction@gmail.com

 

 

[1] http://www.daa.wa.gov.au/en/Heritage-and-Culture/Aboriginal-heritage/Heritage-Act-Reform/Submissions/

[2] http://www.daa.wa.gov.au/en/Heritage-and-Culture/Aboriginal-heritage/Aboriginal-Heritage-Legislative-Changes/Submissions-recieved/

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