A study released today by two senior Western Australian archaeologists has revealed disturbing shifts in the assessment of Aboriginal sites by the State’s Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA). Since the Barnett Government came to office in 2008, 3,207 sites in Western Australia have been deregistered.
In their ‘Site Watch’ report (attached), Dr Joe Dortch and Tom Sapienza show that in 2008-2015, the status of 3,207 sites previously assessed by DAA as registered sites were downgraded, including 69 mythological sites and 14 ceremonial sites (see attached).
The report also shows that DAA’s site assessment body, the Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee (ACMC) is now rejecting the vast majority of new sites submitted for assessment as registered sites. Five years ago, the regulator accepted all but 10% of such site submissions, and now it is rejecting 86% of these submissions.
‘The Site Watch data demonstrate unprecedented changes in the DAA Site Register: in 2008-15, 14,419 decisions over existing site statuses occurred in the Register – 93% of these decisions occurred in 2010-14 and 34% in 2014 alone. Many decisions would have been assessed by the ACMC in its monthly meetings,’ but as ACMC meetings have been radically shortened under its new Chair and the committee’s membership has shrunk, ‘it is hard to conceive that many decisions were given much consideration.’
About 1700 decisions were surprising: for example, some de-registered sites were re-registered, some sites had no status, and some sites were not just de-registered but removed from the register altogether. The DAA website data provides no explanations of any changes. ‘Uncertainty for miners and developers has increased because of the frequency, illogicality and unpredictability of many of these changes, which will not assure business and heritage stakeholders that their interests are being protected’. It is uncertain whether Aboriginal custodians have been consulted about the deregistration of most of these sites.
AHAA spokesperson and Native Title claimant Clayton Lewis learned late last year that DAA had deregistered an important sacred site in his country in the Midwest using flawed legal advice from the State Solicitor’s Office which was overturned by the WA Supreme Court in April this year.
‘So far, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Collier has fessed up to DAA deregistering 35 sacred sites using the ridiculous SSO advice DAA was running with, but the Site Watch report shows that this is only the tip of a much larger iceberg’ says Mr Lewis. ‘These figures are staggering, and show the Barnett Government’s clear agenda of abandoning its statutory responsibilities to protect Aboriginal sites in WA, and instead making it easier to destroy them’.
‘To assess the Government’s potential damage to the State’s Aboriginal cultural heritage, AHAA will be circulating a list of the 69 mythological and 14 ceremonial sites deregistered by DAA to Aboriginal custodians, anthropologists and Land Councils throughout the State and asking for comment’, stated Mr Lewis.
To read the full Site Watch report, click here.
Aboriginal Heritage Action Alliance
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Media Contact: Clayton Lewis, 0498 002812
Let’s preserve heritage for Western Australians, preserve heritage for all!
*AHAA acknowledges all Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples, their culture and their country!
Commentary on ‘Site Watch’ report: Dr Joe Dortch, Archaeology, UWA: 0428 601008
 Seventeen of the mythological sites are also ceremonial sites.
 In May 2012 the ACMC determined 14 highly complex s 18 applications comprising over 4000 pages of documentation in just 77 minutes: http://www.robinchapple.com/sites/default/files/2012-06-12%20QON%20ACMC%20meetings.pdf