Roe 8 project ‘like Barnett Government throwing sand in the face of our ancestors’ says Beeliar Wetlands Aboriginal custodian


As bulldozers moved into position yesterday to resume clearing of bushland in the path of the controversial Roe 8 highway project through Perth’s Beeliar Wetlands, Beeliar Aboriginal custodian Corina Abraham said that by ‘desecrating this place, it’s like the Barnett Government is throwing sand in the face of our ancestors’.

In an echo of the recent Standing Rock US indigenous protest, Aboriginal people from other parts of Australia have taken up residence at the Beeliar Wetlands Protectors Camp on North Lake Road Coolbellup over the last month to support local Aboriginal custodians like Ms Abraham.[1]

One WA Government policy document has identified the Beeliar wetlands area to be impacted by Roe 8 as ‘the most significant [Aboriginal] historical site within the Perth metropolitan region south of the Swan River’.[2]

The project will impact a highly significant sacred site in the Bibra Lake (Lake Walliabup) and North Lake (Lake Coolbellup) area, while archaeological research suggests the area has been an important Aboriginal campsite and meeting place for thousands of years, partly because of abundant wildlife, including freshwater turtles, ducks, swans and gilgies which are still present to this day. Ms Abraham states that Aboriginal people from all over the State regularly camped in the area up until the 1970s: ‘my grandfather used to camp there, and one of my aunties was actually born there in the 1950s.’

In 2015, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Collier’s advisory group, the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee (ACMC), reversed its earlier February 2013 recommendation against granting consent to the project under the Aboriginal Heritage Act (AHA), after deciding in controversial circumstances that a significant archaeological site in the Roe 8 pathway was no longer a site, on the basis of a cursory investigation by Department of Aboriginal Affairs archaeologists which involved digging a 20cm pit. [3] WA Greens MLC Lynn McLaren has since called for a proper archaeological excavation of the deregistered site.[4]

At the time of the ACMC decision, the committee had only two Aboriginal members (one of them a State Government employee).[5] Although s 28 (3) of the AHA prescribes that the ACMC must have a specialist anthropologist, the position has been vacant since 2013.

Unusually for a major project of this nature, Minister Collier’s Roe 8 Aboriginal heritage approval contains no requirements for an Aboriginal heritage management plan or Aboriginal monitoring of works.[6]

In 2016, Corina Abraham unsuccessfully challenged the flawed Roe 8 Aboriginal heritage approval process in the WA Supreme Court. Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg is required to make a decision on her application under Federal Aboriginal heritage legislation after 11 January.

‘This place is as important for Noongar people as the South Perth Windmill or ANZAAC Cove is for non-Aboriginal people, ‘says Ms Abraham. ‘All our old fellas lived here, and they died here too. It’s like a big church to us, it’s a place of meaning, a place where we come when we’re feeling down and out: we come and connect when we’re feeling lost. Whether you go down the right path or the wrong path, you come back to this place, and you feel connected’.

‘Building a big highway through here is not going to bring strength, it’s going to bring devastation. It’s going to bring death. It’s going to bring sorrow to our community, and particularly our Aboriginal community, because it’s going through such a significant area, a cultural area that means a lot to us.’[7]

AHAA Media: Steve 0404 674 261

Aboriginal custodian of Beeliar Wetlands area: Corina Abraham 0415 099 819

WA Department of Aboriginal Affairs media: Damian Katich 6551 8172 or 040 988 1920.

Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg: 02 6277 7920


[2] EPA Bulletin 1088 February 2003, 14f:





[7] For further testimony on the significance of the North Lake and Lake Coolbellup area to Noongar people, see statements at 2011 rally by Revd. Sealin Garlett and Corina Abraham at:

WA Supreme Court’s rejection of Beeliar Wetlands EPA approval will embolden Noongar custodians to challenge flawed Aboriginal heritage approvals for Roe 8 project

Screen Shot 2015-12-16 at 3.03.45 PM

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Noongar custodians of the Beeliar Wetlands area have welcomed today’s decision in the Supreme Court by Chief Justice Martin to overturn the Barnett Government’s EPA approval of the Roe 8 project, which would have destroyed one of the most significant historical and mythological places for Aboriginal people in the entire Perth metropolitan area.

It is noteworthy that the EPA also ignored its own guidelines on Aboriginal heritage protection in granting Roe 8 approval (see attached EPA appeal submission).

Justice Martin’s decision means Noongar opponents of the Roe 8 project will redouble their efforts to protect this culturally significant area by challenging the similarly flawed and dishonest Aboriginal heritage approval for Roe 8 presided over by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Minister Peter Collier (see attached DAA internal assessment report).

In granting s 18 Aboriginal heritage approval for the Roe 8 project to impact Aboriginal sites in the Beeliar Wetlands area, DAA’s advisory committee (the ACMC), first determined in highly controversial circumstances that two archaeological sites in the Roe 8 pathway were no longer sites, then reversed its earlier February 2013 decision to reject the project on Aboriginal heritage grounds.[1]

Today’s decision parallels Justice Chaney’s April 2015 Robinson v ACMC Aboriginal heritage decision which found that DAA’s deregistration of a sacred site in Port Hedland Harbour was also legally invalid. Chief Justice Wayne Martin has also previously ruled that EPA approvals for Woodside’s James Price Point LNG project were unlawful, due to conflicts of interest by EPA Board members involved in the approvals process[2] (the JPP project had also earlier been found to be invalid on another legal point, after it was discovered the  WA Government had botched the land acquisition document).[3]

All three cases highlight the extent to which the State Government has attempted to subvert due environmental and Aboriginal heritage approval process through direct political manipulation.

It is indeed heartening that the WA Supreme Court has taken such a firm line against these attempts by the Barnett Government to run WA as a state of exception operating outside the rule of law, with scant disregard for its legislative responsibility to protect Aboriginal and environmental heritage.



AHAA Media: Dr Stephen Bennetts 0404674261



For further information documents on the Beeliar wetlands, see the EPA Submission by Dr Stephen Bennetts of AHAA and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs internal site assessment by clicking the respective links below.

final epa submission S Bennetts

InternalSite AssessmentreportDAA4107

Aboriginal Heritage Action Alliance

Email Address:                              

Let’s preserve heritage for Western Australians, preserve heritage for all!

*AHAA acknowledges all Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples, their culture and their country!

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WA’s Aboriginal Heritage Action Alliance (AHAA) is marking today’s Yule River bush meeting of Aboriginal custodians[1] with a call to the State’s Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Peter Collier for the reinstatement of 36 Aboriginal sacred sites which were unlawfully deregistered by the Department of Aboriginal Affairs’ Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee (ACMC).

The sites were all deregistered following applications by developers to ‘disturb’ them under s 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act (AHA). Minister Collier later granted s 18 ministerial consents for 37 sacred sites to be ‘disturbed’. The WA Supreme Court’s Justice Chaney ruled in a landmark Port Hedland test case on April 1 that the narrow definition of ‘sacred site’ used by the ACMC to deregister one of the 37 sites was invalid, and referred the site back to the ACMC for reassessment.[2]

Minister Collier later tabled in State Parliament the names of 36 sacred sites which had been unlawfully deregistered using the same flawed and narrow State Solicitor’s Office interpretation of ‘sacred site’ under s 5b of the AHA which was overturned by Justice Chaney.[3] 34 out of 36 of these sites were said to be the subject of actual or proposed development.[4] He also stated on 15 September that 11 previously registered sites had been removed from the DAA site register since the Chaney ruling on 1 April this year.

Given these circumstances, and DAA’s lack of response to Chaney’s Robinson v ACMC since April, AHAA today announced it was ‘doing what DAA should have done five months ago, and is writing to Aboriginal custodians of all the deregistered sites’, urging them to demand the immediate reinstatement of all 36 sacred sites to the DAA site register.

Yamatji man and AHAA spokesperson Clayton Lewis, a senior custodian of one of the 37 deregistered sacred sites, said today: ‘It’s ironic that Justice Chaney delivered his decision on April Fool’s Day, because DAA’s response since then has been a bit like a bad April Fool’s Day joke’.

‘Nearly six months on, I haven’t received any correspondence from DAA admitting they unlawfully deregistered the important Monger’s Lake Waterway sacred site in our country in the Mid-west, or telling us what they propose to do about it. We’re not aware DAA has contacted a single custodian for any of the other 36 sacred sites, or published a revised version of the DAA Guidelines which Justice Chaney said were legally invalid’.

‘We also don’t know whether Peter Collier has withdrawn any of the legally invalid s 18 ministerial consents he issued to developers, or whether the companies have already gone ahead and destroyed the sites’.

AHAA is currently seeking legal advice as to whether Aboriginal custodians of these sites could sue the Minister, the ACMC or the State Government if any of the sites have been damaged. The Aboriginal heritage advocacy group is today also releasing the attached map showing the location of the deregistered sacred sites, as well as a further 83 ceremonial and/or mythological sites deregistered under the Barnett Government since 2008 which have been identified by University of Western Australia Archaeology Department researchers Dr Joe Dortch and Dr Tom Sapienza.[5] The Minister has also stated in Parliament that a further 16 (so far unidentified) sacred sites failed DAA registration solely on the basis of the SSO’s flawed s 5b sacred site definition.[6]

‘Given these sacred sites were wrongly deregistered by DAA in the first place, why hasn’t it just put them back on the register?’ asks Lewis. ‘The Minister and his DAA Executives recently made a big song and dance in Parliament saying that all 37 sites now need to go through a complicated reassessment process which might take DAA months and months.[7] This seems pretty strange, given that under its current Chair, the ACMC has been able to assess dozens of sites literally before lunch time, many of them unfavourably.[8] As far as we know, DAA still hasn’t reassessed a single one of the 37 deregistered sacred sites. We also can’t understand why the Minister thinks Justice Chaney’s decision needs to be referred back to the State Solicitor’s Office for further advice, when it was the SSO which caused the problem in the first place by providing its ridiculous definition of a sacred site’.

Clayton Lewis’s 3 August letter to the Minister requesting immediate reinstatement of the Monger’s Lake Waterway sacred site, of which he is a senior custodian, has received no response to date. See:

Deregistration of DAA s5b sacred sites under the Barnett Government (2008-2015)

The location of the deregistered sacred sites, as well as a further 83 ceremonial and/or mythological sites deregistered under the Barnett Government since 2008 which have been identified by University of Western Australia Archaeology Department researchers Dr Joe Dortch and Dr Tom Sapienza.


For expert commentary on the DAA site deregistration issue:

Dr Stephen Bennetts: 0404674261

Greg McIntyre SC: 0408097046

Dr Joe Dortch: 0428601008

[1]; for Aboriginal opposition to the WA Government’s Aboriginal heritage policy at last year’s meeting, see:







[8]; Sitewatch report.


[8]; Sitewatch report.

More de-registered sites since the Supreme Court decision on invalid interpretation of Section 5b (sacred, ritual, ceremonial sites)

The latest parliamentary questions from the Hon. Robin Chapple and the Hon. Lynn McLaren from the WA Greens highlight more Aboriginal sites that have been removed from the Aboriginal sites register since the Port Hedland Port Supreme Court test case. In April 2015 the Supreme Court found the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee’s interpretation of Section 5b of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (which defines sacred, ritual and ceremonial sites) was invalid. AHAA question the governments de-registration of these sites in light of the Supreme Court decision, and asks on what basis they are continuing to de-register Aboriginal sites. See the following link for the recent parliamentary questions asked Wed 16 September 2015. 2015-09-16 QWON 11 more sites removed ACMC

The following parliamentary questions relates to Roe 8 and registered site ‘Bibra Lake’.

2015-09-16 QWON Sites on Bibra Lake

World heritage hopes pinned on archaeological dig in Burrup Peninsula industrial heartland

Ancient secrets of Burrup revealed

Archaeologists are working to provide firm dates for Aboriginal presence on Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula). Murujuga was one of the sites affected by the large-scale state sanctioned de-registrations of Aboriginal heritage sites in WA  (here and here). Murujuga ranger Geoffrey Togo hopes the archaeological finds “will make the Government listen and agree with what we as Aboriginal people are saying, that these sites need to be protected”.

The full article is available on ABC News.

Let’s stop stamping on sacred ground

“When ISIS smashes ancient Assyrian sculptures in Iraq or Roman ruins in Syria’s Palmyra, they are barbarians destroying the world’s patrimony.

When a crawler tractor crushes a petroglyph on the Burrup, it is just another work day in the Pilbara.”

NITV’s Michael Carey writes here about the extreme de-registrations (see here) and the disturbing lack of protection for one of Australia’s most significant heritage sites, Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula).



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.

Rock art on the Burrup Peninsular

The Burrup Peninsular in its entirety has been deregistered, although some discrete sites are still listed. Overall the Burrup Peninsular remains threatened.

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).[1]

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[2] and the committee’s membership has shrunk, ‘it is hard to conceive that many decisions were given much consideration.’[3]

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.[4]

‘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:

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

[1] Seventeen of the mythological sites are also ceremonial sites.


[3] In May 2012 the ACMC determined 14 highly complex s 18 applications comprising over 4000 pages of documentation in just 77 minutes:


Minister Collier’s blind faith in Aboriginal heritage amendments defies all facts and experts

In response to the Western Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Peter Collier’s recent statements rejecting criticisms of the State Government’s proposed changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act, the Aboriginal Heritage Action Alliance (AHAA) are astounded that the Minister still does not recognise the depth and breadth of community and expert opposition to the amendments.

By Clayton Lewis, Teri O’Neil, Liz Vaughan and Natasha Busher.

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Peter Collier. Photo credit: Perth Now.

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Peter Collier. Photo credit: Perth Now.

Minister Collier’s statements are included in a recent ABC News report [1], where he defends criticisms made of the proposed changes, stating that “the legislation does provide avenues for Aboriginal consultation… as far as the CEO of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs is concerned, it does give him authority with regards to heritage applications, however there is a considerable process of consultation with Aboriginal people before it gets to that point”.

This is empty rhetoric that blatantly disregards critical reviews made by the likes of former Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ian Viner [2], renowned Mabo native title lawyer Greg McIntyre [3], the Law Society of WA [4], the Australian Archaeological Association [5] and the Australian Anthropological Society [6]. In advice given to AHAA, Ian Viner AO QC advised that:

“The fundamental objection is to the substitution of the CEO for the present Advisory Committee and the untrammelled bureaucratic power then given to the CEO over the lifeblood of sustained recognition of aboriginal cultural heritage and, therefore, the long term sustainability of aboriginal traditional law and custom. Destruction of the places and objects of law and culture is the first step to the ultimate destruction of that law and custom. “

The Minister’s words do not match his actions. Under his leadership, 23 sacred sites have been removed from the State’s heritage register without consultation with Traditional Owners, merely a notification letter in some instances. The number of sites given legal protection has decreased 12 fold since 2011 [7], and 90% of the 2014 public submissions on the changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act were negative [8].  The Ministers recent defence of the CEO’s ultimate power totally contradicts expert and professional critiques, and indicates that Minister Collier does not know what is going on in his own department, who AHAA assert are ill-equipped for the vast new powers the Aboriginal Heritage Act Amendment Bill will provide them with.

Given the Department of Aboriginal Affairs recent track-record of failing to adequately manage Aboriginal cultural heritage in Western Australia, how can the Minister expect the public, in particular Traditional Owners across the state, to have faith in a government agency, or worse, an individual, to be responsible for the protection and management of cultural sites when it has been proven in the Supreme Court with the Port Hedland test case win [9] that they have been applying flawed legal advice, resulting in possibly hundreds of sites left unprotected from land development [10].

Another incident where this appears to be occurring is Murujuga (the Burrup Peninsula). This area is recognised internationally for its intense concentration of ancient Aboriginal rock-art. And yet, it has been the subject of on-going disturbance as a result of government supported industrial pursuits, and, most recently, was one of the 23 sacred sites to be removed from the State’s register (Site ID 23323). To liken this to other international sites, imagine a government approving the destruction of Stonehenge, or the pyramids, to accommodate a mining expansion… Imagine that decision potentially being at the sole discretion of one individual bureaucrat… What would the outcry be then? Yet this is what the proposed changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act would potentially allow for. It appears that the Western Australian State Government is more occupied with fast-tracking development applications, than it is with responsibly assessing and conserving irreplaceable heritage sites.

AHAA agrees that the existing Aboriginal Heritage Act needs reviewing, however, the current proposed changes are not appropriate and should not be passed in Parliament. We, and many others, are not opposing the changes for the sake of protest or antagonism, but are simply saying they are not the answer to balancing the need for development with the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage sites in Western Australia. Aboriginal people across Western Australia have worked with both government and industry to facilitate some of the biggest mining expansions and urban developments the state has ever experienced, and yet now, they are being undermined throughout this process. Consultation with Aboriginal people to-date has been limited and disrespectful, but that seems to be no deterrent to Minister Collier who just wants to “push this much-needed legislation through Parliament”. As Ian Viner AO QC states;

if passed I would expect protection of heritage in Western Australia to be driven to Commonwealth environmental and heritage legislation and more objections channeled through the Native Title Act (“NTA”). The irony is that that would be more costly and time consuming for prospectors, miners, developers and the State Government”

AHAA continue to oppose the proposed amendment bill currently before Parliament, and insist that it be withdrawn and referred to a Select Committee for a more suitable review. We request the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, or Minister Collier, clearly state why they continue to defend and attempt to progress the proposed changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act despite the strong evidence-base that it is not good legislation but is;

“…not only offensive to Aboriginal heritage but to modern international approach[es] to the protection and preservation of indigenous heritage and the cultural traditions of indigenous people for the benefit of the whole of a national society…” Ian Viner AO QC.

[1] Aboriginal Heritage Act: WA minister rejects criticisms changes give too much power to single bureaucrat, posted Tuesday 26th May, 2015 on ABC News.

[2] Ian Viners AO advice to Clayton Lewis of the AHAA.

[3] “Nationals MPs unlikely to support changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act”, posted Monday 25th, 2015 on ABC News.

[4] LSWA 2014 AHA submission

[5] 2014 AAA submission

[6] AAS 2015 open letter

[7] Statistics on site registration

[8] Of the 73 responses available for review on the DAA website 57* clearly criticise the proposed amendments and raises concerns regarding their potential impacts. This number does not include the 95 other submissions from individuals that are noted to be in similar opposition to the changes, but which are not available for review. Including the additional 95 individual submissions, this totals a solid 90% of public submissions being made against the proposed changes outlined in the Aboriginal Heritage Act Bill (AHAB). Those submissions that were fairly balanced in their views (n=4), or not as strongly worded in their opposition (n=4) have not been included in this total. Only 8 submissions were lodged with DAA that were supportive of the proposed changes. Despite this vast majority of submissions being highly critical of the exposure draft of the AHAB (June 2014), the subsequent Bill as presented to State Parliament in November 2014, was mostly unchanged.

[9] see Aboriginal heritage test case overturns decision to deregister Port Hedland site” posted Wednesday 1st April, 2015 on ABC News.

[10] QWON Robin Chapple to Peter Collier, Tuesday 5th May, Legislative Council, C468

Prepared by Clayton Lewis, Teri O’Neil, Liz Vaughan and Natasha Busher of AHAA.

For further comment contact AHAA media contacts:

Clayton Lewis 0498 002 812

Liz Vaughan 0400 993 907

1262 heritage places determined ‘non-sites’ by Government since faulty advice

The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs has confirmed the governments advisory body on heritage, the ACMC, will be reassessing the 16 mythological or otherwise sacred sites that were determined to be ‘non-sites’ based on flawed legal advice provided to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA) by the State Solicitors Office (SSO) in 2011. AHAA wants to highlight that 1262 sites have been considered as ‘non sites’ since the SSO advice was given, and asks the government how many archaeological sites out of these 1262 may also have been falsely determined ‘non-sites’, considering the Port Hedland Case found the ACMC had fallen into jurisdictional error in it’s interpretation of Section 5 in its entirety.

2015-05-05 QWON C468 1307 Aboriginal Heritage Sites