After meeting to review the new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2020 (WA), Kimberley Aboriginal leaders have a strong message for WA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ben Wyatt: the Bill “must be scrapped”.

Last week the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) hosted representatives from Native Title groups and Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBCs) from across the Kimberley to review the proposed Bill.

In a statement they plan to send to Minister Wyatt, the KLC said the “unequivocal message from Native Title groups in the Kimberley is that the Bill must be scrapped”.

PBCs are demanding Minister Wyatt not introduce the Bill into Parliament until Traditional Owners are properly consulted with about how the new law will affect cultural heritage.

“Consultations should involve taking on board the perspectives of the people being consulted with,” said KLC in a statement.

“The wishes, concerns and opinions of Native Title holders are not included in the current Bill, nor is it in line with their rights under the Native Title Act 1993.

The statement also said the Bill is a “significant backwards step even from the current Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972, which is universally acknowledged as outdated and unfairly favours industry”.

For Kimberley Aboriginal leaders, the most concerning element of the Bill is that it allows mining companies and other proponents to make decisions about Aboriginal cultural heritage without consulting Native Title holders first.

“Proponents will have the authority to decide if there is Aboriginal cultural heritage in the area they wish to operate in and what procedural rights Aboriginal people should have in relation to the damage or destruction of their cultural heritage,” the statement said.

KLC and the PBCs are demanding Minister Wyatt scrap the Bill and begin new consultations which will recognise Aboriginal people as “the only authoritative decision makers of their cultural heritage”.

In a letter to all PBC directors across the Kimberley, KLC Chair Anthony Watson said PBCs and Native Title group representatives at the information sessions “raised some serious concerns” with the Bill and came to the conclusion the current timeline for the Bill’s introduction should not be supported.

Read the full letter and statement below:

By Hannah Cross