Kimberley Traditional Owners have protested Western Australia’s proposed Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2020 (WA) outside the State’s Parliament House, calling for the Bill to be thrown out entirely.

Traditional Owners and Kimberley Land Council leaders gathered on parliament steps on Wednesday with hopes of presenting a formal letter expressing their disappointment in the current Bill to Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Stephen Dawson or another member of the McGowan Government.

“We’re here at parliament house to give a message to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and the Premier that this heritage bill, we’re not happy with it,” KLC Chair Anthony Watson told NIT.

“It’s a concern … it gives more rights to the mining industry than Traditional Owners on what is heritage and what is not heritage.

“It’s our heritage, and we need to have a say in protecting our heritage. It’s always been our right to protect our heritage for the generations in the past and in the future.”

Bardi Traditional Owner and Former KLC Chair Frank Davey led a corroboree at the protest and voiced his distress at the potential loss of cultural heritage.

“We don’t want anything to go wrong with our culture. We don’t want to lose it,” he said.

Former KLC Chair Frank Davey in front of one of the protest signs. Photo by Hannah Cross.

Speaking to a crowd of over 50 people, KLC acting chief executive Wayne Bergmann said Labor’s current dominance in both the Upper and Lower Houses provided a huge opportunity for Traditional Owners and the Government to “create legislation we are all proud of”.

The land council also raised awareness around the Government’s plans for the Martuwarra/Fitzroy River catchment — which the KLC says they have not been appropriately consulted about.

“We have concerns in the way that consultation process has happened … we need to have our say in those decision-making [processes] and we just felt left out of that whole consultation process,” Watson said.

Watson says while the KLC has not made any official decisions regarding the Martuwarra/Fitzroy River, he hopes Traditional Owners can give “free and prior informed consent to make decisions over their own heritage”.

“We feel that this government needs to do better for us,” he said.

(L-R) KLC leaders Anthony Watson, Wayne Bergmann and Douglas D’Antoine on the steps of Parliament House. Photo by Hannah Cross.

While no member from the McGowan Government was present to accept the letter from KLC, Mining and Pastoral Region MLC Neil Thomson — from the Liberal Party — accepted the letter and tabled it in Parliament later that evening.

He said the Kimberley leaders’ disappointment that no government representatives were present was “palpable”.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson told NIT he was disappointed he did not know about the protest earlier so he could “re-arrange [his] calendar”.

“At every stage when the KLC asks for a meeting, whether under this CEO or the last, I have always made myself available as best I could,” he said.

By Hannah Cross

*Editor’s note: Wayne Bergmann is part-owner of the National Indigenous Times.