The long wait for the Western Australian government’s Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill continued this week, with no notice appearing in the Legislative Assembly’s agenda Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.
Notice of the Bill being tabled must be given the day prior to its arrival in the Assembly.
Multiple sources had indicated to the National Indigenous Times that the Bill was expected early this week.
A staffer at Parliament House confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that no notice of the Bill’s arrival had been given on Wednesday for Thursday.
Last Thursday Western Australian Greens Senator Dorinda Cox urged Aboriginal Affairs minister Stephen Dawson to not introduce the Bill into Parliament in its current form and “instead work with First Nations people to put in place best practice First Nations cultural heritage protections in WA”.
Senator Cox, a Yamatji-Noongar woman, wrote to the Minister outlining her concerns about the proposed legislation after receiving a briefing on the bill, in correspondence also provided to Premier Mark McGowan, Attorney General John Quigley MLA; and Heritage Minister David Templeman.
Senator Cox told the National Indigenous Times that the right to appeal to the State Administrative Tribunal, which had been recommended to the government during public and stakeholder consultation and included in earlier versions of the bill, had since been removed.
On Monday, a source familiar with the Bill told the National Indigenous Times that the proposed legislation created an enormous amount of work for Aboriginal organisations but still failed to give Aboriginal people the “primary say” in Aboriginal heritage decisions.
“No Aboriginal groups have come out in support of the Bill, and many Aboriginal organisations and people are actively protesting against it,” they said.
“That cannot be right. How can the State proceed when no support at all is coming from Aboriginal groups?”
The office of Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Stephen Dawson has declined to answer questions regarding the right to appeal to the State Administrative Tribunal and about the scope of properties captured by the proposed legislation.
On Wednesday, the National Indigenous Times asked both the office of Minister Dawson and Minister Anthony Buti, who is understood to have carriage of the Bill in the Assembly, if they could provide an estimate on when the Bill will arrive. They did not respond by deadline.
However, Minister Dawson has previously told the National Indigenous Times that under the new Bill, “decisions about what qualifies as Aboriginal cultural heritage will be in the hands of Aboriginal people, this is not the case under the 1972 Act”.
“The Bill provides Aboriginal people with the opportunity to directly take part in the protection of their cultural heritage through establishment of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Council and Local Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Services,” he said.
“Neither of these bodies exist under the 1972 Act.”
He added that more stakeholder meetings and public submissions had driven “more than 100 changes to the draft Bill”, which “is stronger as a result”.
By Giovanni Torre