Mining sector can work with new heritage bill: CME

Traditional Owners

The Pilbara landscape Image: Rio Tinto.

The Western Australian Government has introduced a bill to Parliament which focusses on agreement making with Traditional Owners to ensure Aboriginal people can negotiate outcomes for projects and opportunities on their lands, including mine proposals and developments.

The Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2021 removes the Section 18 approvals process which currently exists under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972, which was highlighted for reform after Rio Tinto detonated explosives at the sacred Juukan Gorge site in Western Australia in May, 2020.

The bill also embeds the principles of free, prior and informed consent in its agreement making processes.

This means there must be full disclosure of feasible alternative options for proposed projects to ensure Traditional Owners’ consent is in fact fully informed. Consent must be given voluntarily and the process cannot involve any coercion, intimidation or manipulation.

Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA (CME) chief executive Paul Everingham said the introduction and passage of this legislation will mark a major milestone in a more than three-year long process to modernise Aboriginal cultural heritage legislation in WA,

“It’s been well-documented that the existing Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 is outdated and no longer meets community expectations, yet previous attempts at reform have failed,” Everingham said.

“Introduction of this new legislation is an opportunity for WA to deliver the most modern and robust framework for Aboriginal cultural heritage management in Australia, and be truly world-leading.

“This latest iteration of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill is one that WA’s mining and resources sector can work with.”

Everingham said the CME and its member companies will spend some time reviewing this legislation in its entirety.

“This new framework will require significant adjustment from all stakeholders,” he said.

“Change of this scale is complex, and the challenge ahead to deliver on the potential set out in the Bill should not be underestimated.”

WA Premier Mark McGowan said the new bill is the most progressive cultural heritage legislation in the country.

“It mandates agreement making with Traditional Owners, in line with Native Title laws, and allows Aboriginal people to negotiate better outcomes for projects on their lands,” he said.

“Western Australia is home to some of the world’s most rich and diverse Aboriginal cultural heritage sites. This bill finally puts Traditional Owners at the heart of decision making about the management and protection of these sites.”

The bill incorporates feedback from more than 100 workshops and information sessions attended by more than 1400 people, 150 targeted and individual stakeholder meetings and more than 380 submissions.

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