A 400-strong protest organised by the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) on August 19 demanded the Western Australia government halt its Aboriginal Cultural Heritage bill (ACH). Traditional Owners have not been consulted on the bill to replace the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA).
The government claims the new bill will protect Aboriginal cultural heritage and “reset” the relationship between land users and Traditional Owners.
Traditional Owners disagree, saying the bill is skewed towards the mining industry and gives them no power to prevent the destruction of sacred sites such as Juukan Gorge, which Rio Tinto destroyed in May last year.
National Native Title Council spokesperson Kado Muir told the National Indigenous Times on July 30 that the draft bill “continues to give the Aboriginal Affairs Minister more power than Traditional Owners”.
“For the Minister of the Crown to be destroying an Aboriginal site without the consent of Traditional Owners is an abuse of human rights,” Muir said.
Greens WA lead Senate candidate Yamatji Noongar woman Dorinda Cox told the rally Aboriginal people must be at the centre of any new ACH law and that principle of Aboriginal self-determination needed to be respected.
The protest marched to Parliament House to hear from other speakers. Slim Parker, an Elder and chair of the Bajima Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, condemned the lack of consultation and the bill for failing to meet international standards set down by the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People.
Sara Bergmann, a young Aboriginal woman, spoke of the systemic dispossession. Wayne Bergmann from the KLC read out a statement calling upon the government to reconsider the bill, protect the Martuwarra (Fitzroy River), prevent any more Juukan Gorges and to ensure First Nations peoples are able to decide how to update the existing Aboriginal Heritage Act.
He then presented a bark petition from Traditional Owners of the Kimberly region to WA Aboriginal Affairs minister MLC Steven Dowson.