WA Aboriginal act draws protests
By Leon Harrison
PERTH — Objections have been pouring in to the WA government since Aboriginal communities were given 30 days to consider the newly rewritten Aboriginal Heritage Act, due to come before parliament this month. The rewrite was carried out without Aboriginal input.
There are many areas in which the bill appears to stand in contradiction to the government's declared attitude of enabling Aboriginal people to make decisions affecting their own culture and heritage. Not least of these is the fact that final say over the fate of Aboriginal sites and heritage rests firmly with the minister for Aboriginal affairs.
The minister has the power to suspend the act, and can deny traditional custodians access to their land. As well, the government will control appointments to the Aboriginal Heritage Authority.
The act defines the role of custodian narrowly, on the basis of continuous association with an area, regardless of whether people might have been forced to leave their original lands, and ignoring descendants of families forced from their land. To make matters even more difficult, the bill appears to contain no clear definition of an Aboriginal site.
Even if a site can be defined, there is no guarantee of its protection against development proposals. In the event of conflict, custodians are barred from taking an active role either with the Heritage Authority or developers.
Aboriginal activists are urging that protests be sent to Premier Carmen Lawrence, 19th floor, Capita Centre, 197 St George's Tce, Perth WA 6000.