PGA slams ‘rushed’ Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill

Adam Poulsen and Peter LawCountryman
Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook at his farm near York.
Camera IconPastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook at his farm near York. Credit: Ian Munro/The West Australian

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association has slammed the State Government’s decision to “ram through” the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill, claiming it could negatively impact pastoralists and traditional owners.

The move would see the WA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs have the final say on whether Indigenous heritage sites can be destroyed.

The draft Bill, which was released for consultation last year, proposed giving traditional owners and proponents the right of appeal to the State Administrative Tribunal.

That was removed from the final Bill, sparking anger among Aboriginal land rights organisations who only received a copy the day before it was introduced in Parliament.

PGA president Tony Seabrook has also criticised the move, saying the complex legislation had the potential to negatively impact various stakeholders.

“Pastoralists and local Aboriginal peoples have long co-existed with the vast majority of pastoralists having great respect for sites with heritage and cultural significance to local Aboriginal peoples,” he said.

“The PGA strongly believes that all stakeholders deserve more time to consider this complex Bill, with greater explanatory detail from the Department of Planning Land and Heritage including the Draft Regulations.”

Mr Seabrook said WA’s heritage legislation was “widely outdated and in need of an overhaul”.

But he was scathing of the manner in which it was being done.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook.
Camera IconPastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook. Credit: Supplied/PGA

“Given that this Bill is being treated as urgent business in order for it to be passed by both houses of parliament before the end of the year, there is no opportunity for proper scrutiny or review by a relevant parliamentary committee,” Mr Seabrook said.

“There have been more than 100 changes to the original draft legislation, which until Wednesday, when the Government introduced the Bill in the Legislative Assembly, the PGA had not seen the written detail.”

The PGA was involved with the review process from the start, including attending departmental briefings and providing a submission on the draft Bill.

Mr Seabrook said it was disappointing the association was not provided an advanced copy of the Bill before it was introduced in parliament.

“While the PGA does welcome the Government’s decision for the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs to retain final decision making powers, there are concerns over many other sections of the Bill, including that exemptions only apply to properties 1100sm or less; the definition of tier two and tier three activities; and investigation and enforcement provisions to name a few,” he said.

“As the peak industry body for the WA pastoral industry, the PGA looks forward to being around the table with both the Mining Industry and Traditional Owners to ensure the regulations governing the enforcement of the new Act are fair and just for all parties.”

Others have backed the decision, including Labor MP-turned Rio Tinto board member Ben Wyatt, who was the architect of the draft Bill.

Mr Wyatt said the right to appeal to the SAT was included in his draft Bill as a point of discussion and that the final proposed laws struck “the right balance”.

“The best final arbiter on whether an agreement is appropriate or not ... is actually an elected member as opposed to a judicial position who will be very limited to the terms of the legislation,” he said.

Rio Tinto said it supported the strengthening of Aboriginal heritage protection, adding it was “committed to ensuring the events at Juukan Gorge are never repeated”.

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