Controversial WA Aboriginal heritage law passes without amendment

“The minister’s decisions and the reasons for those decisions will be published, and that is a level of a transparency that does not exist now,” Mr Dawson said.

“It will be open to proponents to seek a judicial review of the minister’s decision. If the minister has not followed the act or the best endeavours of the act, including the one that refers to the interests of the state, a proponent can take a decision to court.

“Decisions can be made by a court that a minister has not followed the proper process. That can happen here.

“This is about state significance. I am firmly of the view that SAT would not add to this bill. As I said, a decision was made by government that a minister’s decision will be final.”

Opposition leader in the upper house Steve Thomas said it would not support the amendment as at some point the government had to govern.


“The SAT and legal review do not always get it right. There is no ultimate public review of those court decisions,” he said.

“However, it is absolutely the case that a minister who makes what is deemed to be a poor decision and does not examine the triple bottom line, and that includes the economic one, faces the people every four years.”

With the amendment lost Dr Pettitt said before the final reading of the Bill there had been no need to rush legislation through.

“Key stakeholders did not get to see the legislation before it was introduced. That is not the way to build trust and move on to a process of co-design; it actually deeply undermines those things,” he said.

“Unfortunately, we have had a wide range of people—from the United Nations to the Law Society of Western Australia, Aboriginal groups, traditional owners and prescribed bodies corporate—writing to us to indicate that they are not happy with this legislation in its current form.

“Although this legislation is an improvement on the 1972 legislation, it is not an improvement on the scale that is needed at this point; it is an improvement that is too incremental a step from a generation ago.

“There was an opportunity for us to go well beyond that and to have world-leading legislation in this space. Unfortunately, that opportunity has been lost.”

The state government has maintained the Bill is the most progressive in the nation and that it got rid of the controversial Section 18 clause that allowed for the destruction of Juukan.

Mr Dawson has been adamant a similar event would not happen again but not all Aboriginal stakeholder groups are convinced.

National Native Title Council chairman and Ngalia leader Kado Muir said the passage of the Bill meant it would be business as usual on sacred sites with the continued destruction and desecration of Aboriginal cultural heritage.


“As we have continually communicated, one of the major issues with the current Bill is that it leaves ultimate decision-making power in the hands of the relevant minister where a proponent or developer and an Aboriginal party cannot agree,” he said.

Federal Liberal MP Warren Entsch, who chaired a national inquiry into the Juukan cultural disaster, said earlier in the week the balance remained in favour of proponents.

“It denies First Nations people a very important avenue to prevent the abuse of ministerial power,” he said.

Concerns raised by the UN to Australia’s ambassador to the global group earlier this month were not officially passed on to the WA government.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said through a spokesperson that the Commonwealth had “no jurisdiction to intervene in relation to this bill”.

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