Heritage Protection Plan
PROTECT ABORIGINAL CULTURAL HERITAGE
The 2020 destruction of 46,000-year-old rock caves in the Pilbara sent shockwaves around the world. It wasn’t the first event of this kind, and it won’t be the last: Australia’s Aboriginal cultural heritage is being harmed or destroyed every day.
The WA State Government recently passed new laws that will not stop the ongoing destruction of more significant sites.
WA Aboriginal people propose adoption of a Heritage Protection Plan that will.
A Heritage Protection Plan is not about stopping development, it’s about protecting the world’s oldest living continuous culture. Government and industry would have you believe that protection and profit cannot exist in harmony. However, Aboriginal people know they can, and propose a Heritage Protection Plan to manage the delicate balance in practice.
In the event an agreement on the destruction or management of Aboriginal cultural heritage cannot be made, the final say over what happens to sites will remain with the WA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs under the new laws. That means, if the Minister decides Aboriginal cultural heritage sites can be disturbed, damaged or destroyed, they will be (similar to what occurred with the tragic destruction of 46,000-year-old rock caves in the Pilbara in 2020).
A key concern for Aboriginal people is the lack of appeal or review available when the Minister makes a final decision on the destruction of their cultural heritage. In the proposed Heritage Protection Plan, an independent dispute mechanism would determine the right balance between heritage protection and economic outcomes – a dispute process that enables the voices of Aboriginal people and industry to be heard equally.
We propose a Heritage Protection Plan to stop the ongoing harm and destruction of irreplaceable Aboriginal cultural heritage sites against the wishes of Aboriginal people.
When in question, the status of ‘heritage consent’ would be decided using jointly defined and agreed criteria by Aboriginal people with the knowledge and authority to determine the right balance between cultural heritage protection and economic outcomes at any stage of a project.
‘Heritage consent’ means that you need consent to use, modify, disturb or damage Aboriginal cultural heritage. And that ‘no’ means ‘no’ when consent is not freely given. We understand what consent means in relation to people’s bodies; the same concept applies to people’s land and culture.
Heritage consent relies on genuine partnerships and shared decision-making between Aboriginal people, organisations and government, to achieve the right balance between protection and profit. This happens, for example, by applying jointly defined and agreed processes and regulations (created through a co-design process) to determine impact, develop Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Management Plans (ACHMPs), and resolve disputes independently.
Heritage consent will provide a clear regulatory framework based on substantive, authentic and sustained engagement between Aboriginal people, government and industry, to achieve the right balance between Aboriginal cultural heritage protection and economic outcomes.
Through genuine partnerships and shared decision-making, heritage consent will facilitate the balance required to protect the world’s oldest continuous living culture, and preserve the irreplaceable connection to the past, without negatively impacting the economic benefits that can flow from mining/development.
Intrinsic to agreements, heritage decisions and project approvals, heritage consent will require full disclosure of all available options, and review at two-yearly intervals or when triggered by an agreed event (e.g. new information is gathered, or ownership is transfer).
Heritage consent will enable the management of activities that might harm Aboriginal cultural heritage through the joint creation of ACHMPs between Aboriginal people and industry. ACHMPs that determine impact levels and exemptions, cultural landscapes and intangible heritage, for example.
Based on the application of heritage consent, an independent dispute mechanism will determine the right balance between Aboriginal cultural heritage protection and economic outcomes – a dispute process that enables the voices of Aboriginal people and industry to be heard equally.
When in question, the status of heritage consent will be determined using jointly defined and agreed criteria by Aboriginal people with the knowledge and authority to determine the right balance between cultural heritage protection and economic outcomes at any stage of a project.
Heritage consent must be embodied across a range of legislations for consistency, i.e. in Local, State and Federal application. Sufficient penalties should be included to act as a real deterrent to undertake activities that cause harm to Aboriginal cultural heritage. These penalties must be commensurate with harm caused and aligned with Corporate Australia to include personal liability for fines and jail terms.
Heritage consent will underpin our global reputation as both a cultural heritage tourism mecca and a mineral province. When enshrined in legislation, this will define WA’s commitment to the rights of indigenous peoples and cultural heritage protection in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Heritage consent will be the guardrail for best practice cultural heritage protection and performance by industry, and thus a critical factor in ethical investment decision-making.
For more information, please visit our FAQs section.