Heritage Protection Plan
PROTECT ABORIGINAL CULTURAL HERITAGE
In 2020, the tragic destruction of rock shelters (or caves) – with evidence of human occupation dating back 46,000 years – in the Pilbara sent shockwaves around the world. It wasn’t the first event of this kind and 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.
Instead, Aboriginal people of Western Australia propose adopting 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, in practice, the delicate balance.
Under the new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021, if an agreement on the destruction or management of Aboriginal cultural heritage cannot be made, the final say on what happens to sites remains with the WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister. That means, if the Minister decides Aboriginal cultural heritage sites can be disturbed, damaged or destroyed, they will be [this is similar to what occurred when the rock shelters (or caves) – with evidence of human occupation dating back 46,000 years – in the Pilbara were destroyed].
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 who have 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 consent is needed to use, modify, disturb or damage Aboriginal cultural heritage. And ‘no’ absolutely 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 can happen 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 while preserving 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 a review at two-yearly intervals or when triggered by an agreed event (e.g. new information is gathered or ownership is transferred).
Heritage consent will enable activities that might harm Aboriginal cultural heritage to be managed, through the joint creation of ACHMPs between Aboriginal people and industry. An example might be an ACHMP that determines impact levels and exemptions, cultural landscapes and intangible heritage.
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 who have 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, whether it be local, state or federal government. Sufficient penalties should be included to act as a real deterrent for those undertaking activities that cause harm to Aboriginal cultural heritage. These penalties must be commensurate with the 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 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 a critical factor in ethical investment decision-making.
For more information, please visit our FAQs.