Proposed legislation could change Western Australia’s Mining Act
The Western Australian government said it would introduce legislation before the end of the year that would give indigenous groups the authority to evaluate the importance of cultural and heritage sites rather than a departmental committee.
The proposed legislation follows a two-year review of cultural heritage laws and the bill is in the final stages of drafting. Reuters reported that the bill is expected to be released soon for final consideration.
This comes after two caves that held cultural significance to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) people were destroyed during a state-approved mine expansion at Juukan Gorge.
According to the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage, registered Aboriginal sites are protected by law but can still be subject to an exemption request to damage or destroy sites.
While the legislation would represent a large shift, Reuters reported that the proposed legislation may fall short of demands of some indigenous groups since it is unlikely to give them a veto on development and could face opposition by lawmakers.
Western Australia accounts for nearly all production of Australia’s most valuable export - iron ore - which the government expects to be worth more than A$100 billion ($69.64 billion) this financial year.
Since July 2010, miners have submitted more than 460 applications to disturb or destroy sites of potential cultural significance in the region, according to state parliament records. All but one of those applications were approved. The sole request to be declined occurred in June.
Under current state rules, miners can destroy heritage sites for mine development by applying for an exemption to its Aboriginal Heritage Act.
As part of the state exemption process, a review is made by a departmental committee, which considers the economic value of the project rather than acting solely on behalf of traditional owners who have no right of appeal in the process.