OPINION: WA Labor’s heritage laws: Where to from here?
As the old saying goes, you shouldn’t poke the bear. It’s perhaps something WA Labor should learn following their spectacular backflip on their botched cultural heritage laws. Just six weeks after their implementation, Premier Roger Cook called a press conference and in a massive win for landowners across the state, announced that WA Labor would scrap the Act.
I would like to thank every single person who voiced their very real concerns at WA Labor’s policy. Whether you emailed, called, signed petitions or showed up to Katanning or Parliament, you achieved this. Your voice is your power and, in a state where our voices can often be drowned out by Labor, you persisted and were ready for the fight.
Weeks earlier, the Premier wouldn’t listen. Heralding the legislation as a “beauty” and blinded by arrogance, the Premier and his Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Tony Buti steam rolled ahead with a belligerent roll-out, which saw an implementation group announced at the eleventh-hour.
Aware the legislation was headed for disaster but pushing ahead regardless, the Premier ignored the calls from the Opposition and concerned landowners. With the WA Labor Government’s head buried in the sand, what ensued was weeks of chaos and confusion.
Only a matter of weeks ago, the Premier said, “these laws are not radical” and “these laws are ready to go”. Now, he says the laws “unintentionally caused stress, confusion and division in the community”.
This backflip is unprecedented. After weeks of ignoring a 30,000-person strong petition, overcapacity at every Government run education session, dozens of representations, labelling opponents as racist and dogs returning to their vomit and calls for the Opposition to ‘get on the right side of history’, WA Labor retreated.
The people of Western Australia stood up and told WA Labor enough is enough. Our communities have faced Labor’s looming native logging bans, live sheep export bans, demersal fishing bans and potential firearm bans. Yet WA Labor thought they would poke the bear one more time and, instead, they paid the price. It is because of your hard work that WA Labor Government ate its words and crumbled.
However, questions still remain. Was there a captains call from ‘the boss’ in Canberra to repeal the legislation? When did the Attorney General obtain legal advice on the Act? What was in that advice? Why did the Attorney General say it could cost each landowner $40-50,000? Was there analysis to support this figure? Will the Government release this analysis?
Although questions have been raised during question time, the Premier and his Cabinet have chosen not to answer.
A Bill to repeal WA Labor’s botched Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021 was introduced to Parliament on Wednesday, 9 August, called the Aboriginal Heritage Legislation Amendment and Repeal Bill 2023.
We have been told it will not be treated as urgent, meaning debate will commence on Wednesday, 30 August 2023.
Some key features of the modified 1972 Act will include:
– The Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee and the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Council will be replaced by the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Committee.
– The relevant Native Title party will now have a right of review over Ministerial approvals.
– Gag clauses will now be banned in agreements with the Native Title party.
– Landholders will now have to notify the Minister of new heritage discovered on their land.
– The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs must publish decisions online.
– The Premier may call for a decision review if they consider the application of State or regional importance.
Notably, the Government have also promised to cover the cost of land surveys for ten years. It will not be compulsory for landholders to undertake a survey.
The questions continue. Will regional Western Australia be treated with more respect in the future? WA Labor now needs to solve the issues of harm and hurt they have caused in our communities and tell us, after all the disturbance and amendments to the 1972 Act, will landowners be able to go back to business as usual?
These matters will be subject to discussion in Parliament over the next few weeks, as will the integrity of the commitments from the WA Labor Government to undo the damage it has caused. Therefore, I strongly suggest people engage with their local members to ensure your questions and concerns are raised.
WA Labor ruined their opportunity to get this right.
The Premier claimed to have common sense, yet he ignored the calls when they came in early. To claim to have listened after it reached the point of no return, reeks of a government who listens to polls, not to people.
What West Australians deserve now is more than an apology – we deserve a new Government as our State will not survive another term of Labor.