Australia protects aboriginal sacred sites by new law

A new law in Western Australia aimed at protecting cultural heritage has been opposed by Aboriginal organisations. Following the lawful destruction of hallowed 46,000-year-old indigenous caverns by a mining corporation last year, the legislation was adopted.

Despite resistance from Aboriginal people, the historic caverns in Juukan Gorge in Western Australia’s remote Pilbara area were lawfully destroyed last year by iron ore company Rio Tinto. They said that the location was sacred and that it should have been safeguarded.

Western Australia’s heritage rules have been amended to avoid a repeat of the disaster. The new system will be overseen by a new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Council.

There are concerns, though, because the legislation passed Wednesday empowers the state government to make the final choice if indigenous leaders and mining firms dispute about whether a particular site should be safeguarded.

Hannah McGlade is a lawyer who specialises on human rights. The legislation, she told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, is defective.

“Non-indigenous mining proponents (and) developers have several rights of review throughout the Act if they are aggrieved by various issues,” McGlade said, “but there is no merits review provided when it comes to this most important issue for Aboriginal people about wanting to protect a heritage or cultural site.” “And, according to the Law Society of Western Australia’s recent statement to the government on the measure, this effectively amounts to racial discrimination in the law.” It’s also not about Aboriginal self-determination. At the end of the day, the minister’s decision is final.”

Some indigenous leaders are in favour of the new legislation.

The Western Australian government has stated that First Nations landscapes and relics will be protected.

In a statement, state premier Mark McGowan called the bill a “historic and major reform” that will help Aboriginal people gain “empowerment.” He also mentioned the importance of striking a balance between preserving cultural heritage and maximising “natural resource economic potential.”

The indigenous culture of Australia has been around for about 65,000 years. Aboriginal people make up around 3% of the population of Australia.

Land is essential to First Nations’ ideas about creation and is at the heart of their practises.

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