Proposed Changes to Aboriginal Heritage Law Give All Power to One Staff Member

Words by: Jonathon Davidson

Director General (CEO) of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs Cliff Weeks will be given complete control of Aboriginal Heritage registrations and applications in WA under an amendment to Aboriginal Heritage law currently in the lower house.

If the amendment passes, the CEO may, at their own discretion – that is, without external consultation – declare that there is no Aboriginal heritage value on any particular ground or site, constrained only by their obligation to publish that decision in a gazette.

Applications for use of land which might consist of Aboriginal heritage material do not need to be forwarded to any committee unless the CEO of the DAA sees it fit, again massively reducing the distribution of executive power within the DAA.

The role of evaluating heritage value in Aboriginal land sites, including current listings and future applications for protection, is currently shared between the CEO of the DAA, the acting Minister, and the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee.

But the Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Bill 2014 seeks to remove this provision from the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972, which currently states that the ACMC, one of three DAA committees, must be consulted and assist with assignments or denials of heritage status.

The proposed amendment to WA Aboriginal heritage law has entered parliament for the third time in as many years, following the revelation last July that 3,000 heritage sites have been de-registered under the Barnett government.

Furthermore, the amendment bill requires that the ACMC must now produce a full report for the CEO every time an application is handled, which will likely promote a culture where the committee is rarely consulted due to time constraints.

Under the 1972 act, the committee need only give “notice” of their stance.

The CEO – who is not the Minister, keep in mind – may override committee decisions.

The bill will also see the acting elected Minister act in subservience to the Director General.

Worth mentioning for a second time is that this is the third time the bill has entered state parliament,  and the rules it seeks to install have received criticism every time it pops up.