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Article

25 Feb 2021

Author:
Mike Foley & Nick Toscano, The Sydney Morning Herald

‘Another Juukan Gorge’: First Nations leaders warn environment laws risk more destruction

25 February 2021

Necessary protections for Indigenous heritage sites have been excluded from the Morrison government’s proposed environmental reforms, prompting warnings from First Nations leaders it risks another devastating incident like Rio Tinto’s destruction of the Juukan Gorge.

Former competition watchdog Graeme Samuel’s recent review of federal environment law said the government should bring in greater protections for Indigenous heritage “immediately” because of the legal “culture of tokenism and symbolism”.

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“The longer any substantial reforms take, there is every risk that a site is destroyed or impacted by land users who are not being held to any level of account by the government,” said Anne Dennis, co-chair of the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance representing 20 key Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island land councils nationwide.

The Samuel Review final report, released in January, said the EPBC Act “heavily prioritises the views of western science, with Indigenous knowledge and views diminished”.

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Environment Minister Sussan Ley has developed a set of standards that do not include Mr Samuel’s recommendations. A bill to establish these standards could be introduced to Parliament as soon as this week.

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Environmental Defenders Officer Western Australia senior solicitor Lauren Butterly said national standards for Indigenous engagement and participation “should be a priority in the government’s first tranche of EPBC Act reforms”.

”The government shouldn’t proceed with its bill without a full response to the Samuel review and a full set of national standards,” Dr Butterly said.

Earlier this year, another Aboriginal heritage site was damaged near WA’s South Flank mine, run by BHP. Representatives from the mining company and the Banjima traditional owners are conducting a joint investigation into what caused a rockfall at the site.

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