Indigenous group requests UN review of Western Australia cultural heritage bill
"Australia’s Indigenous ask UN to review cultural heritage bill", 8 September 2021
A group of Indigenous people has filed a complaint to the United Nations over Western Australia’s draft heritage protection laws, more than a year after mining company Rio Tinto legally destroyed historically and culturally significant rock shelters to expand a mine.
The group is making a formal request for the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to review the state’s cultural heritage bill, calling it incompatible with Australia’s international obligations, the Reuters news agency reported on Wednesday.
The state government said in a statement the draft bill allowed for areas of outstanding Indigenous cultural heritage as determined by Indigenous people to be declared as protected areas.
“This declaration gives special protection to these areas from activities that are likely to cause harm to that heritage,” it said.
“Under the draft legislation, no one can apply for authorisation to undertake an activity that may harm Aboriginal cultural heritage in a protected area.”
The government retains the final decision in heritage disputes under the draft bill and the group says there is insufficient protection of the right to culture, which prohibits states from destroying significant Indigenous cultural heritage.
“Traditional Owners are unable to say ‘no’ to activities which will destroy significant cultural heritage,” it added.
Without such protection, a risk remains of “a continuation of systemic and racial discrimination which has characterised the operation of the current legislation,” it said.
Among the five high-profile Indigenous Australians making the complaint is human rights specialist Hannah McGlade, a professor at the Curtin Law School who is from the Kurin Minang people.