ABORIGINAL CULTURAL HERITAGE ACT 2021
First, I offer my congratulations on your promotion to the role of Premier of Western Australia.
I write to you on the matter of the commencement of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021 on the 1st of July 2023. As you know, this Bill was pushed through the Legislative Assembly in under one week, with less than 24 hours notice provided to Opposition Members and Stakeholders alike. The Bill sat at 353 Clauses, with limited briefing opportunity presenting challenges for due scrutiny. The Bill was declared urgent and consideration curtailed with more than 90 clauses unable to be properly scrutinised in the time set by the Government.
Despite its rushed introduction and passage through both Houses, the Opposition have remained open to the idea that this Legislation is truly motivated by improving protection and preservation systems for Aboriginal Cultural Heritage across the State. However, the senseless rush to implement this Act is now coming at community cost, with genuine concerns about consultation and readiness being ignored.
The challenge all stakeholders are facing is that in less than a month the Act will come into effect, and at the time of writing there are no Local Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Services in place, the Information Technology system that is being developed to manage the new system will only come on-line on 1 July, and there is considerable concern and scant information in the community about the impact and effect of the Act.
In particular, there are concerns in the agricultural and exploration sectors. This concern has not been helped by the education process, which is now running through to implementation, noting when first announced there were no sessions available in the Wheatbelt and the online sessions have consistently been attended by more than 400 people.
Regardless of whether WA Farmers and the Pastoralists and Grazers Association were consulted during the development of the regulations, the final versions were only published in April of this year, giving industry and the broader community very little time to familiarise themselves with the new (and significantly changed) process.
There is clearly a desire for stakeholders to understand their obligations prior to the Act coming into effect – but the inexorable deadline for implementation set by the Government has left very little time for the communication and education to take place. This in itself is creating angst and anger – which may have been avoided with more time and a comprehensive communication strategy.
If the outcome sought by Government is to avoid the damage or destruction of Aboriginal cultural heritage in our State, then it is surely in it’s best interests to ensure those who undertake ‘disturbance’ activities are appropriately educated and informed.
In this second term of your Labor Government, there have been significant changes for primary industries to grapple with – including the phasing out of native logging, changes to fishing provisions, amendments to animal welfare regulations, the looming phase-out of live exportation, and now the implementation of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act. These sectors are fatigued by the persisting change – and many are family businesses who do not have the resources of the mining sector to wade through new and extensive regulations.
Hasty implementation of the new Act, along with a flawed process of development of the accompanying regulations, is not in the State’s best interest. It is creating division, anger and distress – all of which could be avoided or mitigated if more effort and time is put into consulting and educating stakeholders.
Premier, I am asking for time.
Please consider delaying the start date for the ACH Act to allow industry and community stakeholders time to understand and prepare for the changes and allow the Department time to put in place the required infrastructure for the legislation to work effectively.