Shadow Minister for Planning, Lands and Heritage the Hon. Neil Thomson MLC asked the McGowan Labor Government during Parliamentary proceedings if it had prior knowledge about the sacredness of Juukan Gorge before the site was blasted.
In response, Labor Minister for Aboriginal Affairs the Hon. Stephen Dawson confirmed that “the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pninikura people informed the state a matter of days before it happened.”
Mr Thomson asked Minister Dawson whether any efforts were made by the McGowan Labor Government to contact Rio Tinto to prevent the destruction of the site.
In response to that, the Minister confirmed he was “not aware of what actions either he or his office took at that time” referring to the then Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt.
“This would never have occurred under the previous arrangements where there was a dedicated Department of Aboriginal Affairs and represents the failure of Labor’s amalgamation of departments,” Mr Thomson said.
“As a result of WA Labor’s failures, we have now ended up with a deeply flawed and rushed Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill (2021) which has been touted as a response to a tragedy that could have easily been prevented to begin with.
“This bill has very few friends and takes a bureaucratic approach to determining what is and is not Aboriginal cultural heritage.
“It will result in severe impacts on the economy of Western Australia particularly for those engaged in small scale activities which have never been the main concern of Aboriginal people.”
He continued, “so many people will be caught up in processes that are ill defined adding new layers of approvals from bodies that do not yet exist.”
Mr Thomson said that “the McGowan Labor Government was completely irresponsible in requiring small businesses and landowners to seek approvals where a Local Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Service may not even exist. This could paralyse regions in our State if allowed to occur.”
Mr Thomson pointed out Aboriginal groups like the Kimberley Land Council almost universally opposed the Bill.
He moved to have this Bill referred to the Legislation Standing Committee so concerns could be considered in detail, but this motion was defeated by Labor’s overwhelming numbers in the Legislative Council.