Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Bill 2014

On the 11th of June 2014, the State Government released the draft Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Bill 2014. 

The Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA) has claimed the amendments will implement better rules to protect heritage sites, cut red tape and, most significantly, “empower Aboriginal people”.  However, in reality the amendments remove any kind of community involvement in the protection of Aboriginal heritage sites and concentrate all power over these matters into the hands of one public servant. These amendments make significant and disturbing changes to the function and power of the Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee (ACMC).  Every instance of the word ‘committee’ in the old legislation, in reference to the ACMC, has been replaced with the word CEO. They have also removed the requirement for at least one member to have Anthropological expertise in the area of Aboriginal heritage. The ACMC, whom used to assess all Aboriginal Heritage site reports, will under the proposed Bill changes, exist only on a consultative basis at the whim of the CEO.  This means that the deciding force for whether or not an Aboriginal site is approved or listed on the Aboriginal Sites and Objects register now lies solely with the ‘opinion’ and ‘initiative’ of the CEO.

To Download the Bill click here.  This draft Bill shows the proposed changes clearly, with sections crossed out in red demonstrating parts of the Act that will be removed, and sections in blue showing the new amendments. 

- Update (17/3/15) -

The second reading for the bill occured on November 11 2014, with Dr Kim Hames (Minister for Health) giving the opening speech. Debate is set to continue either in May or June 2015. 

On September 26 2014, a bush meeting was held on country at Yule River, where 200 traditional owners met to add their voices to the outrage over proposed amendments to the Aboriginal Heritage Act. Robin Chapple was in attendance and addressed the gathering.  The meeting followed a vote the previous day by 400 members of the Kimberly Land Council (KLC) to unanimously reject the reforms. 

On the 9th of Febuary 2015, the Aboriginal Heritage Action Alliance (AHAA), an Indigenous group formed with support from former federal Politicians, senior Archeologists and Anthropologists, held its first meeting to discuss a united opposition to the state governments proposed Aboriginal Heritage Act. Robin Chapple was the only standing politician to attend the meeting. 

Related Media stories

National Indigenous Times, 4 Febuary 2015, "Elder prepares to face court for protecting his country" 

Weekend Australian, 10 January 2015, "Slump in sites for heritage listing" 

The Australian, 31 October 2014, "Heritage row heats up as pastor lets fire"

Koori Mail, 8 October 2014, "Outrage at WA Govt heritage proposals" 

National Indegenous Times, 24 September 2014, "WA's Heritage Act changes herald a new era of racism, warn Elders" 

Perth Voice, 20 September 2014, "Act of Betrayal" 

Koori Mail, 2 July 2014, "Planned WA Heritage Changes Condemned" 

Noth West Telegraph, 25 June 2014, "Concern over Heritage Bill" 

Kalgoorlie Miner, 1 June 2014, "Bill Aims to change Heritage Act"

ABC News, 20 June 2014, “Traditional owners to 'lose control' of sacred sites under changes to heritage act”

ABC News, 20 June, 2014, “Concern over Aboriginal Heritage Act draft changes

ABC News, 12 June 2014, “Aboriginal Heritage Act changes help miners, but do little to protect sacred sites: Greens”


Review of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972

Between 2011 and 2012 the Government initiated a hastily conducted review of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972. They gave the community very limited time to make submissions and provide feedback on the DIA discussion paper “Review of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (RAHA). Discussion Paper: Seven proposals to regulate and amend the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 for improved clarity, compliance, effectiveness, efficiency and certainty”.

In late 2013 one of our interns conducted research into “the Effectiveness of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972”, recommending better resourcing of the Department. The attempts to reform the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 seem to no longer be a priority for the Barnett government.

It appears that the April 2009 Industry Working Group Review of Approval Processes in Western Australia in a large part has led to the development of the RAHA discussion paper. Part 3 of the Industry Working Group Review of Approval Processes in Western Australia on Native title and Aboriginal heritage approval issues, sets out the primary concerns and directions of the Government and Industry in respect of Aboriginal heritage approval issues.

Many reports to date have criticised the Department of Indigenous Affairs and the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 of having failed to protect Indigenous Heritage

  • Anthropological practice and Aboriginal Heritage by Philip Moore, (a case study from Western Australia)’ Applied Anthropology in Australasia / edited by Sandy Toussaint and Jim Taylor, Nedlands : University of Western Australia Press p.229-254 (1999)
  • Trashing Heritage by David Ritter, Studies in Western Australian History, 23: pp 195-208 (2003)
  • The Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972: a clash of two cultures; a conflict between two Laws by Tracy Chaloner, A Parliamentary Internship a cooperative arrangement between The Hon. Robin Chapple MLC of the WA State Parliament and Murdoch University (2004)
  • A comprehensive review of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972, Minter Ellison Northmore Hale, Prepared for the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Western Australia, 30 June 1995, Dr C M Senior

Some submissions to the review are available below, including submissions made by-

·         Dr Barb Dobson, Foundation Member of the Australasian Association of Professional and Consulting Anthropologists and Archaeologists Inc. (AAPCAA)

·         Sharon L Davies, Mt Helena WA 6082 (Not classified as a submission by DIA)

·         David Silcock, 52 Stewart St, Brunswick VIC 3056 (Not classified as a submission by DIA)

·         Emma Dewhirst, 19 Open Drive, Arundel. QLD 4214 (Not classified as a submission by DIA)

·         Anne Dean (Not classified as a submission by DIA)

Click here to view Robin Chapple's submission on the Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Bill 2014.

According to the Department’s Annual Report 2012-2013 the submissions received informed the drafting of an Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Bill 2013, which is being finalised for the purpose of public consultation. As of 13 March 2014 community consultation has not commenced yet.

All the documents referred to above are attached below, the submissions provided that the DIA have not classified as being formal are provided on this site as a matter of procedural fairness.

Disclaimer: the views expressed in these submissions are that of the submitters and do not necessarily reflect the views of this office.

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