Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said the bill would ‘reset’ the relationship between Aboriginal people and land users and bring state laws into line with Commonwealth native title laws.
“It will ensure Aboriginal people determine the importance and significance of their heritage sites and empower traditional owners to make agreements regarding the management and impact on their cultural heritage sites,” he said.
Section 18 of the current act is one of the most contentious clauses because it gives the minister the power to approve applications to destroy heritage sites but affords no rights of appeal for Aboriginal groups.
Under the new laws, decisions will be published and Aboriginal groups will have the same rights to appeal approvals as the companies.
Penalties of up to $10 million will also be created to deter land users from destroying heritage sites without permission.
Mr Wyatt hinted at the Juukan Gorge saga and said it demonstrated how ill-equipped the current laws were to protect Aboriginal heritage sites.
“We have seen recently how grossly inadequate the current legislation is to protect Aboriginal heritage and the appeals by traditional owners and land users to modernise our system,” he said.
“This legislation will better protect Aboriginal heritage in Western Australia, place Aboriginal people at the centre of our heritage protection regime and deliver better decision making in land use proposals for stakeholders, industry and the community.”
The bill aims to beef up consultation requirements in the identification, management and protection of Aboriginal heritage.