Amendments to WA Protection Act leaves sacred sites vunerable

Robin Chapple
Robin Chapple stands next to some graffiti at Burrup rock art in the Pilbara.

Katrin Long ABC 12 June 12 2014

The Greens have raised concerns over a WA Government proposal to amend parts of the Aboriginal Heritage Act, which sets out the way in which sacred places and objects should be preserved.

The Act has not had any major changes since it was introduced 42 year ago.

One of the changes would see control of major decisions regarding potential and established heritage sites handed from a committee to a single CEO.

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy (CME) has said the proposed changes would improve efficiency in the mining and energy sector.

Greens MP Robin Chapple said the changes would aid mining companies, but would constitute a "complete desecration" of an Act that has already been watered down since its inception.

"They've taken away what was left of a shell of an Act and just trashed it," he said.

In a 2012 submission to a review of the Act, the CME expressed frustration at what it called red tape that impeded the resources sector without actually improving Aboriginal heritage protection or outcomes.

CME director Nicole Roocke said she believed the changes would streamline the process.

"I think it will make it easier for everyone, and I think it will provide clarity in process as well," she said.

"That's certainly what we're looking for it to achieve."

Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Peter Collier says only modest changes to the Act are needed to make sure the state's Aboriginal heritage continues to be protected.

"What we're actually doing is streamlining the process of Aboriginal heritage without removing the rigour which serves to protect those sites," he said.

A draft review of the act is out for public comment but Mr Chapple said the consultation period is too short.

"For Aboriginal communities to get a hold of it, digest it, and become aware of it even, takes several weeks," he said.

"So I don't think we're going to see anything in a hurry, because of the very nature of remote communities.

"I don't think eight weeks is nearly enough. For something like this you need about six months."