Background Briefing - What's sacred now?

ABC Radio National has reported that ancient rock carvings on the Burrup Peninsula are among more than 1,000 sites the WA government removed or blocked from its Aboriginal heritage register in the last two-and-a-half years. In 2012 the government created a narrower definition of sacred sites. The Supreme Court has thrown out those changes, but the government now wants a single public servant to determine sacred sites. See the report from ABC Radio National.

This story may point to issues raised in a document found on the internet, in which you may have some interest.

Aboriginal heritage test case overturns decision to deregister Port Hedland site

As reported on the ABC News website on 1 April 2015, The Supreme Court of WA has quashed a decision by a West Australian Government committee to deregister a Port Hedland Aboriginal sacred site, in a test case that opens the door to a class action by traditional owners. The following day the ABC News website posted a response from the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the Honorable Mr Peter Collier, MLC.

You can access the online judgment by Justice John Chaney from the Supreme Court or in PDF format.

This is a very important judgement, one that goes to the operation of the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee, the role of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and meaning of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972.

Rorting in the Aboriginal Heritage Industry

An article recently published in The West Australian stated that: "An "industry" of predominantly white consultants has been charging exorbitant fees for survey reports that are sometimes simply cut-and-paste duplicates, according to the State Government". The article also reported Deputy Director at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Aaron Rayner, as saying: "'These service providers have taken advantage of the uncertainty and cumbersomeness and created a market for services that do not often provide value for money, nor significantly enhance heritage protection outcomes"'.

ASWA, in association with AACAI and AAA, has responded to the article with an open letter. The letter states, in part, that: "Members of the Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists Inc. (AACAI), the Australian Archaeological Association (AAA) and the Anthropological Society of Western Australia (ASWA) are outraged by the slanderous allegations made about heritage consultants on the front page of The West Australian Newspaper in their article on the Aboriginal heritage assessment process in Western Australia (WA)."

Please download the full response.

Summary of DAA-AACAI-ASWA meeting, 4 July 2014

DAA invited AACAI and ASWA representatives to discuss the proposed amendments to the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972. These notes of the meeting were prepared by Joe Dortch, Fiona Hook and Eddie McDonald.

For further information about the proposed changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972, please access the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.

The ASWA Committee recently attempted to hold a meeting with the Registrar of Aboriginal Sites. The meeting, which was to be held on Monday 18 February 2013, was to have been an opportunity for ASWA members, particularly professional members, to obtain an update on a number of matters relating to the proposed reforms to the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 and recent administrative changes at the Department of Indigenous Affairs. Unfortunately, due to the guidelines for the public service during the caretaker period, the Registrar had to respectfully decline the opportunity.

It is hoped that soon after the election outcome is known and a new government is sworn in, it will be possible for ASWA again to provide members with a chance to meet with the Registrar.