Changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act saw protesters at the Australian State Parliament last year
Image credit and © ABC News: Katrin Long

Laura Gartry, writing for ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), reports that –

A proposed new West Australian heritage bill highlights a “disturbing racial differentiation” between the level of protection offered between non-Indigenous and Aboriginal sites, archaeologists say. It comes after the State Government released for public comment the draft Heritage Bill 2015, aimed at modernising heritage regulation.

The draft bill oversees the protection of all WA heritage sites except Aboriginal sites of significance, which come under the Aboriginal Heritage Act (AHA), itself also the subject of proposed changes by the Government. The draft Heritage Bill 2015 has been welcomed by the Australian Archaeological Association (AAA), the peak national body for the profession. But spokesman Professor Ben Smith from the University of Western Australia said the discrepancies and contradictions between the two proposed sets of changes were “untenable”.

“There is a perhaps unintentional but nonetheless very disturbing racial differentiation between the two types of heritage,” Professor Smith said. He noted how in the new Heritage Bill, the decision to add or remove a site will remain with the minister for heritage, while in revisions to the Aboriginal Heritage Act the decision will be left with a senior public servant.

“So here we have a very interesting contradiction where a site of state significance is Aboriginal, it will be a civil servant that decides whether it goes on [or off] the register. If the site is non-Aboriginal — that is settler, colonial — it is the minister that decides … the minister is the highest authority possible,” Professor Smith said.

“We have watering down of the Aboriginal Heritage Act whereas we have continued strength of non-Aboriginal preservation.”

“We seem to want to protect white fella heritage, better than we want to protect black fella heritage” adds AACAI WA Chairperson Phil Czerwinski.

Full article here. See also our earlier features on Australian heritage issues by keying in Australia in the search box above.