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WA makes ‘significant’ progress in reforming Aboriginal heritage laws

The Western Australian government has made “significant progress” for historic reform of outdated heritage laws that would place Aboriginal people at the centre of decision-making about agreements around land users and traditional owners.

user iconNaomi Neilson 23 November 2020 Big Law
reforming Aboriginal heritage laws
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After three years of extensive community discussion and consultation, the government said it is ready to “set the path forward” for its historic reform of outdated heritage laws. The change will represent a “fundamental legislative reform” to recognise, protect and manage Aboriginal cultural heritage by the very people at the centre of it. 

The McGowan government said the bill “captures and celebrates” its diverse elements and perspectives of Aboriginal cultural heritage and recognises that it is both traditional and a living culture that remains “fundamental to the lives of Aboriginal people”. 


Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said there has been “widespread recognition” for three decades that the 1972 Aboriginal Heritage Act is not reflecting modern values. 

“The first attempt at reform was undertaken by the Lawrence Government in 1992, but it failed due to a lack of consensus. The same fate has befallen many similar attempts by subsequent governments,” Mr Wyatt said. “On this occasion, I’m confident that we have a path forward to introduce historic reform that reflects modern values.”

The bill aligns with native title, which the government said is critical in determining the custodians of cultural heritage. It also ensures Aboriginal people are decision-makers. 

Mr Wyatt said he has been “enormously pleased” by the constructive approaches that have been taken by Aboriginal people and the research industry through consultations. Following the latest round of consultation – which concluded last month – work began by the parliamentary council to incorporate improvements before the 41st Parliament. 

“I am confident that the effort undertaken to reach broad consensus on these reforms will allow the best possible chance for a bill to be supported by the 41st parliament,” Mr Wyatt said. 

“While I will not be a member of that parliament, I will continue to follow with interest this important reform.”