On 8 August 2023, the Western Australian Government announced that it will repeal the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021 (WA) (ACH Act) that came into effect on 1 July 2023.
The WA Government will restore the original Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) (1972 Act), with amendments aimed at ensuring that there is no further destruction of Aboriginal cultural heritage.
What was the ACH Act?
The ACH Act was the result of an extensive reform project developed following the destruction at Juukan Gorge in 2020. Its aim was to ensure that Aboriginal people were able to participate in decisions about activities that may impact their cultural heritage.
The ACH Act established a new system for landowners to seek approval for activities that may cause harm to Aboriginal cultural heritage.
A three-tiered system was established, to determine:
The ACH Act also introduced:
Why is the ACH Act being repealed?
In announcing the restoration of the original cultural heritage laws, the WA Government acknowledged that the new legislation had caused confusion amongst landowners across the state and was too prescriptive and complicated to be workable.
The decision to restore the original 1972 Act with the addition of amendments to help prevent another Juukan Gorge incident was drawn from legal advice provided by the Solicitor-General.
The WA Government has given notice of the Aboriginal Heritage Legislation Amendment and Repeal Bill 2023, but further timing is unknown.
What are the proposed amendments to the restored 1972 Act?
The WA Government has stated that the proposed amendments to the restored 1972 Act will be designed to provide further protection for Aboriginal cultural heritage. These amendments include:
There will be no requirement on everyday landowners to conduct their own heritage survey. However, all landowners have a continued obligation to not knowingly damage an Aboriginal cultural heritage site (which is consistent with the 1972 Act).
Additionally, the WA Government has announced that it will: