Labor Government concedes Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Laws not ready for implementation

The Cook Labor Government has baulked at the starting line on introducing its new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage laws.

Premier Roger Cook and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tony Buti today announced the new laws would go ahead in two days but there would be a 12-month “education first” approach to compliance.

This is another admission by Premier Cook and Minister Buti they have botched the implementation of these important new laws.

The Opposition – supported by a petition of more than 29,000 concerned Western Australians – have raised concerns with the new laws and called for a six-month delay to the July 1 start date.

Shadow Minister for Planning, Lands, Environment and Heritage Neil Thomson said there was genuine anxiety in the community that these new laws would create a massive overlay of red tape and put new costs on landowners and those who operate on the land.

“The Cook Government should do the right thing and delay the implementation of these laws until it can be sure there will be no unintended adverse implications,” Mr Thomson said.

Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Mia Davies said it was far cleaner to pause for six months to get this right, especially given the building blocks to make the Act and regulations work were not yet in place.

“Business and the community need clarity when it comes to the approval processes and the whole process has been murky from the beginning,” Ms Davies said.

“The Opposition has never opposed modernising the framework for the protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage, but we do object to the shambolic process the Government has imposed that has eroded the goodwill required to make the new legislation and regulations work.”

Leader of the Opposition Shane Love said the WA Labor Government’s eleventh-hour announcement of an implementation group was an admission of a failed process devoid of common sense.

“The Government has set aside its arrogance and decided to appoint a group of industry and community representatives to manage the implementation process which they failed to execute,” Mr Love said.

“If the Premier and his Minister had listened to the community weeks ago when concerns were raised, instead of burying their heads in the sand, everyone would have been better off.”

WA Liberal Leader Libby Mettam said Labor had two years to get this right but at five minutes to midnight, Premier Cook and Minister Buti were scrambling to soften the blow.

“Premier Cook claims they will take a ‘light touch’ but the new laws start on July1 and so do the penalties attached to the new laws,” Ms Mettam said.

“The 12-month ‘education first’ approach is cold comfort for the many concerned and impacted Western Australians who face fines and penalties up to $1 million if they get it wrong.

“The Cook Government must be committed to meaningful changes to make these regulations workable, anything less is a smokescreen.

“This is sloppy Government on full display and Premier Cook has made a mess of his first real test.”