• A drill platform and other infrastructure on Lake Torrens. (Aeris Resources)Source: Aeris Resources
The South Australian Government has approved drilling at Lake Torrens, a place significant to the Kokatha, Barngarla, Adnyamathanha and Kuyani people.
Keira Jenkins

6 Jan 2021 - 6:10 PM  UPDATED 6 Jan 2021 - 6:10 PM

South Australia's Native Title Services say they are 'disappointed' with the state government's decision to approve drilling at Lake Torrens, a significant site for a number of local Nations.

Premier Steven Marshall, who is also the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, approved a Section 23 application made by Kelaray, a subsidiary of Argonaut Resources, which will allow the company to damage or disturb Aboriginal sites and objects.

The lake is sacred to the Kokatha, Barngarla, Adnyamathanha and Kuyani people.

SA Native Title Services CEO Keith Thomas said the Premier's decision is 'disappointing'.

"Following the fall out that came from the destruction of Juukan Gorge - all over Australia there was people all over Australia crying out about that as an Aboriginal site," he told NITV News.

"We were hopeful that there would be more consideration from the state government before entering into any damaging or destruction of ancient sites in South Australia under the Section 23 of the South Australian Aboriginal Heritage Act.

"Obviously that hasn't happened and the Minister has moved forward and given his approval for damage or destruction of Aboriginal heritage sites in that area."

'Once it's lost, it's lost'

A state government spokesperson told NITV News that the decision was made "after extensive consultation with Aboriginal people and organisations".

"The exploration program will not permanently impact the anthropological and cultural heritage of Lake Torrens," the spokesperson said.

"The exploration can only be carried out in accordance with strict conditions set out in the Premier's authorisation, which include the provision of detailed and regular progress reports to Aboriginal parties and site visits for those parties at the conclusion of work."

Lake Torrens itself does not have any Native Title protections, but Mr Thomas said it is registered as a significant site under the state's cultural heritage laws.

There are also areas surrounding Lake Torrens that are covered by Native Title protections.

Mr Thomas said the Section 23 approval shows the state's cultural heritage laws are out of date. He wants to see an overhaul of legislation across the country.

"Cultural heritage laws need to be reviewed and looked at and be consistent across Australia, which gives greater protection to Aboriginal cultural sites across Australia," he said.

"At the moment it just seems like all of our sites across Australia are at the whim of government and one person to make a decision about the destruction of those places.

"Once it's lost it's lost. It's something that we're never, ever going to get back again."

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