• The Kimberley Land council says it's concerns about the proposed cultural heritage legislation in WA are not being listened to. (Kimberley Land Council)Source: Kimberley Land Council
The Kimberley Land Council has accused the WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister of "gaslighting" over the state's proposed Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill.
Keira Jenkins

7 Jul 2021 - 6:01 PM  UPDATED 7 Jul 2021 - 6:01 PM

The Kimberley Land Council (KLC) has launched a broadside at Western Australia's Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson, accusing him of dismissing their concerns over proposed changes to cultural heritage protection in the state. 

KLC Chair Anthony Watson said the Minister had used patronising language, misrepresented the organisation's concerns and is "gaslighting" his constituents over the proposed Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill.

"We've been trying to have genuine engagement and he's just playing games and brushing us off," he said.

"It's very disappointing and unfair to have his position come across misrepresenting our concerns. It's very hurtful."

The Western Australian Government is reviewing the current cultural heritage legislation, following Rio Tinto's destruction of 46,000-year-old rock caves at Juukan Gorge.

Mr Watson said the KLC is voicing the concerns of Elders, Traditional Owners and Native Title holders who are "deeply troubled" about the future of their cultural heritage.

"To us, heritage is our living connection to our stories," he said.

"Heritage to us is not just statues and buildings, which get more protection in Australia."

'Misrepresenting Aboriginal people'

Mr Watson said Minister Dawson has been misconstruing these concerns as calls for a 'veto on mining'.

He said he wants to see the Minister take part in a "two-way discussion" with First Nations people in Western Australia.

"The Minister needs to enter into a considered discussion," he said.

"He must also stop misinterpreting Aboriginal people's request to be at the centre of decisions about our culture, our heritage."

Mr Watson said while the current cultural heritage legislation is outdated, the new bill will not offer significant heritage sites any further protection.

He's disappointed that the Minister has so far failed to listen to the concerns of Aboriginal people about the shortcomings of the draft legislation.

"The Minister says he can't guarantee that more sites like Juukan Gorge won't be destroyed in the future," he said.

"These draft laws will not stop the ongoing destruction of Aboriginal cultural heritage.

"Traditional Owners want the final say over the protection of cultural heritage. We want to be part of the decision making, process over our heritage, Country, the things that are part of us."

Minister Dawson has been approached for comment.

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