• Kimberley Land Council CEO Tyronne Garstone wants the WA government to release the latest draft of its proposed cultural heritage laws. (Supplied: Kimberley Land Council)Source: Supplied: Kimberley Land Council
One of Australia's most powerful land councils is fearful of another Juukan Gorge disaster if WA doesn't nail its new cultural heritage laws.
Sarah Collard

20 Oct 2021 - 4:38 PM  UPDATED 20 Oct 2021 - 4:38 PM

The Kimberley Land Council (KLC) said it's preparing for more cultural destruction if the state government's proposed update of its cultural heritage laws isn't strong enough.

The concerns come just days after a scathing report was tabled following Rio Tinto's legal blasting of 46,000-year-old shelters at the Juukan Gorge in Western Australia's Pilbara region.

The WA government is close to finishing new legislation which would remove the Section 18 process used by Rio to blow up the caves.

"What we have seen is the destruction of our heritage and that has a profound impact on who we are as people," KLC chief executive Tyrone Garstone told NITV News.

"We need to make amendments to stop any further desecration of our sites."

The Bardi man said he is fearful that "history will repeat itself" if the outdated laws aren't set right and he's calling on Premier Mark McGowan to be more transparent throughout the process.

"The McGowan government must allow us to see the draft bill prior to it being introduced into Parliament so we can have a fair say around what is going to impact our cultural heritage," he said.

Mr McGowan said his government will put in place stronger Aboriginal heritage laws "as soon as we can" and is preparing to release more details on the proposed legislation.

Newly sworn-in WA Greens Senator Dorinda Cox said Traditional Owners don't like what they have seen so far.

"We have a draft bill for Aboriginal cultural heritage, and our Traditional Owner groups from across the state are saying it's not good enough. It doesn't go far enough," she said.

Juukan Gorge report urges sweeping reforms to cultural heritage laws
A parliamentary report has issued a scathing assessment of the nation's cultural heritage protection laws which led to the destruction of the 46,000-year-old caves last year.

The Juukan Gorge inquiry put forward eight recommendations including the shifting of federal cultural heritage responsibility from the environment to the Indigenous Australians portfolio; stronger overarching heritage legislation which should be co-designed with Indigenous people; setting out minimum standards for all states and territories and potentially the right for Traditional Owners to veto the destruction of important sites.

Federal environment minister Sussan Ley government told NITV News the destruction of Juukan Gorge was a "wake up call" for every Australian government and the mining companies, and the commonwealth is working with state and territories on steps forward.

"The protection of cultural heritage doesn't entirely sit with the commonwealth government but state governments have all indicated they are looking at their own laws with a view to reform," she said.

"If we co-design and consult with Traditional Owners we'll get the outcomes that we should. We all need to consider how we can do better."

But Mr Garstone said ultimately if First Nations people don't have the final say on what happens on their Traditional lands, cultural heritage laws will continue to fail. 

"It is inevitable that there will be another Juukan Gorge. I really fear that history will repeat itself here," he said. 

Cultural heritage reassessment demanded for Gympie bypass sites
Kabi Kabi Traditional Owners have lodged two fresh applications under the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act after police removed them from Djaki Kundu last week.