• On-Country Bush Meeting at Yule River (2015) (Yamatiji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation Website)Source: Yamatiji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation Website
The West Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Peter Collier says he’s “disappointed” that a motion of no-confidence was passed against him by Pilbara Traditional Owners during a bush meeting last month.
Natalie Ahmat

6 Oct 2016 - 1:58 PM  UPDATED 6 Oct 2016 - 2:00 PM

Over 350 Traditional Owners, Elders and community members attended the two-day meeting held on country at Yule River near Port Hedland.

The “no confidence” resolution, which was passed unanimously, was prompted by what the group said was Mr Collier’s lack of interest in Aboriginal Affairs in Western Australia.

“It saddens me that this year, our minister who holds our future did not attend,” said Doris Eaton, the co-chair of Yamitji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation.

“This is the third year we’ve come together at Yule River and we come together as one, as human beings. But he has no respect for us,” the respected Njamal elder said.

But Minister Collier told NITV his no-show at this year’s meeting was due to a schedule clash.

“The issue with regard to the meeting is that I had a ministerial council meeting for education.  We were dealing with an education funding model into the future,” he said.

“I could not, in all conscious, have not gone to the meeting. There were all Ministers throughout the nation, every Minister throughout Australia was at that meeting in South Australia. I had to go.”

The Minister added the Yule River meeting also coincided with a parliamentary sitting day, and that the State’s Minister for Regional Development Terry Redmond had attended the meeting to represent the Government.

 “It saddens me that this year, our minister who holds our future did not attend,” said Doris Eaton, the co-chair of Yamitji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation.


Mr Collier, who has been WA’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister for six years, said he was “disappointed” people at the meeting had passed the resolution of no confidence against him.

“I wanted this portfolio, I was desperate for this portfolio,” he said.

“I grew up with the Wongatha people (of Kalgoorlie), I have a deep personal regard for Aboriginal people, and my intent is always altruistic towards the betterment of Aboriginal people in the state.”

“My passion, my regard for Aboriginal people is without question,” he said.


Heritage concerns

Attendees at the Yule River meeting also expressed concerns about the WA Government’s proposed changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

A second unanimous motion called for a full, independent enquiry into the decision to deregister a number of Aboriginal Heritage sites in the state.

The CEO of Yamatiji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation Simon Hawkins says the message from Traditional Owners was clear.

“Aboriginal people want the people who are in control of their heritage to be held accountable,” Mr Hawkins said.

“Traditional Owners want answers, and they want to be included in the decisions that will ultimately affect their way of life.”

“My passion, my regard for Aboriginal people is without question”

In response, the Minister told NITV News that he hoped people did not have concerns about the amendments, but said he appreciated the fact that some did.

But he argued the amendments to the Act are long overdue.

“We have a backlog in terms of heritage claims (with) over 15 thousand. Now in anyone’s language, that is an Act that is in desperate need of amendment,” Mr Collier said.

He also addressed concerns that Aboriginal people would not be adequately consulted in heritage decisions.

“As Justice Chaney said in his decision 18 month ago, that consultation with Aboriginal people is implicit in the current Act.  That won’t change, if anything, it will be enhanced,” the Minister said.

“We are strengthening the role of Aboriginal wardens, we are significantly increasing the penalties for destruction of Aboriginal heritage sites, which hasn’t been done for 40 years, so if anything we are strengthening Aboriginal heritage”.


Amendments delayed

Mr Collier says while he’s determined to push ahead with the contentious amendments, he conceded they’ve been placed on the backburner until after the state election.

“Unfortunately, we’ve just run out of time. In a heavily laden legislative agenda that we have in the remaining weeks we’ve got in Parliament, we will just not get it through,” he said.

However, he said the proposed changes would still be pursued if the Barnett Liberal Government was returned.

Video of the 2015 meeting: