A Way Forward after Juukan Gorge
THE Northern Australia Committee has tabled the final report of its Inquiry into the destruction of 46,000 year old caves at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.
The report follows on from the work of the committee’s interim report Never Again tabled on the December 9, 2020. Despite the impact of Covid-19 the committee has produced a complete examination of the issues brought to light throughout the inquiry.
The final report titled, A Way Forward, emphasises that what happened at Juukan Gorge is not unique. It is an extreme example of the destruction of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage which continues to happen in this country.
Importantly, the report highlights the need for legislative change at Commonwealth, State and Territory levels to ensure the protection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage.
Upon tabling the final report today, committee chair Warren Entsch said, "The destruction of the caves was a disaster beyond reckoning for the Puutu Kunti Kurrama People and Pinikura people, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage as a whole.
"This disaster was a wakeup call that there are serious deficiencies in the protection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage. What is needed now is a way forward, for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and industry."
During the inquiry, the committee heard a great number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage protection issues. Each incident of heritage destruction or threat that was discussed compounded the clear need for change.
Mr Entsch discussed that, from the significant volume of evidence received by the committee, it was clear that extensive changes were required to ensure the protection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples cultural heritage.
"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been let down by the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments as well as industry," Mr Entsch said.
"In making these recommendations today, the committee and I want to bring about meaningful change. Failures to protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage must stop here."
The report makes eight recommendations focusing on legislative change that will enhance Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s cultural heritage protections.
Among other things, the committee found:
- There is a need for an overarching Commonwealth legislative framework which should be developed through a process of co-design with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
- Administration responsibility of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 and the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 should be transferred to the Minister for Indigenous Australians.
- There should be an Australian Government review of the Native Title Act 1993.
- The Australian Government should endorse and commit to implementing Dhawura Ngilan: A Vision for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage in Australia.
- There is a need for the development of a model for cultural heritage truth telling.
- There is a need to establish an independent fund to administer funding of prescribed body corporates under the Native Title Act 1993.
"I am very proud of the hard work of the committee that went into the development of this report. I am very pleased with the recommendations that have been made to tackle the problem of inadequate cultural heritage protection for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples," Mr Entsch said.
"In tabling this report it is the committee's desire that we will Never Again see an event such as Juukan Gorge and that as a country we now have A Way Forward to protect the world’s oldest living culture."
A copy of the report can be obtained from the Committee’s website or from the secretariat on (02) 6277 4162.
Further details of the inquiry, including terms of reference, can be found on the Committee’s website.