WA government releases guidelines to support new Aboriginal cultural heritage laws

The guidelines were developed through an extensive co-design process

WA government releases guidelines to support new Aboriginal cultural heritage laws

The WA government has released key guidelines to support the state's new Aboriginal cultural heritage laws.

Following the passage of the Aboriginal Heritage Act in December 2021, there has been an extensive co-design process to develop the guidelines to implement the new law. The process involved more than 1,100 people who attended 94 workshops across metropolitan, regional, and remote areas, along with 223 submissions and feedback from Traditional Owners, Aboriginal people, landowners, and industry representatives.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Dr Tony Buti said the guidelines included details about consultation requirements, fee structures and categories of land use activities. He said the new laws and guidelines were designed to provide a balanced approach to protecting and managing Aboriginal cultural heritage and enable the continuation of economic activity, such as farming and mining.

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The guidelines and related documents are designed to guide proponents and support Aboriginal people in navigating WA’s new framework. Land use activities will fall into four categories. These will determine if the action is exempt, does not need formal approval, or will require a permit or a more comprehensive cultural heritage management plan.  The relevant Aboriginal people will need to be notified of any permit application. A management plan must be developed in consultation with the appropriate Aboriginal people for that Country.

Aboriginal organisations can choose to be designated as a Local Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Service, giving them a greater say in the processes, providing a one-stop-shop for proponents, and helping facilitate those processes. The new law will prioritise consultation with Aboriginal people about land use activities that may impact their cultural heritage.

The new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021 will take effect from July 1, 2023, replacing the outdated 1972 Act and the controversial s. 18 process to manage impacts on cultural heritage.

"For the first time in our State's history, these laws will empower Aboriginal people to be truly involved in making decisions about activities that impact their cultural heritage,” Buti said.

Work will continue over the coming months to bring in a new IT system for the lodgement of applications, conduct a series of education and awareness sessions for landowners and stakeholders, and ensure the proper governance is in place to support and empower Aboriginal people to realise the significant benefits of this new legislative framework. The guidelines and related documents are available on the WA government's website.

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