WA Government overturns Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act

The Real Estate Institute of Western Australia has welcomed the State Government’s decision to overturn the controversial Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act, saying it’s “a common sense solution for all parties”.

Premier Roger Cook made the decision earlier today, apologising for the unintentional “stress, confusion and division” implementing the Act had caused.

He said the original act from 1972 would be restored, with some simple and effective amendments.

Under the regime announced today, Mr Cook said property owners would not have to survey their own land to ensure it complied with Act.

“Simply put, the laws went too far, were too prescriptive, too complicated and placed unnecessary burdens on everyday Western Australian property owners,” Mr Cook told The Australian.

“I understand that the legislation has unintentionally caused stress, confusion and division in the community. And for that, I am sorry.

“Our response to Juukan Gorge was wrong. We got the balance wrong and what we did hasn’t worked.

“Based on community feedback and following serious consideration, I and the Government have made a decision to overturn the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021. We will restore the original act from 1972 with some simple and effective amendments.

“All WA property owners can continue to operate and manage the property just like they have for the past 50 years, without any fear of unknowingly disrupting cultural heritage sites.”

Mr Cook said the changes would end the burden placed on landowners.

“The key point I want to make is that there will be no requirement on everyday property owners to conduct their own heritage survey,” he said.

Instead, over the next decade the State Government will complete heritage surveys in high priority sections of the state, with landholders’ permission.

Mr Cook said the announcement today was about listening to the people of Western Australia.

“The Juukan Gorge tragedy was a global embarrassment for Australia, something needed to be done,” he said.

“No-one can argue with that. But our legislative response was wrong. I want to thank everyone across the community for their feedback.”

The announcement comes after REIWA implored the government to amend the Act so it was not so onerous on property owners.

REIWA Chief Executive Officer Cath Hart said repealing the Act was the right move.

“REIWA supports the aims of safeguarding Aboriginal cultural heritage, however we had shared with the Government the concerns raised by members and property owners that the 2021 regulations may have unintended consequences for residential transactions and development, particularly in regional and peri-urban areas such as the Swan Valley, Darling Range, western suburbs, and the Peel and South-West regions,” Ms Hart said.

“The 1100sq m threshold did not reflect the diversity of residential properties across Western Australia, where 1100sq m is a relatively modest sized property in many areas.

“The changes announced today will give residential and rural property owners the confidence to develop their property, whether to renovate, extend or subdivide, or add a dam or fences without fear of committing an offence by unknowingly disrupting Aboriginal cultural heritage. 

“They won’t need to check if their planned actions are exempt or be required to conduct their own heritage surveys.

“The Government’s repeal and amendments to the 1972 Act are a common sense solution for all parties.”

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