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Juukan Gorge inquiry examines the role of government

Issue date: Thursday, 19 November 2020

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Tomorrow, the inquiry into the destruction of Indigenous heritage sites at Juukan Gorge will meet two Western Australian agencies with a key role in the Juukan Gorge tragedy—the Registrar of Aboriginal Sites and the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee (ACMC).

Northern Australia Committee Chair Warren Entsch says that understanding the role of these agencies under the Western Australian Aboriginal Heritage Act is a key part of understanding how Juukan Gorge came about.

‘The Aboriginal Heritage Act has failed to protect Aboriginal Heritage,’ Mr Entsch said.

‘The bureaucracy has played a significant role in this failure and we need to understand why.’

In its submission, the Yinhawangka Aboriginal Corporation stated their concerns about the ACMC:

It does seem to me that the discretionary power of the Minister (to direct the ACMC to do anything) that has existed since 1980, the limited resources of the Department and the ACMC, the limited role of Aboriginal people speaking for their country, and the limited role of experts like archaeologists and anthropologists, all act to render the ACMC impotent in the exercise of the functions that the Parliament originally intended them to exercise.

In evidence before the Committee, the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation questioned the integrity of the site registration process. It stated:

A total number of 172 important heritage sites have been removed [from Yindjibarndi country], over the past 10 years, from the register of sites held in the department. Without proper reasons, it's not possible to actually work out why they've been removed. In fact, a man called Joe Dortch wrote a paper in which he examined the removal of, I think, 3,000-odd sites from the register for no apparent reason.

The Yindjibarndi continued:

The Yindjibarndi people have made submissions and archaeologists and anthropologists have made submissions saying just how important a particular site is, but departmental staff, in their wisdom and without ever setting sight on a place, say, 'Oh, no, this is not significant,' and the ACMC, which is understaffed and has no knowledge of country, because they're not Indigenous people from that particular country, basically go on the recommendations of the staff and say this is not a site, when all of the evidence that's put before them shows that it is the site of significance that ought to be protected—172 cases. 

Programs for the public hearing are available on the Committee’s website.

Public hearing details

Date: Friday, 20 November 2020
Time: 12:00pm to 2:30pm AEDT
Location: by video/teleconference

The hearings will be broadcast live at aph.gov.au/live.

Further details of the inquiry, including terms of reference, can be found on the Committee’s website.

Media inquiries

Hon Warren Entsch MP, Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia
warren.entsch.mp@aph.gov.au
07 4051 2220

For background information

Committee Secretariat
02 6277 4162
jscna@aph.gov.au

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