Juukan Gorge inquiry ‘goes to’ Top End

Tomorrow, the inquiry into the destruction of Indigenous heritage sites at Juukan Gorge will be looking at Indigenous heritage protection in the Northern Territory, with a public hearing by videoconference.

Northern Australia Committee Chair Warren Entsch noted that heritage protections in the Northern Territory were some of the strongest in Australia, though this did not always lead to successful outcomes.

‘The Committee is aware of concerns raised by Traditional Owners about the expansion of the McArthur River mine and the threat this poses to sacred waterholes,’ Mr Entsch said.

‘It is important that the protections offered under heritage legislation can’t simply be circumvented by recourse to other laws.’

In its submission, the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority observed that, ‘the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act 1989 (NT), which stems from the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976 (Cth) (Land Rights Act), presents a model that should be adopted nationally and in all States and Territories. Importantly the Northern Territory framework encompasses the principles of free prior and informed consent.’

The Central Land Council also highlighted the success of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, but argued that, ‘there is need for other legislation to give Traditional Owners protection on land where free, prior and informed consent to development is not afforded, including on land subject to native title.’

The Central Land Council recommended improvements to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984, ‘so that it can be an effective measure of last resort for Indigenous people throughout Australia, and can set minimum standards for State and Territory legislation.’

Other witnesses include archaeologist Ms Karen Martin-Stone, GetUp, the National Environmental Law Association and Australia ICOMOS.

A program for the public hearing is available on the Committee’s website.

Public hearing details

Date: Tuesday, 2 March 2021

Time: 9:00am to 4:00pm AEDT

Location: by video/teleconference

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

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