Ethical investment funds urge WA premier to shelve new Aboriginal heritage laws

Open letter from 14 super funds calls for bill to be revised to represent interests of traditional owners

A coalition of ethical investment funds have urged the Western Australian government to delay the passage of new Aboriginal heritage laws, which significant traditional owner groups say fail to provide the protections necessary to prevent another disaster like the destruction of Juukan Gorge.

It comes as the state’s biggest land council has joined other Indigenous groups in requesting United Nations intervention to prevent the passage of the laws.

Future Super, ex-local government fund Vision Super, Australian Ethical Investment, Verve Super and Cruelty Free Super are among 14 investment funds to sign an open letter calling for the Mark McGowan government to shelve the bill until it can be revised to represent the interests of traditional owners.

It follows criticism of the proposed laws by the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors and others, which said poor engagement with First Nations people and a lack of cultural heritage protection represent “material financial risks” for investors.

Traditional owners have complained for three years that they have not been properly consulted on the bill, and have requested in public submissions that it be redrawn or scrapped.

The investors, which represent a combined $461m in assets under management, are calling on the government to restore the right of traditional owners to appeal ministerial decisions.

A draft of the bill released by then Aboriginal affairs minister Ben Wyatt in September last year allowed for traditional owners to appeal ministerial decisions to the State Administrative Tribunal. But the revised version significantly limits the scope for independent appeal and gives the minister, currently Stephen Dawson, final say.

Investors said they were “very concerned and disappointed that local Indigenous groups were not suitably involved in the writing of the bill”.

“To ensure that the heritage protection laws provide the level of security required to avoid a repeat of the events at Juukan Gorge, we believe the perspectives and knowledge of Indigenous peoples must be included in the formation of a new edition of the Bill,” the open letter said.

“Aboriginal heritage is world heritage with inherent value and First Nations have inalienable rights to self-determination, to access their land, and to determine how to manage it.”

The legislation was tabled last Tuesday and, given the McGowan government’s overwhelming majority, is expected to pass the lower house this week.

On Friday the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) wrote to the UN special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, Francisco Cali-Tzay, requesting “urgent attention to intervene” in the passing of the proposed legislation.

It also put its weight behind a request made by the Aboriginal Heritage Alliance that the laws be reviewed by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

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That group, which includes Noongar academic Dr Hannah McGlade, wrote to the committee seeking a review in September. They wrote to the UN again last week seeking immediate assistance

The West Australian campaign also has the support of the International Indian Treaty Council, which represents indigenous peoples from the Americas, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

KLC chairman Anthony Watson said in his letter to Cali-Tzay that the legislation as written will not protect cultural heritage and “will continue a pattern of systemic structural racial discrimination against Aboriginal people”.

CEO Tyronne Garstone said the land council decided to write to the UN “because the McGowan Government will not accept that the Bill in is in direct violation of our human rights”.

“The McGowan Government is rushing through a Bill that Aboriginal people do not support,” he said. “We have not had our fundamental concerns addressed over the past three years during a severely flawed consultation process.”


Calla Wahlquist

The GuardianTramp

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