Unit to empower Aborigines

Mines and energy minister Bill Johnston announced a $14.6 million commitment to establish an Aboriginal Empowerment Unit within his department.

Mr Johnston said the unit would ensure mining and resources projects and policies were developed in a culturally respectful way and improve information access for Aboriginal people related to activities on their lands.

“It is important that Western Australian mining and petroleum activities also deliver improved outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Mr Johnston said.

He said the McGowan government’s proposed Heritage Protection Bill would put traditional owners “at the heart of the decision-making process,” however National Native Title Council CEO, Jamie Lowe wasn’t convinced.

Mr Lowe said it was unclear whether the Heritage Act in its current form would have a genuine impact on the mining industry and the protection of Aboriginal people’s rights and interests.

He brought up the Juukan Gorge disaster when miner Rio Tinto destroyed significant cultural sites in the Pilbara in May 2020, saying it resulted from “inequality entrenched into the systems and laws”.

Prosecution of mining companies for destroying sacred sites is already a rare occurrence, and Mr Lowe said “it remains to be seen… how often anyone will be prosecuted” under the newly proposed act.

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