The Department of Aboriginal Affairs (the Department) has released the Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Bill 2014 for public comment. The closing date for public submissions is Wednesday, 6 August 2014.
The draft bill proposes the following key changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA) (the Act):
- Implementation of a ‘permit system’ – Consents under section 18 of the Act will be replaced by ‘permits’ to do an activity, which can be applied for by ‘any person’, not just a ‘landowner’.
- Expedited approvals by the CEO – If a permit application is made, the CEO may issue a declaration that there is no Aboriginal site on the application area, or issue a permit if the CEO considers that an Aboriginal site or object will not be adversely affected by the activity, without referring the permit application to the Minister or the Aboriginal Cultural Material Committee.
- New register for declarations and permits – A register of declarations and permits, existing section 18 consents, and decisions regarding refusing, amending, cancelling or transferring a permit is to be maintained by the Registrar of Aboriginal Sites and made publicly available.
- Considerations when evaluating a place or object – Matters to be taken into account when evaluating the importance or significance of a place or object to Aboriginal persons will be specified.
- New procedures for recording sites on the register – The CEO will determine whether a protected area, Aboriginal site, item of Aboriginal cultural material or object is to be entered on or removed from the register, or if information on the register is to be amended in accordance with new regulations.
- New regulations – The Governor may also make additional regulations regarding procedures for considering permit applications, amending or transferring permits, cancelling declarations and permits, fees and charges for services provided by the Department, and restricting or limiting disclosure of information on the registers.
- Tougher penalties for offences under the Act – These measures include increasing pecuniary penalties and imprisonment terms, offenders being required to take, or pay for, remedial action to restore a damaged site or object, and increasing the period of time in which prosecutions can be commenced from 12 months to 5 years after the offence occurred.
The above changes, if enacted, are likely to affect the interests of native title groups and other traditional owner groups, local governments, mining and petroleum companies, developers, pastoralists and others who have interests in the management and protection of Aboriginal heritage in Western Australia. In addition to making public submissions, interested parties should consider how their existing or proposed Aboriginal heritage and native title agreements will accommodate the new regime.
For further information or advice on how the draft bill may affect you, please contact Castledine Gregory on (08) 9486 7665.
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