Sunday, April 29, 2012

It’s Not The Aboriginal Heritage Act That Needs Changing But The Chauvinistic State Government

In reference to the Western Australian Auditor General’s Report, September 2011  

It states that there are weaknesses in how social, environmental and economic conditions are monitored and enforced that need to be addressed if Parliament is to be assured that all the State’s interests are being protected. 

It not the Aboriginal Heritage Act that needs amending it’s the unprincipled and  injudicious executive management of Department of Indigenous Affairs (DIA) that needs altering  because they have no authentic professional abilities to implement or enforce approved Government policy,  undertake effective monitoring and reporting,  are totally non transparent in all their duties and they are never held  accountable for their negligence. 

These top ranking DIA officials only seem capable at obtaining gifts, tickets to attend the football matches from a variety of Corporations. 

Auditor General’s Report states: DIA has not actively monitored if operators are meeting the conditions placed on them under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (AH Act). This means that registered Aboriginal heritage sites could have been lost or destroyed without the State knowing or taking action.

As part of gaining approval to mine, proponents must meet the requirements of Section 18 of the AHAct. This Act aims to ensure that Aboriginal cultural heritage in WA is identified, managed and preserved.

Some operators must develop management plans to protect identified Aboriginal heritage sites. These can be archaeological sites housing tools and rock art, or ethnological sites of spiritual, historical or other importance.

As part of administering this activity, DIA keeps a register of identified heritage sites; a register of agreed heritage plans; and a register of who must report against these plans and when. DIA has identified that there are more than 7 000 mining tenements which have heritage sites. About 800 tenements have Section 18 requirements.

We found that DIA has only undertaken inspections of heritage sites when responding to complaints it received, but has taken no enforcement action when it has found non-compliance.

Because DIA has not been actively monitoring compliance with Aboriginal heritage conditions, it does not know the actual incidence of breaches of those conditions. In the last two years, it received 28 complaints related to the impact of mining on Aboriginal heritage. Of these, 21 are either still being investigated or awaiting investigation. Three have been closed with no further action taken and one referred to the State Administrative Tribunal. Three could not be investigated because they were more than 12 months old. The complaints involved alleged removal of rock art, mining within a significant site, building infrastructure on a significant site and failing to appropriately liaise with traditional owners.

DIA did not review all compliance reports required from mine operators in a timely manner. Nor did it effectively follow up those who had not provided reports. Most reports were received late or not at all.
For instance, in 2009 the Minister approved (under Section 18 of the AH Act) 114 applications to develop land on which an Aboriginal heritage site existed. 

The proponents of 62 of these applications were required to report to DIA on progress and heritage issues but only 28 (45 per cent) have done so. This low level of reporting and the fact that DIA does not review all the reports it receives, reduces DIA’s understanding of the levels of operator compliance with conditions. Financial returns are well managed, but some economic and social returns are not well monitored and enforced.

We also noted that DIA has not been inclined to take action on non-compliance with heritage conditions and that its legal capacity was somewhat restricted:

DIA has consistently failed to follow up when operators have not submitted progress reports or taken voluntary corrective action when a Section 18 condition has been breached. Non-compliance with conditions could for example be an operator’s failure to erect suitable fences to protect a heritage site or, actual damage to a site.

DIA cannot pursue matters more than 12 months after they have occurred. Three cases in the last two years could not be acted on as a result of this limitation.

DIA can only take formal action through the courts. It does not have authority to issue fines. However, it has the power to issue warnings and directions, but has never used these powers.

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