A FORMER federal Aboriginal affairs minister has savaged the Barnett government’s proposed changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act.
In a letter to local lobby group the Aboriginal Heritage Action Alliance, Ian Viner QC describes the changes as “truly offensive” and “fundamentally destructive of Aboriginal cultural heritage protection”. Mr Viner was Aboriginal affairs minister in Malcolm Fraser’s Liberal government from 1975—78.
“If passed I would expect protection of heritage in Western Australia to be driven to Commonwealth environmental and heritage legislation and more objections channelled through the Native Title Act,” he wrote. “The irony is that that would be more costly and time consuming for prospectors, miners, developers and the state government.”
Mr Viner says the bill, which is before state parliament, should be withdrawn and be at least referred to an upper house committee for scrutiny.
Mr Viner’s intervention is the second blow in a week to the Barnett government’s program of watering down Aboriginal heritage protection. Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court ordered the Aboriginal affairs department to overturn a decision to deregister Port Hedland harbour from its list of protected sites.
by STEVE GRANT