The Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia inquiry into the destruction of Juukan Gorge caves must go further in its final report by calling for the principle of free, prior and informed consent to be incorporated into state and Commonwealth heritage and native title laws, Oxfam Australia said today.
Commenting on the release of the interim report Never Again, Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Lyn Morgain praised the work of the committee in laying down a foundation for greater respect for the rights of the First Peoples of Australia.
Ms Morgain said committee members from all sides of politics had been exemplary in the way they engaged with the evidence and conducted the hearings into the destruction of the 46,000 year-old caves in Western Australia’s Pilbara region – and it was hoped this would translate into better policy outcomes.
“While we welcome the recommendations to strengthen the right of communities to publicly raise concerns about heritage protection or to exercise their rights under heritage legislation, this committee has only touched on the principle of free, prior and informed consent,” Ms Morgain said.
“Free, prior and informed consent is at the heart of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Australia is a signatory.
“Embracing this principle will go some way towards addressing centuries of dispossession and marginalisation of First Peoples.”
Ms Morgain said the need to strengthen the Native title Act in this regard was noted briefly by the committee chair, Warren Entsch MP, when he wrote in the report foreword that “Native Title has become another means to destroy Indigenous heritage”.
“Indigenous communities deserve to see in the final report a framework for strengthening the Native Title Act and state and federal heritage laws so that they more fully reflect the principle of free, prior and informed consent,” Ms Morgain said
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