Senate debates

Thursday, 16 November 2023

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

First Nations Australians: Cultural Heritage

3:31 pm

Photo of Dorinda CoxDorinda Cox (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given today by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (Senator Watt) and the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Wong) to a question without notice I asked today, relating to First Nations cultural heritage.

It feels like groundhog day in this chamber when we're talking about the protection of Aboriginal or First Nations cultural heritage yet again in this place. It's like Juukan 2.0 as we look across the country and we look at the sacred sites and the places which hold 65,000 years of history for First Nations people in this country, the First Peoples of this country, from Murujuga, where the oldest example of an image of a human face is there in the petroglyphs, visible to everybody—in fact, it's known as 'our cathedral' for the Murujuga people on the Burrup peninsula in my home state of Western Australia—to the Tiwi Islands, with ancient burial grounds and sacred places that were there before the ice age, before the seas rose. This is one of the first places of human contact. We're now looking at the destruction of petroglyphs in Middle Arm in Darwin harbour. As to the Beetaloo, this morning I was on my feet in this chamber talking about the Roper River in the Northern Territory.

Frankly, the behaviour that we've seen—when my colleague Senator Whish-Wilson, who is here, was on his feet most of last week, along with my other colleague Senator Hanson-Young and others in this bloc, talking about the sea dumping bill and about the projects that would benefit from CCS—was absolutely disgraceful behaviour from some of the industry companies like Woodside and Santos. First we had Meg O'Neill come out and talk about how this was going to put investment off and people weren't going to want to invest in our projects here in Australia. There was then the intimidation yesterday by Kevin Gallagher from Santos at the Energy Club in my home state of WA, in Perth. He was talking about the shrill of politicians and the voice of politicians from upmarket and expensive suburbs. I don't come from any of them. The place where I live in Perth is one of the lowest socioeconomic regions in the country, in fact. So I find it quite astounding that people think that we stand in this place representing just pockets. I represent nearly one-third of the country in my electorate, which is one of the largest electorates and has a most diverse population. Yet it is so rich in resources.

But, when you look at the skyline of Boorloo, or Perth, you know who owns the place. You only need to look at the high-rises with all of the big names, from Rio Tinto to BHP to Santos to Woodside. They're all there. These companies continue to bully, intimidate and stand over some of the traditional owners, and they get their own way. That's because some of that is actually at the expense of traditional owners, who don't have a bag of cash lying around so they can go in and challenge people. They don't have private lawyers like some people in this place who can go and just get legal advice. That's why the Environmental Defenders Office exists. It exists because the legislative loopholes still exist. They are not recognised as relevant people. The word 'consultation' isn't about free, prior and informed consent. Yet we've got ministers in this place standing on their feet in question time talking about how they take this very seriously and absolutely respect Aboriginal cultural heritage in this country. If you did, you would pass those amendments in my private senator's bill and close those legislative loopholes so we can get on with the business in this country.

I find it hard to believe that again we're talking about Juukan Gorge. All those recommendations were accepted by this government except one, recommendation 1, and I know because I served on that committee. This government, including ministers from the other place, continues to bat it around left, right and centre: 'Here, have a kick.' That's what they're doing. They're kicking it around like a political football over there, and all the while our Aboriginal cultural heritage is being destroyed on their watch, because they fail to put the standalone legislation in place. Minister Wong can say they're not a party to the court proceedings, but they in fact were. I sat behind the Santos lawyers and listened to the Solicitor-General give them advice.

Question agreed to.


No comments