Protection of Rock Art on the Dampier Archipelago

Legislative Council

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Hon ROBIN CHAPPLE: The issue I want to raise this afternoon is funding for the protection of rock art on the Dampier Archipelago, and this concerns past governments of both persuasions and the current government. On Tuesday, 12 August, I asked a question of the Minister for Indigenous Affairs about the number of Department of Aboriginal Affairs staff who were placed on the Burrup Peninsula to manage and protect the national heritage–listed petroglyphs. The answer was that no staff were located permanently on the Burrup, the department was not aware of the recent spate of vandalism on the Burrup and that the graffiti that had been reported to date was historic in nature and outside the 12 months prosecution limit. Let us go back to what has been stated by governments, in the court and at different times. We know that vandalism has been going on in the Burrup for some considerable time. If I remember rightly, it was mentioned back in 2003, 2005 and again in 2008. It has been an ongoing problem. It was even identified in 2007 when Hon Malcolm Turnbull placed areas of the Burrup on the National Heritage List. The problem has been around for a long time.

At the same time as the debate was occurring around the Burrup’s national heritage listing, the then state minister indicated that staff would be placed permanently in Karratha to deal with those related matters of vandalism. It is interesting to note that earlier on the Leader of the House, in responding to a question put in 2011, stated that staff would be placed permanently on the Burrup to manage the issues and there was a program in place for officers to be placed there. Just prior to that, we asked how many officers were located in Karratha, Hedland and a couple of other locations. I know we got an answer that there were two officers in Karratha and two in Port Hedland. Now we have a situation in which the government will manage the process from Perth, which is against what was indicated at the time of the national heritage listing and also, interestingly enough, when the matters were before the native title hearing, the state responded to comments made in that hearing by saying that should damage occur to the rock art, the state had the responsibility to cover the rock art in plastic and/or buildings or “sheds”. If members know anything about the Burrup Peninsular, it is 114 square kilometres containing over a million and a half petroglyphs, so that would have been a very expensive process. For so long there have been so many commitments that this material is going to be protected, and it is concerning to me that consistently we have seen Aboriginal heritage values and staffing of the regions decline dramatically.

We also have the issue that in the Burrup and Maitland Industrial Estates Agreement—signed by the state and the negotiating parties: the Wong-goo-tt-oo, the Yaburara Mardudhunera, and the Ngarluma Yindjibarndi—it was stated that as part of the protection of the heritage of the Burrup, rangers would be provided, and that when the Indigenous rangers system came into being they would be trained and given prosecutorial powers over heritage matters in the area. That agreement was signed in 2003, but still, unfortunately, nothing has happened.

During the break I had the privilege of taking 30 visitors, including heritage officers or archaeologists from the United States and the eastern states, for a tour of the Burrup. We again were struck by the continuing level of vandalism. It is interesting that the minister’s answer of Tuesday, 12 August stated —

The Department of Aboriginal Affairs is not aware of a “recent spate of vandalism” in the Burrup.

Why? Because it does not have any officers up there and relies on third parties to give it the information, after which it might then visit. The answer further states —

The Department of Aboriginal Affairs heritage compliance function can be effectively serviced from Perth and its five regional offices. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs continues to work with the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation to ensure that damage caused by graffiti is minimised and protection of heritage is achieved.

A number of years ago vandalism occurred and a site was desecrated. DIA officers were immediately dispatched to the area and efforts were made to try to protect the site and minimise the damage. Now, because we are doing everything from Perth, it seems a long way from which to be able to do anything meaningful on the ground.

But the department has an option. It has a moral responsibility, as part of the BMIEA established in 2003, to ensure that the rock art is protected. The minister went on to state —

The Department of Aboriginal Affairs prosecutes offenders through the appropriate investigation of complaints. The proposed amendments to the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 will significantly enhance enforcement provisions. The current draft Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Bill includes an increase in penalties, from $20 000 to $100 000 for an individual …

That is really interesting, because individuals can be prosecuted to the tune of $5.5 million under the current heritage legislation already. The mere lifting of the fines to that level will actually do very little, because the department already has the powers to impose very, very significant fines. The problem is that we actually have nobody up there doing the jobs that were committed to over many, many governments.

I urge the minister to get his department to look at the number of issues that have surrounded this over time and what has been done, and what was committed to be done into the future. It is quite clear from the answer in June 2011 that a number of budgets were in place to assist in the development of a ranger program, a monitoring program and the placement of officers to manage the process, and it has all fallen into one deep, dark black hole.

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