09 December 2020

Nationwide moratorium needed to prevent more Juukan Gorge disasters

Following the release of the interim report of the Senate Inquiry into the destruction of 46,000-year-old caves at Juukan Gorge, the Federal Government must enact a nationwide moratorium on development approvals potentially impacting on Indigenous cultural heritage until the Inquiry can finish its work.


News that the Inquiry will be extended and expanded to encompass Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage protection more broadly is welcome, as is the recommendation that the Western Australian Government place a moratorium on the consideration and approval of new Section 18 applications until stronger heritage protections can be enacted. 

Several of the inquiry’s interim recommendations mirror a number of proposals contained in GetUp’s submission, including the recommendations that “the Australian Government urgently review the adequacy of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984,” that “ministerial responsibility for the administration of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 revert to the Minister for Indigenous Australians,” and that “the relevant Minister direct their office and department to more vigorously prosecute use of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 in Western Australia”. 

Greg McIntyre S.C., who successfully represented Eddie Mabo in the landmark Mabo v Queensland (1992) land rights case, provided expert independent legal advice that the Commonwealth should introduce uniform Indigenous heritage protection legislation, undertake large-scale assessment of areas that could qualify for Indigenous heritage status, and give responsibility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage protection to the Commonwealth Minister for Indigenous Affairs.

GetUp First Nations Justice Campaign Director Larissa Baldwin said:

“We welcome the Juukan Gorge Senate Inquiry’s decision to expand in scope and extend its timeline to October 2021, to more fully examine the protection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage.

“Until the Inquiry hands down its final recommendations, the Morrison Government must immediately enact a nationwide moratorium on development approvals that potentially impact on Indigenous cultural heritage, until the Inquiry can finish its important work.

“There are hundreds of potential Juukan Gorges waiting to happen around the country. Until the Inquiry examines the evidence and recommends a clear way forward for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage protection, the Federal Government must agree to a moratorium to ensure the disaster of Juukan Gorge is not repeated.”

Media contact: Alex McKinnon 0411 829 334

Spokespeople:

Larissa Baldwin, First Nations Justice Campaign Director at GetUp