Mining giant Rio Tinto blew up the 46,000-year-old Juukan caves in Western Australia in 2020.
The destruction of sacred rock shelters in another state has prompted South Australia to toughen penalties for disturbing or damaging Aboriginal heritage.
The maximum penalty for destroying Aboriginal heritage is a $50,000 fine for a company and $10,000 or six months in prison for individuals.
The proposed new laws will jump those to $2 million and $250,000, with individuals also facing a maximum two-year jail term, if the damage is considered intentional or reckless.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kyam Maher said South Australia’s Aboriginal heritage protection laws were failing to protect the state’s ancient cultural heritage.
“There was quite rightly national concern over Aboriginal heritage protection laws across the country when parts of Juukan Gorge (in Western Australia) were destroyed,” he said.
“By legislating an increase in penalties, we are sending a clear message that Aboriginal heritage is to be both protected and respected.”
Under the proposed changes, a lower-level offence will be created where a defendant didn’t know and could not reasonably have been expected to know, that they had impacted Aboriginal heritage.
There will also be changes to better manage Aboriginal heritage discoveries, including obligations to consult with traditional owners and the minister if new finds are made.
In 2020, mining giant Rio Tinto blew up the 46,000-year-old Juukan caves, in WA’s Pilbara, devastating the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people and causing global outrage.
Rio had legal permission to destroy the caves under WA’s outdated Aboriginal Heritage, which was subsequently replaced by new state legislation.
The company last year signed an agreement with traditional owners to guide future cultural heritage management.
Tim Dornin – AAP