Australian state approved all plans that would damage Aboriginal sites in past year

by Reuters
Friday, 26 February 2021 05:17 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A giant excavator loads a mining truck at the Fortescue Solomon iron ore mine located in the Sheila Valley, around 400 km south of Port Hedland, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia December 2, 2013. REUTERS/David Gray

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All 84 applications for developments that would damage Aboriginal sites last year were approved by New South Wales' heritage body

MELBOURNE, Feb 26 (Reuters) - Australia's New South Wales (NSW) state has approved all of the planning applications that would cause damage to Aboriginal heritage sites it has received in the past year, according to a state budget hearing this week.

The state is the second one to reveal that its heritage protection body has approved nearly all of the development applications received as part of the planning process, although some of the final decisions contain conditions to limit damage.

A parliamentary hearing in Western Australia state last year revealed that all of the 463 applications by mining companies to damage heritage sites received between July 2010 to May 2020 were approved by the state's heritage department.

Australia is undergoing a reckoning in the way it manages Aboriginal heritage sites after iron ore miner Rio Tinto legally destroyed two ancient rock shelters last year that were among the world's earliest evidence of human habitation.

All 84 applications for developments that would damage Aboriginal heritage sites received from July 2020 to Feb. 9, 2021, were approved, the NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Don Harwin told a parliamentary budgetary committee on Thursday, according to a transcript released on Friday.

"None was refused in the past 12 months, but the AHIPs (Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permits) that were issued had conditions to mitigate impacts," he said.

"Lengthy negotiations are undertaken by Heritage NSW to ensure the best conservation result."

Western Australia is reviewing its heritage protection laws, a step that NSW is also taking, Harwin said.

"It is true to say that the Aboriginal heritage statutory protection scheme in New South Wales is a scheme of managed destruction rather than any kind of managed protection," Greens lawmaker David Shoebridge said during the hearing.

"For the last five years it has been effectively 100 per cent approval for the destruction of Aboriginal heritage," he said.

Among the applications Heritage HSW is currently considering is one for a go-kart track on a site of cultural significance to the Wiradjuri people, on top of Wahluu, or Mount Panorama, which also hosts the Bathurst 1000 motor race, according to the transcript.

(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)