Australian farmers blindsided by new cultural heritage law, fear prison time

Farmers are facing totalitarian laws in the Netherlands, Ireland, Canada, and now Australia.

Australian farmers blindsided by new cultural heritage law, fear prison time

Western Australian farmers and landowners with more than a quarter-acre of land may need to pay an Indigenous consultant up to $160 an hour to clear trees, put up a fence, or clear tracks on their own property. 

On July 1, the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act (ACH) comes into effect, which is designed to give Indigenous people more control over their cultural heritage. 

However, in practice, farmers are concerned over the race-based policy that is akin to state-sanctioned extortion.

Australian farmers will need government permits and approval from Indigenous people

If a farmer wants to do anything that disturbs more than 50 centimetres of soil on their land, they will need government permits and approval from Indigenous people. 

The ACH was rammed through Parliament in 2021 as a direct response to public outcry over a 2020 incident where mining corporation Rio Tinto destroyed a cherished cultural site known as the Juukan Gorge rock shelters. Opposition leaders were given less than twenty-four hours notice before the bill was presented in Parliament.

However, the regulations of the ACH weren’t released until April 2023, and farmers are now equally panicked as they are confused. 

Failure to comply will result in jail time

Farmers will have to somehow determine if their land is culturally significant enough to apply for a permit through the Local Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Services before modifying their land in virtually any way, and failure to do so could result in jail time.

WA Farmers president John Hassell told, “The challenge we’ve got is you can see cultural heritage when it’s a burial site or meeting place, but you can’t see spiritual stuff — that is subject to change. You can’t do a survey on your place and have it marked out forever after because someone can come along later and say this is a spiritual place.”

“As of July 1 this year, every landowner over 1,100 square metres will be subject to the new ACH law,” said the leader of the Opposition and The Nationals WA, Shane Love.

“These changes do not only impact our farmers and primary industries, they impact anyone with a bigger block, such as the half acre blocks right across the State, including rural residential areas.” 

Love added, “Regardless of their knowledge of the new law, they will potentially be liable for huge penalties, including prison terms.” 

Home owners will also be affected

The ACH can even require homeowners looking to put in a pool to get state approval.

A petition that asked for a six-month delay so that farmers can fully understand what the regulations mean gathered 12,500 votes in just six days. 

Many farmers had no idea about the changes or the fact they were invited to participate in consultations while it was being drafted.

However, the WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tony Buti has no plans to delay the new law, despite the lack of clarity and technical readiness. 

In Canada, the federal government has implemented the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and many provinces are working to turn over Crown land to Indigenous ownership.

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