The Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia handed down its final report, A Way Forward, on Monday 18 October 2021. This marked the conclusion of the extended 16-month inquiry.
Established in June 2020 in response to events at Juukan Gorge in May of that year, the Inquiry heard from a range of stakeholders and jurisdictions across 23 hearings. Following the publication of the Interim Report on 9 December 2020, the Committee broadened its focus to include detailed examination of disputes relating to the Native Title Act 1993 (Cwth), land and heritage across a range of jurisdictions.
The final report contains eight recommendations, focusing heavily on the delivery of new, significantly strengthened Commonwealth heritage legislation which would set out minimum standards for State and Territory legislation to comply with.
Reflective of the broadened focus of the later hearings, the Committee also recommended a review of the Native Title Act to address perceived inequalities under the future act regime.
Senator Smith (Liberals) and George Christensen (Nationals) joined to provide additional comments calling for a judicial inquiry into Juukan Gorge, while rejecting the recommendations from the broader committee regarding development of new Commonwealth laws and regulations, given their potential impact on the operation and viability of the resources sector.
Senator Thorpe (Greens) also provided supplementary comments, focusing on specific case studies which were featured during the Inquiry process and providing additional critique of relevant current legislation.
The WA Premier was quick to counter the call for Federal oversight on heritage, highlighting the imminent introduction of completely new legislation for WA which better reflects the modern landscape of heritage protection and management of any necessary impacts.
CME published a media release confirming the sector’s focus on the introduction of modern legislation for WA, and the significant work that will be required in the co-design of practical regulations and guidance to support an entirely new regime.