A win in the fight for land rights

Today we are one step closer in the fight that the Aboriginal Land Rights movement has been leading for over 50 years.

For over a year, people from around the country have stood in solidarity, working side by side with Traditional Owners calling for strong new laws that uphold the wisdom and stewardship over Country and cultural heritage that our communities have held from time immemorial.

Hours ago, the final report of the inquiry into the destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves was handed down. And the recommendations are big:

  • The Cultural Heritage Act must be re-written to set a national standard for protection.
  • The new law must be co-designed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • Investment in a review of all Aboriginal Heritage areas that would turn into a national register of tangible and intangible cultural heritage sites including those already destroyed
  • Veto power for Traditional Owners to refuse consent to projects impacting cultural heritage.
  • Harsher penalties for corporations who destroy cultural heritage, giving Traditional Owners the right to pursue damages.

We can't let this Government off the hook. We need to double down on our pressure, to make sure that this report doesn't gather dust. We need to use our collective power to see these recommendations legislated in full.

The fight for land rights is one that extends back to the arrival of the tall ships in 1788. What started as the frontier wars then, transformed into the massive movements and mobilisations throughout the 60s and 70s. From marching through the streets of Redfern, to the brave stand of Gurindji mob who walked off Wave Hill Station onto country and Wattie Creek, our battle to protect country and cultural heritage spans generations.

This is the legacy left to us, and this is the legacy that we continue today.

The senseless destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves last year brought us together in sadness and in rage to say 'Never Again'. Aboriginal communities right across the country doubled down on their organising efforts, because each and every one of us understood that pain.

Now we have a pathway forward — with a clear vision for what meaningful legislation looks like for the protection of cultural heritage that works for Aboriginal people

It's been a massive 12 months. We never allowed the pressure to ease, putting the Government and CEOs of mining corporations on notice - beginning with the sacking of Rio Tinto's CEO. 

We made sure that we had the very best legal advice, raising enough to bring in Eddie Mabo's lawyer to craft our recommendations to the inquiry. It's these same key recommendations that we're seeing handed down in this final report.

Then, we made sure that Traditional Owners leading the fight could walk the halls of Parliament House speaking truth to power. Through their tireless advocacy, Aunty Dolly and Uncle Steve, staunch Gomeroi Elders, made sure that no politician could get away with forcing through recommendations that did not center Traditional Owners' right to veto projects that would damage or destroy cultural heritage.

Our cultural heritage and songlines are the core of who we are as First Nations people. The destruction of our sites robs us and future generations of the ability to read our country and connect to our ancestors' footprints.

Any legislation that falls short of implementing these recommendations in full isn't worth the paper it's written on.