McGowan Cabinet reshuffle to address failure in Aboriginal Affairs

Dec 20, 2021 | Neil Thomson MLC, State News

The now former Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson MLC has lost the portfolio to Tony Buti MLA after a litany of failures of the McGowan Government and the trashing of conventions of Parliament by ramming through the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill in the final sitting days of 2021.  

Perhaps Stephen Dawson was aware the hatchet was coming down on his career when he made the honest admission last week that the McGowan Government had prior knowledge about the sacredness of Juukan Gorge and yet took no action to prevent it. 

By Mr Dawson’s own admission, this knowledge was provided by the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pninikura people “…a matter of days before” Rio Tinto ended up blasting the 40,000 year old site. 

When asked by the WA Liberal spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs Neil Thomson MLC about steps taken to prevent the disaster, Mr Dawson replied he was “…not aware of what actions either he or his office took at that time” referring to Mr Ben Wyatt the Aboriginal Affairs Minister at the time of the disaster on 24th May 2020. 

Forty eight hours after that stunning admission and Mr Dawson was unceremoniously rolled out of the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio, a portfolio that is now in disarray due to the breakdown in relations with almost every major Aboriginal body. 

On the issue of Juukan Gorge, Mr Thomson maintains that WA Labor could have acted on the intel but it had but chose not to. 

“It is completely inexcusable to say that Section 18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act prevented the State from taking action” Mr Thomson said.  

“In the past, these matters would have simply been dealt with through a quick phone call from a Director-General to the Chief Executive of the ‘at risk’ company before the destruction occurred and the fact that there appears to have been no effective action between the McGowan Government and Rio Tinto at that critical time underscores just how deeply incompetent that State has been.” 

As a result of WA Labor’s failures to act, Mr Thomson believes we have now ended up with a woefully bureaucratic and clumsy piece of legislation in the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill (2021) which is staunchly opposed by the vast majority of Aboriginal groups and targets the small and medium enterprises with impossibly expensive levels of red tape. 

“It is now up to the incoming Aboriginal Affairs Minister Mr Tony Buti MLA to explain to the public how he is going to implement this Bill”

Mr Thomson also says, “I will get to the bottom of the sequence of events around Juukan Gorge and continue to highlight the failure of the McGowan Labor Government to open an independent investigation into this disaster.”