In a landmark test of Western Australia's recently amended heritage laws, the Shire of Toodyay and a contractor employed by the shire face charges for violating the Aboriginal Heritage Act. According to sources, the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage alleges that the defendants breached the act during construction activities involving waterways.
The Western Australian government enacted comprehensive revisions to its cultural heritage legislation in July 2021, aiming to prevent incidents such as Rio Tinto's destruction of ancient caves at Juukan Gorge. However, the new laws were repealed just five weeks after implementation due to significant concerns regarding complexity and efficacy.
Subsequently, amendments were made to the original 1972 Cultural Heritage Act in November, granting traditional owners the right to appeal decisions made under the legislation. Sources indicate that the charges against the Shire of Toodyay and the contractor represent the first public instance of the amended laws being enforced.
Individuals convicted of breaching the act face penalties of $20,000 and nine months' imprisonment for initial offenses. Subsequent offenses are punishable by a $40,000 fine and two years' imprisonment. Organizations found guilty of a first offense face a $50,000 fine, while subsequent offenses carry a $100,000 penalty.
The Shire of Toodyay has declined to comment due to the ongoing legal proceedings. The case highlights the practical implementation and enforcement of Western Australia's cultural heritage laws, which aim to protect and preserve Indigenous heritage.