Chairman of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, Stephen Ryan
NEW SOUTH WALES: The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council has sought an urgent review of a decision by the Office of Environment and Heritage not to pursue the full force of the law over the destruction of Aboriginal rock engravings on Sydney’s north shore.
NSWALC, the state’s peak Aboriginal organisation, recently highlighted the alleged actions of Ausgrid for what appears to be blatant destruction of this sensitive Aboriginal site at Cromer, in it’s magazine Tracker.
OEH is prosecuting Ausgrid through the Land and Environment Court under section 86(2) of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 for harming an Aboriginal ‘object.’
NSWALC believes the company should be prosecuted under section 86 (1) for knowingly harming or desecrating an Aboriginal ‘object.’
The lesser charge would see Ausgrid face a maximum penalty of $220,000.
The more serious charge carries a maximum penalty of $1.1 million.
The matter is listed for first mention in the Land and Environment Court on December 14.
NSWALC Chief Executive Officer, Geoff Scott, wrote to the CEO of OEH, Ms Sally Barnes, on November 15 seeking a review of the decision.
Mr Scott asked for urgent advice as to why the matter was being dealt with under the lesser ‘strict liability’ offence. NSWALC recommended the charge be urgently upgraded to the more serious offence outlined in section 86 (1) of the Act.
Ms Barnes has advised that the a s.86(2) prosecution best reflects the nature of the alleged conduct, effectively taking the position that Ausgrid knew the location and significance of the site but “innocently” destroyed it.
The attitude and reluctance to act on this matter by OEH destroys any confidence that the recent amendments will have any effect at all.
“You make a law but if the relevant authority refuses to enforce it, it does not count. The message is that aboriginal culture and heritage does not matter” Mr Scott said.
“This attitude on behalf of the government belies the concerns NSWALC has with the current purported reform of the Culture and Heritage laws in this state, no confidence at all that the government is serious.”
“The government is continuing the manage and effectively supports destruction”
Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council CEO Paul Morris with legal advisor Michael Vassilli at the damaged site at Cromer.
A disappointed NSWALC Chairman, Stephen Ryan, said today the ancient carving was one of the most impressive on Sydney’s North Shore.
“This was an ancient carving of a footprint on a large sandstone rock in Cromer and was one of the most important Aboriginal sites on Sydney’s north shore,” he said.
“It’s now been trashed and destroyed forever.
“The government had an opportunity to set the tone here and do what’s right. They had a genuine chance to show they’re serious about the protection of the oldest continuing culture in the world.
“This state needs to get serious about protecting its heritage and stop pretending to care.
“Developers know they’ll get off with a slap on the wrist and a paltry fine, so they’ll continue to destroy the world’s oldest cultural sites at will.
“Our culture and heritage is critically important to us.
“I find it hard to believe the same miserly fine would be applied had heritage buildings in the Rocks been trashed.
“This is precisely the reason NSWALC has consistently called for the establishment of an independent Aboriginal body to manage and protect Aboriginal culture and heritage in NSW.
“This case demonstrates that the current laws are failing to protect Aboriginal heritage, and even in circumstances where clear destruction has occurred, the current laws are not providing any redress or deterrence.
“It’s time the government quit its façade of concern and ‘got real’ about delivering genuine protection for priceless Australian cultural sites.”
For more information on the Cromer rock art destruction, please click here.