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$2 million fines for destroying SA Aboriginal heritage

Damaging or destroying the state’s Aboriginal heritage sites will incur big fines for companies and individuals, who may also face prison under tough new proposed penalties.

The sacred Koonalda Cave drawings on the Nullarbor were vandalised in 2022 and has been given extra protection.

The sacred Koonalda Cave drawings on the Nullarbor were vandalised in 2022 and has been given extra protection.

The destruction of sacred rock shelters in another state has prompted South Australia to toughen penalties for disturbing or damaging Aboriginal heritage.

The current maximum penalty for destroying Aboriginal heritage is a $50,000 fine for a company and $10,000 or six months in prison for individuals.

The proposed new laws will increase fines to $2 million for company and $250,000 for an individual, who will also face a maximum two-year jail term if the damage is considered intentional or reckless.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Kyam Maher said South Australia’s Aboriginal heritage protection laws were failing to protect the state’s ancient cultural heritage.

“There was quite rightly national concern over Aboriginal heritage protection laws across the country when parts of Juukan Gorge (in Western Australia) were destroyed,” he said.

“By legislating an increase in penalties, we are sending a clear message that Aboriginal heritage is to be both protected and respected.”

Under the proposed changes, a lower-level offence will be created where a defendant didn’t know and could not reasonably have been expected to know, that they had impacted Aboriginal heritage.

There will also be changes to better manage Aboriginal heritage discoveries, including obligations to consult with traditional owners and the minister if new finds are made.

The new laws also come on the back of increased protection for heritage sites after the ancient Koonalda Cave on the Nullarbor was damaged by vandals last year.

A $400,000 government grant was pledged to further protect the cave comes after vandals dug their way under a fence and destroyed sacred art by scratching over it.

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In 2020, mining giant Rio Tinto blew up the 46,000-year-old Juukan caves, in WA’s Pilbara, devastating the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people and causing global outrage.

Rio had legal permission to destroy the caves under WA’s outdated Aboriginal Heritage, which was subsequently replaced by new state legislation.

The company last year signed an agreement with traditional owners to guide future cultural heritage management.’

-with AAP

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