Sacred Mound Springs (Question Time)

In Parliament, Questions

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:03): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs on the sacred mound springs of the Arabana people.

Leave granted.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: There are two stories to tell regarding the sacred mound springs of the Arabana people, according to the ANTaR website. These are the springs around the region of Lake Eyre, known as Kati Thanda, in far north South Australia. They were described by early European settlers as mound springs—these physical features of the landscape being natural outlets for the pressurised groundwater of the Great Artesian Basin, one of the largest of its kind in the world.

That story, of course, is thousands and thousands of years of the Arabana people living there with a supply of potable water that ‘provided the environmental basis for a rich and multi-layered transport and communication corridor through otherwise inhospitable desert country’. The region is rich in songline history and archaeological evidence, indicating that it was a centre of interconnected trade routes that crossed the nation.

The other story is, of course, more recent and concerns the extraction of water from the Great Artesian Basin. That began in the late 19th century, with the pastoralist era increasing this significantly to the current day. Since the 1980s, in terms of the water drawdown, there has been a significant acceleration of that.

In the last 20 years, we have seen the springs disappearing due to industries such as mining, pastoralists and petrochemical companies. These mounds have no protection under the Aboriginal Heritage Act due to the special carve outs of the legislation of 1982, the Roxby Downs (Indenture Ratification) Act, which continues to be in place, with protections afforded to BHP and their Olympic Dam site. My questions to the minister are:

1. Is he concerned that the mound springs aren’t afforded the protections of the Aboriginal Heritage Act?

2. Does he believe that the 1982 protections carved out for BHP should stand today?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:05): I thank the honourable member for her questions and her ongoing interest in this area. The honourable member is quite right: the 1982 Roxby Downs (Indenture Ratification) Act did allow things to occur without reference to certain acts of parliament and one of them was the later to be introduced 1988 Aboriginal Heritage Act in South Australia.

I am a supporter of making sure Aboriginal heritage is protected to the highest standard it can be. I know that the issue of protection for Aboriginal heritage had quite a large spotlight shone on it in the wake of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters being demolished in Western Australia. Not only did it lead to much more significant awareness in Australia and internationally but it focused the minds of legislators and led to a Senate committee being established to look into the issue and that made a number of recommendations that certainly we are looking at in South Australia to see how they might apply to Aboriginal protection in South Australia.

I can’t remember the exact quote, but in the wake of the destruction of Juukan Gorge I know BHP in South Australia pledged that, notwithstanding the indenture agreement, they would look to not disturbing heritage sites without consultation with traditional owners, even in areas that they had previously done so or been given permission to do so. I will seek an update. I suspect I will have to consult with my colleague the Minister for Mining about BHP’s operations and bring back further information as I can get it in relation particularly to mound springs.