A number of farmers and landowners walked away from an information session in Geraldton this week on new Aboriginal heritage laws saying they better understand what it will mean for them. However, others say there is still confusion about what will happen in just over two weeks when it comes into effect. On Wednesday, about 250 people met to discuss the upcoming Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021, with a spokesperson from the Department for Lands, Planning and Heritage, going through the legislation and giving stakeholders the opportunity to ask questions about how they will be affected. Passed through State Parliament in 2021, the final details of the new laws were revealed in April this year and will come into effect on July 1, overhauling previous heritage legislation. The Act, which the State Government said is designed to give Aboriginal people a greater say in cultural heritage, features a tier system based on the scale of work being carried out, and an online Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Directory. If the scale of work is significant and is within the area of a cultural heritage site, a landowner would have to work with Local Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Services to seek approval. The State Opposition has called for the legislation to be delayed by six months, arguing there was widespread confusion around the laws. An e-petition from the Pastoralists and Graziers Association of WA calling for the same postponement has smashed the record for the highest number of signatures in WA history, garnering nearly 18,000 names in just nine days. There has also been criticism from Indigenous groups including the Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation, which has pointed out the LACHS has not been established yet. “The Act isn’t strong enough to prevent another Juukan Gorge disaster because it doesn’t meet the standards of free, prior and informed consent for First Nations people, as enshrined in the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People,” Yamatji Marlpa chief executive Simon Hawkins said. “The main concern is the capacity of prescribed bodies corporate and Aboriginal corporations to become a LACHS. “Many are vastly under-resourced and simply don’t have the capacity to even go through the grant process, let alone deliver what’s required of a LACHS.” Premier Roger Cook, however, has rejected these calls and said the the laws will go through on July 1. Several people said they went into the Geraldton session feeling confused about the legislation, and came out with a better sense of what the laws meant. Marble Bar pastoralist Wendy McWhirter-Brooks said the event gave her a good understanding of the new laws. “I think the information session was very helpful, very comprehensive,” she said. “My concern was about the impacts to pastures, and what do we do in the situation where there’s not going to be a local Aboriginal heritage service group dealing with applications, and those questions were answered for me.” Local farmer Ross Mitchell said he felt the session was helpful, but that the situation could have been avoided if information had been better communicated to the public earlier. “I think the law has been badly presented, it should have been put out there way earlier, more detail before they had any of these sessions. It’s really simple,” he said. Mr Mitchell also said his only major issue was that he believed the bill for having a survey carried out should be paid for by the government. “I reckon the government should fit the whole bill because it shouldn’t be up to a single person to pay for it,” he said. Mingenew farmer Paul Kelly said he appreciated the effort made by the forum organisers, but said there was still a lot of confusion. “I think they’ve tried very hard, but I think there’s still an awful lot of confusion,” he said. Bringo farmer and Greater Geraldton deputy mayor Jerry Clune said he hadn’t been aware of the legislation until recently, and there were still some uncertainties despite the forum. “I know a bit more than when I came in here, there are still some things that are confusing and probably need a bit more research,” he said. Local Yamatji man Anthony Dann said fear about the new laws had been caused by a lack of clarity and information before the session. “I think the idea of bringing the community together for a conversation was great, I just think to message has to be consistent to everyone, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal,” Mr Dann said.