PERTH (miningweekly.com) – The federal government has signed a partnership agreement with the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance to co-design stronger laws to give better protection to Aboriginal cultural heritage, following the 2019 destruction of the Juukan Gorge rockshelters in the Pilbara by major Rio Tinto.
Addressing Parliament on Thursday, Environment and Water Minister Tanya Plibersek said that the destruction of the cultural heritage site resulted from a number of factors, including poor communication, weak state laws, opaque federal legislation, gag clauses against traditional owners and a corporate culture that never took the company’s obligations seriously.
Plibersek said that the partnership with the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance would guide the reform process – to ensure that Indigenous voices are present at every stage, in every room, and in every decision we make.
The government will adopt seven of the eight recommendations made in a 2021 report by the Australian Parliament’s Northern Australia Committee, and is working through the final recommendation with the Alliance to decide which Minister will ultimately be responsible for cultural heritage protection.
Plibersek said that the federal government would be working with state and territory governments to make sure that rules were harmonised across the Commonwealth.
“And we will work closely with business – who have already shown a great willingness to learn from past experience and to grow. These reforms are not about stopping development, or halting progress. They’re about redressing an imbalance – our oldest imbalance.
“We're protecting Indigenous cultural heritage for the same reason we're supporting the Uluru Statement of the Heart and the Voice to Parliament. We are always a better country, more unified and confident and secure in ourselves, when we give everyone a seat at the table, and when we listen to all voices. There’s never been a better moment to take this step,” the Minister said.
Speaking to the ABC, Plibersek said there was "absolutely a sense of urgency to ensure that this sort of cultural heritage destruction doesn’t happen again".
The Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia (CME) on Thursday reiterated the resources sector’s commitment to continuing to build strong relationships with Indigenous communities.
CME and its member companies will review the response from the Commonwealth government, alongside its ongoing review and response to the recommendations delivered in the two Inquiry reports, said CEO Rebecca Tomkinson.
“CME and the Western Australian mining and resources sector continue to support the review of relevant Commonwealth legislation to ensure modernisation and alignment of Aboriginal cultural heritage protections, where required, at both a state and federal level.
“The Western Australian resources sector also continues to engage in the final stages of the implementation process for new Western Australian Aboriginal cultural heritage legislation, expected to be fully operational in July 2023. This repeal and replace of 1972 legislation has been underway for more than four years. This legislation reflects the evolution in the way the resources sector approaches cultural heritage management and protection through agreement making with Traditional Owners and Custodians.
"Having been developed so recently, the new Western Australian Act reflects many of the recommendations made in the Inquiry reports and CME will continue to engage with the process underway at a federal level to ensure reforms prioritise alignment and do not introduce unnecessary duplication,” said Tomkinson.