When the Rio Tinto blew up the Juukan Gorge, a 46,000-year-old site of global cultural and archaeological importance, it shattered the hearts of traditional owners, shook the nation and shattered its reputation to pieces.
It also sparked a federal investigation, which on Monday revealed that what happened in the Juukan gorge, though shocking, was not unique.
It was one of countless instances where cultural heritage has been a victim of incentives for development and commercial gain. asks the final report tha.
There are failures at every level of government and there must be urgent legislative changes to stop the destruction of Aboriginal heritage across the country, the report said.
The destruction of the caves was a disaster beyond account for the people Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura, and the cultural heritage of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander as a whole, the head of the investigation, said Warren Entsch.
This catastrophe was a wake-up call that there are serious shortcomings in the protection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage. What is needed now is a way forward, both for the people and for the Aboriginal industry and the Torres Strait Islander.
This way forward, according to Entsch and most of his committee, involves a new national act of Aboriginal cultural heritage, to set the standard for all other state and territorial legislation, co-drafted with Aboriginal residents. A new, independent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander national heritage council should be established to act as a specialist voice for heritage protection.
And if they do not meet those specific minimum standards, penalties should be imposed, said WA Labor senator and Yawuru man Pat Dodson.
The tendency of states is simply to bring down the aboriginal heritage at the bottom in most situations, and therefore the destruction that is being caused is an absolute disgrace, that this is allowed to happen in our country, Dodson said.
Traditional Aboriginal owners should have the right to refuse development consent on their lands, Dodson said.
The investigation was repeatedly heard by aboriginal groups who said they continue to negotiate with resource companies despite the massive energy imbalance, and are not against mining.
So will this report finally lead to a meaningful change?
Not all members of the commission agreed with the findings. Liberals Dean Smith and George Christiansens additional comments show that there is no universal appetite for laws that could further restrict the mining industry.
Smith and Christiansen attacked Rio Tinto’s conduct, criticizing him for paying millions of executives who fled the disaster, and called for a judicial investigation, including determining whether criminal charges could be filed.
But they said an overhaul of the inheritance system was unnecessary and would lead to laws that could be used as deliberate weapons against the resource sector. Such an action would provide further opportunities for activist activity and undermine job opportunities and other economic benefits for indigenous people, they said.
Green Senator Lidia Thorpe, a Gunnai Gunditjmara woman and Djab Wurrung, said traditional owners should have much stronger rights to refuse development, including the right of veto.
Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt said he welcomed the report but did not directly answer questions about whether the transfer of responsibilities to his department was possible.
“I will continue to work very closely with the Minister of Environment to strengthen the protection of indigenous heritage,” Wyatt said in a statement.
Given this report, it must be acknowledged that any reform is part of a co-design process in partnership with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities.
Dodson said he had no confidence the government would do anything, frankly, accusing them of sitting on their hands since the committees’ interim report was released in December.
But he warned that ignoring the report would show that they had no empathy for the cultural heritage of the First Nations and were at odds with the industry itself.
Superannuation Hesta giant, an institutional investor in Rio Tinto and other resource companies, said it supports a strong national framework.
This is vital to improving the global state of Australia’s mining industry damaged by the poor practices that have emerged behind the Juukan Gorge, said Hesta chief executive Debby Blakey.
The gap between our current laws and community expectations creates risk for companies and investors. Closing this gap will help protect our members’ investments, protecting their invaluable cultural heritage and supporting a strong Australian economy.
The Australian Center for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) said the era of virtual self-regulation by mining companies should end, but ACCR legal adviser James Fitzgerald said it was extremely disappointing that neither the Western Australian government nor the federation had responded to the report. intermediate investigations.
The ACCR said the mining industry, particularly Pilbara Three Three: Rio Tinto, BHP and Fortescue Metals should publicly support the findings and recommendations of the investigation and support traditional landowners’ calls for West Australia to halt its heritage legislation and engage a genuine cooperation process. drafting new inheritance laws with representatives of the First Nations.
The Aboriginal Corporation PKKP, which represents the traditional owners of the Juukan gorge, said their grief and loss are still immense.
Actions, not words, will be the real test, they said in a statement.
It was never our desire or choice to be in this position, but the response from Rio Tinto, other government mining companies and decision makers to the events in the Yukon Gorge will be a testing case for First Nations people across Australia and internationally.
The PKKP said they will continue to work in good faith with the Rio Tinto leadership to ensure that the attitudes and processes that resulted in the Juukan explosion are truly replaced by a genuine partnership and respect.
They want a role in the decision-making and co-management of the mines on their lands.
Simply put, this means early, meaningful and ongoing engagement at all stages of mining activity.
We are doing everything we can to make this happen.
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