Sep 17, 2020

BHP to front Juukan Gorge inquiry

BHP to front Juukan Gorge inquiry

The parliamentary inquiry into the destruction of Indigenous heritage sites at Juukan Gorge is set to resume today with a public hearing featuring BHP.

Northern Australia Committee Chair Warren Entsch said while the Juukan Gorge caves were destroyed by Rio Tinto, the protection of Indigenous heritage sites was important for mining companies operating across Australia.

“The committee is aware of reports that BHP has put on hold plans to destroy sites sacred to the Banjima people in the Pilbara,” Mr Entsch said.

He said today’s hearing would explore how BHP was approaching the issue in the aftermath of Juukan Gorge.

Rio Tinto boss Jean-Sébastien Jacques and two further senior executives are being replaced after outcry over the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters in Western Australia’s Pilbara region in May.

Rio Tinto’s decision to destroy the two culturally significant 46,000-year-old rock shelters for an iron ore mine expansion has been at the centre of the inquiry led by Mr Entsch.

In addition to BHP, the hearing will bring together significant organisations with differing views, with the Kimberley Land Council and Western Australia’s Chamber of Minerals and Energy scheduled to provide evidence.

“The destruction at Juukan Gorge has highlighted the fact that, despite the best of intentions, Indigenous heritage areas lack adequate protection,” Mr Entsch said.

“We must ensure that state and federal law provide effective protection to Indigenous culture and heritage sites.”

The Kimberley Land Council is critical of the right to negotiate provisions of the Native Title Act, arguing that ‘the operation of the right to negotiate provision effects a form of legislative force or coercion on native title parties’ and that ‘any inquiry into the adequacy of heritage protection laws should take into account the interaction between these laws and the NTA, in particular the future act provisions’.

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy Western Australia argues that an ‘increase in Federal oversight on Aboriginal Cultural heritage will only serve to damage the agency of Traditional Owners to make decisions on the management of their country’.

It recommends that State legislation retains primacy on regulation of cultural heritage, without introduction of duplication at a Federal level.

More information can be found on the , can be found on the committee’s website.