Mining industry opposes new laws for Aboriginal heritage sites despite Juukan Gorge failures
12 August 2020
A divide is forming about the way to fix Aboriginal heritage protection in Western Australia, with mining companies saying they can be trusted to negotiate with traditional overs over heritage concerns even though that process failed to protect Juukan Gorge.
BHP, Rio Tinto, Gina Rinehart's Roy Hill, Woodside and Fortescue Metals (FMG) have all told a parliamentary inquiry into the destruction of Juukan Gorge that the federal government should not get more involved in Aboriginal heritage protection, and that agreements made under the native title system should be the basis of managing Aboriginal cultural heritage.
Fortescue Mining said [...] the WA heritage regime has been "largely successful".
BHP submitted that fines for damaging sites should be increased potentially into the millions, "to reflect public concerns, act as a deterrent to unlawful damage and to reflect the unique nature of some cultural heritage sites".
Roy Hill said there was "no need for further commonwealth legislation in the heritage space" and that any new laws "must also consider and be sensitive to the private land use agreements that have been entered into by native title parties with miners".
But heritage experts say that would be a "minimalist approach" and warned against allowing the industry to "regulate itself".
Australian National University emeritus professor Jon Altman said native title negotiations already favour mining companies who are motivated by profit, not by protecting Aboriginal heritage. "Free, prior and informed consent" is not enshrined in the act.
Native title lawyer Greg McIntyre said relying on the architecture of the native title system would only work if groups representing traditional owners – known as prescribed body corporates, or PBCs – received greater federal funding.