Juukan Gorge inquiry calls for overhaul of Australia’s ‘grossly inadequate’ Aboriginal heritage laws
18 October 2021
Australia must do more to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage by overhauling “grossly inadequate” laws and giving traditional owners the “right to withhold consent” over developments on their country, a parliamentary inquiry has found.
The final report, A Way Forward [...] calls for a review of the native title regime to “address inequalities in the negotiating position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
Rio Tinto triggered global outrage when it blew up the ancient rock shelters, which contained evidence of human occupancy dating back 46,000 years, to access higher-grade iron ore in 2020. Its top global shareholders demanded action, it was widely condemned in media coverage, and three of its top executives and two board members – including the chief executive and chairman – chose to stand aside.
Since then, the miner has imposed a moratorium on all work within 10 sq kilometres of the gorge and committed to working with and offering reparations to the Puutu Kunti Kuurama and Pinikura peoples.
In a statement, the traditional owners said “actions not words will be the true test”.
“It was never our wish or choice to be in this position but the response by Rio Tinto, other mining companies and government decision-makers to the events at Juukan Gorge will be a test case for First Nations people throughout Australia and internationally.
“Our focus therefore continues to be working in good faith with the leadership of Rio Tinto to ensure that the attitudes and processes which resulted in the Juukan blast are truly replaced by a genuine partnership and respect,” they said.