The Joint Standing Committee on the Northern Australia Inquiry into Juukan Gorge have today released a multiparty majority interim report with a range of recommendations including that Rio Tinto negotiate a restitution package for the destruction of the Juukan rock shelters with the traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples (PKKP) and ensure full reconstruction of the Junkanoo rock shelters.
"There is multiparty support for strong reforms within the mining industry and state and federal legislation, Senator Siewert said.
Mining companies, State Governments and the Federal Government are on notice. The world is watching. They cannot allow the wanton destruction of First Nations cultural heritage any longer.
This inquiry has laid bare the hypocrisy from mining companies who talk about investing in First Nations communities when they have required Traditional owners to sign gag clauses in agreements with them.
In fact royalties in some cases are having to be spent on lawyers, surveys and administration dealing with mining companies and in worst cases royalties are being withheld from them.
This is not a level playing field. Traditional Owners are negotiating with multinational companies who impose ‘gag’ clauses, which prevent them from taking legal action or voicing their concerns to prevent the destruction of heritage.
It is alarming that many heritage sites have been de-registered since 2011 and we don't even know where they are or if they are destroyed or if there are plans to destroy them.
The Committee has recommended that Western Australian and Commonwealth governments establish a truth-telling project.
The McGowan Government is missing in action on this, this happened under their watch and under legislation that they well knew to be inadequate.
The Western Australian Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 made the destruction of the site legal and offered no avenue to protect it even when its archaeological significance had been revealed.
The legal framework for the protection of Aboriginal heritage in Western Australia and at the Federal level is completely inadequate.
In too many cases state and territory governments have a financial interest in facilitating mining and other developments.
Evidence received by the Committee highlights the inadequacy of current Commonwealth protections under both the ATSIHP and the EPBC Act.
This cannot happen again, not in WA not anywhere.
This is an interim report. The committee still has work to do. The committee has strongly recommended an urgent moratorium on the consideration and approval of new section 18 applications until the new legislation is passed, unless it can be established and verified that there is current, verifiable, free, prior and informed consent obtained from Traditional Owners.
The report can be found here.
Lucy Cowcher-Guthrie: 0418 401 180