AFR Article – Juukan Gorge traditional owners back new mining model

The traditional owners of Juukan Gorge say the best way to protect heritage is through co-management agreements with miners such as Rio Tinto because Indigenous people cannot just rely on new laws from the Albanese government.

The Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people and Rio are close to finalising such a co-management agreement for the Brockman 4 iron ore mine in Western Australia, which was at the centre of a worldwide outcry over the destruction of 46,000-year-old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge in May 2020.

PKKP Aboriginal Corporation chairman Burchell Hayes said co-management principles would apply from mine planning through to closure and rehabilitation under benchmark agreements such as the one being negotiated with Rio.

Mr Hayes said the PKKP would make the signing of co-management agreements a priority because the agreements could provide stronger protection for heritage than federal and state laws.

The co-management model being advocated by the PKKP is part of a reset in the WA mining industry that appears to have led to changes on the ground as well as at board level.

Former WA treasurer and Indigenous ground-breaker Ben Wyatt now sits on the boards of Rio and Woodside Energy. And Chris Ellison’s Mineral Resources on Monday appointed Noongar woman and community leader Colleen Hayward as a non-executive director.

The PKKP remain upset and frustrated over what they regard as an Albanese government snub over new legislation designed to protect heritage sites that is based on recommendations stemming from a parliamentary inquiry into Rio blasting Juukan Gorge to access higher-grade iron ore as part of a Brockman 4 expansion.

Mr Hayes said the PKKP had not been consulted adequately and notified of the proposed changes only about 48 hours before Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek tabled the government’s response in parliament.

“When governments are determining policy and changing laws that impact the business community, they make time for the CEOs and billionaires and for meaningful change to happen,” he said.

“Traditional owners need to be treated with the same level of respect. What is clear is that the federal government will now begin to change their heritage protection and native title laws. This follows the WA government’s new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act which will attempt to address the failures of the previous legislation in protecting the Juukan rock shelters.

“These laws are designed to be a safety net, but so were the ones that ultimately betrayed us along with a mining company’s greed and failed corporate culture.

Brad Thompson
Dec 13, 2022