The Minerals Council of Australia recognises the distress caused to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People (PKKP) by the destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves and the effect on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the broader Australian community.
The MCA is deeply sorry.
For more than two decades, Australia’s minerals industry has worked to build strong and enduring relationships with the Traditional Owners on the lands on which it operates. The industry remains committed to these relationships.
While matters under inquiry are specific to the caves at Juukan Gorge, the industry is committed to learning from the committee’s findings. Drawing on advice from Traditional Owners, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and the committee’s findings, the MCA will lead a national work program to capture, share and embed lessons across the sector.
The MCA supports the Commonwealth’s initiative of a national engagement process on increasing the understanding and use of Indigenous knowledge which can serve to assist states and territories to modernise the protection of Indigenous cultural heritage where needed.
While states and territories have responsibility for Indigenous cultural heritage protection, the Commonwealth is in a unique position to assist with the development of leading practice on transparency, knowledge-sharing, collaboration and improvement. This Commonwealth process should not duplicate established state and territory legal responsibilities.
This engagement comes as Western Australia works to complete a comprehensive two-year process to repeal and replace the state’s outdated Aboriginal heritage protection regime. The minerals industry supports this process in Western Australia. The Commonwealth has an important responsibility for national heritage, including heritage with nationally-significant Indigenous cultural values under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). The MCA is actively engaged in the current independent review of the EPBC Act.
The Commonwealth also administers the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984 (ATSIHP Act), an important protection mechanism enabling an Indigenous person to make an application to the Minister for the Environment to make a declaration to protect an object or place. The MCA supports the ATSIHP Act in its current form but notes its administration and operation can be unclear. Improvements in practical administration could be considered without duplicating existing state and territory responsibilities.
The purpose of the submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia is to provide the committee with an overview of how industry works alongside Traditional Owners and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It also outlines how the minerals industry interacts with Commonwealth heritage protection legislation.