Media release

Juukan Gorge Caves Inquiry - time for best practice cultural heritage laws

The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility​ (ACCR) welcomes the final report of the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Destruction of the Juukan Gorge Caves by Rio Tinto Ltd in May 2020. The report is entitled “A Way Forward”.

Commenting on the findings, James Fitzgerald, Legal Counsel/Strategy Lead at ACCR said:

“The Inquiry’s report is damning of Australian governments’ and mining companies’  treatment of  First Nations peoples, and calls for sweeping legislative reform at both the State and Commonwealth levels.  The Inquiry’s findings are clear and plain- the era of virtual self-regulation of cultural heritage management  by mining companies should be consigned to the past:

  • 7.8 States have failed. Lack of responses and concerns with WA legislation
    indicates that states will continue to fail without overarching legislative
    framework guiding the protection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
    cultural heritage.
  • 7.9 This report has demonstrated that time and time again, states have
    prioritised development over the protection of cultural heritage−including
    through the enactment of site-specific development legislation intended to
    further dispossess Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“The Inquiry makes clear that modern, best-practice cultural heritage protection laws that meet current international standards are well overdue across Australia.

“The Inquiry stresses that it is in the interest of all - including the mining industry -  and affirms the profound concerns of First Nations people about the current Western Australian Aboriginal Heritage Bill.

“It is extremely disappointing that neither the State of Western Australia nor the Commonwealth appear to have heeded the Inquiry’s interim report of December 2020.

“The State of Western Australia has not even responded to the Inquiry’s interim findings.

“ACCR urges  the mining industry, and particularly the Pilbara Big Three:  Rio Tinto, BHP and Fortescue Metals to support publicly the Inquiry’s findings and recommendations. In particular, the industry is urged to throw its public support behind First Nations peoples’ calls on the Western Australian Government to pause the passage of the current Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill, and to engage in a genuine process of co-design of the new laws with First Nations representatives.”