Mining giant Rio Tinto has been likened to the Taliban after the billion-dollar company destroyed sacred Aboriginal rock shelters in Western Australia.
In May 2020, the mining giant blew up two shelters showing human habitation going back 46,000 years to access high-grade iron ore at the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara region.
An interim parliamentary report released in December 2020 found that ‘Rio knew the value of what they destroyed, but blew it up anyway’.
“When those beautiful Buddhas were destroyed by the Taliban, there was an international outcry,” Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said Thursday, introducing new laws to prevent this kind of destruction from ever happening again.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in a tweet that “The Juukan Gorge, a place of great importance to the First Nations people, was destroyed two years ago.
But no laws were broken. It’s wrong. So we change it.’
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek presents the government’s response to a report on the destruction of the Juukan Gorge at the Parliament House on November 24, 2022
“It is inconceivable that any society would knowingly destroy Stonehenge or the Egyptian pyramids … but that is exactly what happened in the Juukan Gorge,” she told parliament.
“The destruction of the Juukan Gorge is equally important. But it happened because of the weaknesses of our laws,” she said.
A parliamentary committee investigating the destruction found that major reform of federal law was needed to protect Australia’s cultural heritage.
Ms Plibersek said the government had accepted seven of the commission’s eight recommendations and would elaborate the latter with the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance.
That recommendation relates to the question of whether ultimate responsibility for the protection of cultural heritage should lie with the Minister of Indigenous Affairs or the Minister of the Environment.
“This report explains how we got to that embarrassing moment… (it) also tells the much bigger story of our national failure on Indigenous cultural heritage.
“We recognize that things have to be improved. We are committed to doing this, in partnership with First Nations Australians.”
Speaking on the RN breakfast show on ABC radio on Thursday, Ms Plibersek said: ‘One of the very clear findings of the two investigations into the destruction of the Juukan Gorge was that this was not a one-off incident and that there really were significant flaws in our laws to protect Aboriginal cultural heritage.
“In fact, the destruction of the Juukan Gorge was legal under the laws as they stand today and that was completely wrong, but it shows how weak the laws are that that is the case.”
She added that ‘The Juukan Gorge was perhaps the most talked about, but certainly not a unique experience of cultural heritage protection.
“We’re so lucky in Australia, you know, you think of kids growing up in Egypt who know nothing about the pyramids.
“It’s impossible to imagine and yet here in Australia we have cultural heritage that predates it by tens of thousands of years… and I think we need to change that we value it properly.”
Photos released by the PKKP Aboriginal Corporation show Juukan Gorge in Western Australia on June 2, 2013 (top) and what it was like on May 15, 2020 (bottom) after it was blown up by Rio Tinto
WA Labor Senator Pat Dodson said Australia cannot claim to respect the oldest living continuous culture on Earth when it has easy ways to destroy the fabric of their culture.
“(If) you keep doing that, you’re starting to go down a path of erasing any evidence about the life and history of people in this country,” said Mr Dodson, who is Indigenous.
Ms Plibersek said the report made it clear the system to protect cultural heritage was not working, but said reforms were not designed to halt development, but to address ‘our oldest imbalance’.
“We are always a better country – more united, more confident, more sure in ourselves – when we give everyone a seat at the table when we listen to all the voices,” she said.
however, the traditional owners of the destroyed shelters in the Juukan Gorge say they were disrespected and sidelined in the federal government’s formal response.
The people of Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura claimed that they were not properly consulted.
Chairman Burchell Hayes said Ms Plibersek’s office had emailed the PKKP Aboriginal Corporation about the planned announcement on Tuesday.
He said custodians were angry and disappointed that there had been “no detail or meaningful follow-up.”
“It seems that a media event in Canberra is more important than giving PKKP people the respect by asking us what we can do to prevent something like the destruction of the Juukan rock shelters from happening again,” Hayes said in a statement. declaration.
“We expected that the minister would want to meet us before making a public statement about our country and cultural heritage.”
Ms Plibersek’s office said the minister had tried several times this week to contact the PKKP.
“A meeting between the CEO and the minister was also offered,” says a spokesman.
Labor Senator Pat Dodson (pictured) said Australia couldn’t claim to respect the oldest living continuous culture on Earth when it had easy ways to destroy the fabric of their culture
Rio had legal permission to destroy the Juukan Caves under WA’s outdated Aboriginal Heritage Act, which has since been superseded by new state legislation.
Opposition spokesman Pat Conaghan said the issues raised in the report needed serious consideration and consideration.
“They brought into sharp focus the wider need for modernization of Indigenous heritage protection laws here in Australia,” he said.
But the Nationals MP said any work to improve cultural heritage legislation should not ‘demonize’ the raw materials industry or impose ‘unacceptable risks to sensible sustainable economic development across Australia’.
In March 2021, the then president of Rio Tinto accepted personal shortcomings regarding the destruction of the ancient sacred indigenous site.
Briton Simon Thompson said in a company statement that he intended to step down from Rio’s board and not seek re-election in 2022 because “I am ultimately responsible for the shortcomings that led to this tragic event.”
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO THE DESTRUCTION OF THE JUUKAN GAP
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has released the federal government’s response to a parliamentary committee’s reports of the destruction of First Nations heritage sites in Western Australia’s Juukan Gorge.
The interim and final reports followed the destruction of the 46,000-year-old Juukan Caves by mining giant Rio Tinto in May 2020.
The recommendations include implementing international agreements, reforming laws and policies, improving systems and processes, and prohibiting restrictions on traditional owners seeking cultural heritage protection.
They also address wider cultural heritage law and policy issues.
The cabinet agreed with seven of the eight recommendations.
The government has acknowledged an ongoing story of damage and destruction of cultural heritage across Australia since colonisation.
It pushed for law reform, with standalone First Nations cultural heritage legislation to be co-designed with First Nations peoples.
Reforms will be implemented within the framework of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the National Agreement on Closing the Gap and the Uluru Declaration from the Heart.
In developing reforms, the Government will consider the importance of cultural heritage to First Nations peoples and all Australians, balanced with the need for security for business and industry development.
An agreement has been signed with the First Nations Heritage Protection Alliance to ensure Indigenous voices are present at every stage of the law reform process.
A recommendation to place ultimate responsibility for the protection of cultural heritage with the Minister of Indigenous Affairs instead of the Minister of the Environment will be worked out with the alliance.
The federal government will also consider strengthening protections for First Nations people when state or territory protections are inadequate.
The government is committed to putting truth-telling at the heart of its engagement with indigenous peoples when it comes to reforming the cultural heritage law.