After revelations of two separate cultural heritage incidents in the Pilbara by mining giants FMG and BHP, Labor Senator Pat Dodson has called for a Royal Commission into mining in the region.
Following the news that FMG went ahead with land clearing without the presence of Eastern Guruma Elders, despite a previous agreement between the miner and Traditional Owners, Senator Dodson said Australia must take stock of how it values cultural heritage.
“I think there’s a casualness that has just stepped in and people don’t really give the proper weight to protecting sites,” Senator Dodson said on RN Drive on Friday.
“[Miners] are not putting enough weight on their relationships with Traditional Owners.”
The WA Senator and proud Yawuru man is on the committee conducting the inquiry into the Juukan Gorge disaster of 2020, when mining giant Rio Tinto deliberately blew up 46,000-year-old caves sacred to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama Pinikura (PKKP) people.
Senator Dodson said mining companies should be working closer with Traditional Owners now and that apologies for recent incidents “sound very hollow”.
“It’s because it’s a rock formation and no one thinks it’s got any significance except the Traditional Owners, it’s treated as if, ‘Oh we’ll just get on and do business as usual’. That’s not good enough,” he said.
In terms of the need for a Royal Commission into the issue, the Senator said the broader legislative frameworks at both State and Federal levels are “inadequate and outdated”.
“The companies hide behind the law,” he said.
“We’ve got to take stock as a nation as to whether Aboriginal heritage counts for anything in our nation or not.”
The Labor Senator said Aboriginal trusts and corporations also need to be investigated due to their lack of outcomes for First Nations people.
“They’re not delivering the outcomes and the leveraging up of those peoples’ quality of life. This is a serious issue for the people whose rights are being affected but for us as a nation as well.”
A spokesperson for Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt told NIT other measures were being implemented to improve heritage protections.
“The Morrison Government does not have any plans to establish a Royal Commission into mining in the Pilbara,” the spokesperson said.
“The recently concluded review of the [Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation] Act provides recommendations designed to enhance Indigenous cultural and heritage protections.”
NIT contacted the Greens’ Lidia Thorpe and Labor’s Linda Burney, Malarndirri McCarthy and Pat Dodson for further comment on Dodson’s call for a Royal Commission into Pilbara mining. All declined to comment.
By Hannah Cross