AUSTRALIA: Australia is all set to tighten its laws around the protection of Aboriginal cultural legacy, Environment minister Tanya Plibersek said on Thursday, after a review of mining standards conducted in the context of Rio Tinto’s destruction of the sacred Juukan Gorge rock shelters.
Rio evaded broader government sanctions in Thursday’s response to a 16-month parliamentary investigation into how it damaged the rock shelters during the middle of 2020, an iron ore mine.
Plibersek was joined by Australian PM Anthony Albanese, who said that the global miner had not broken any laws. Instead, he called into question the systemic failure to uphold and protect historical and cultural sites from mining and other developmental projects.
Plibersek stated in a speech to the parliament on Thursday that “this was not an isolated error or an instance of one corporation going rogue.” “This research makes it abundantly evident that our system is ineffective,” she continued.
Researchers discovered evidence of human habitation in the Juukan Gorge rock shelters that dates back 46,000 years to the end of the last Ice Age. They also discovered that the mining project had greatly harmed the site’s original inhabitants, the Puutu Kunti, Kurrama, and Pinikura (PKKP) tribes.
The Aboriginal people expressed discontent and anger over the government’s laxity in sending any warning signals before the project was conducted.
Institutional investor HESTA said the report’s new recommendations would strive to improve mining standards and reduce the risk of cultural heritage mismanagement.
Debby Blakey, CEO of the company, said, “We continue to engage with companies in which we invest to ensure that they deal early, fairly, and in good faith with Traditional Owners.”
“The government agreed to all but one particular recommendation out of a total of eight from last year’s parliamentary probe into the destruction of a historically and culturally significant site at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia,” Plibersek told the parliament.
Moreover, the ultimate decision on whether heritage protection of Aboriginal sites will be placed under the authority of the Indigenous Affairs Minister or the Environment Minister is still under question, Plibersek added.
Meanwhile, PM Albanese brought special attention to the issue of cultural and historical protection of native heritage. He wrote, “Juukan Gorge, a site of huge significance to First Nations people, was destroyed two years ago.”
He ultimately said that “no laws were broken,” but systemic failures in safeguarding cultural sites must be altered, “so we’re changing it.”