10 December 2020
HESTA welcomes Parliamentary Inquiry's call for Australian mining companies to independently review all their agreements with Traditional Owners
The interim recommendations of a Parliamentary Inquiry into Juukan Gorge have confirmed HESTA’s view that without an independent review of agreements between mining companies and Traditional Owners, investors cannot be confident this clear financial risk is being appropriately managed.
The Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australia’s Interim Report recommended all mining companies operating in WA conduct independent reviews of their agreements with Traditional Owners, and publicly commit to not using ‘gag orders’ to prevent Traditional Owners protecting their rights.
“The work of this Parliamentary Inquiry has shone an invaluable light on how mining companies are negotiating agreements and engaging with Traditional Owners,” HESTA CEO Debby Blakey said.
“The finding that the tragedy at Juukan Gorge was ‘inevitable’ given current mining industry practises and inadequate legal and regulatory frameworks is extremely concerning to investors.
“Mining companies failing to negotiate fairly and in good faith with Traditional Owners represents a clear systemic risk to investors. Only an industry-wide independent review will provide certainty to investors that this risk is properly managed.”
Ms Blakey said HESTA would continue working with other large global investors to engage with Australian mining companies on how they are responding to the Inquiry’s recommendations.
“The inescapable findings of the Inquiry are that Aboriginal Heritage sites remain vulnerable to destruction. It would be unacceptable to investors that Boards of mining companies are not actively and transparently seeking to understand their exposure to this risk,” Ms Blakey said.
“After all that has occurred at Rio, the Boards of mining companies need to show investors that they have appropriate oversight and effective governance frameworks in place to ensure respectful, fair and ongoing engagement with Traditional Owners.”
The Inquiry’s recommendations that Rio Tinto pay restitution and implement a moratorium on mining across the Juukan Gorge area highlight to companies and investors alike the financial costs from actions that damage a company’s social license to operate.
Ms Blakey said mining companies could start by publicly stating they will not enforce gag orders in the current agreements, allowing Traditional Owners to raise heritage concerns.
HESTA strongly supports the Inquiry’s recommendation that companies with current ‘Section 18’ permissions halt all operations unless it can be established and verified that there is current, free, prior and informed consent obtained from Traditional Owners.
“This Inquiry’s important work is ongoing and represents a significant turning point in how the mining industry and Government manage heritage issues in this country,” Ms Blakey said.
“I’d like to commend all Committee members for their work on this issue during this very difficult time, and particularly Chair Warren Entsch.
“The comprehensive and bipartisan findings of this Inquiry have revealed glaring gaps in the protection of Indigenous Heritage, and we have a responsibility to all Australians and the world to ensure the tragedy of Juukan Gorge never happens again,” Ms Blakey said.