“Never again can we allow the destruction, the devastation and the vandalism of cultural sites as has occurred with the Juukan Gorge – never again.”
So said Chair of the Parliament’s Northern Australia Committee, Warren Entsch, tabling an interim report of the inquiry into the destruction of Indigenous heritage sites at Juukan Gorge earlier today.
The report, simply titled Never Again, highlights the disparity in power between Indigenous peoples and industry in the protection of Indigenous heritage, and the serious failings of legislation designed to protect Indigenous heritage and promote Native Title.
Mr Entsch noted that there were a lot of factors that contributed to the destruction of the Juukan Gorge shelters.
‘The PKKP faced a perfect storm, with no support or protection from anywhere,’ Mr Entsch said.
‘They were let down by Rio Tinto, the Western Australian Government, the Australian Government, their own lawyers, and Native Title law.’
‘In making these recommendations today, the Committee and I want to break that cycle. The neglect of the PKKP people stops here.’
The report makes seven recommendations focusing on improving relations between industry and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and improving the legislative framework protecting Indigenous heritage.
Among other things, it urges Rio Tinto to commit to:
A moratorium on mining in the Juukan Gorge area
Rehabilitation of the Juukan Gorge site
A review of all agreements with Traditional Owners
A stay of all actions under s.18 of the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972
A voluntary moratorium on s.18 applications
A return of all artefacts to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples
Other sections of the mining industry are urged to make similar commitments, while the Western Australian Government is urged to pursue urgent reform of current State laws.
The Committee also recommends on urgent review of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Heritage Protection Act 1984, and changes to its application and administration in the meantime.
Mr Entsch emphasised that the report is an interim report and that the inquiry would continue.
“The scale of the inquiry, the sheer volume of evidence that the Committee has received, and continues to receive, and the serious constraints posed by COVID-19, means that the Committee felt unable to do full justice to the inquiry in so short a time.” Mr Entsch said.
“As a result, the Committee has chosen to table this interim report addressing its findings to date and setting forth recommendations which will be built upon next year.”
A copy of the interim report can be obtained from the Committee’s website or from the secretariat on (02) 6277 4162.